Warning: a little bit of history and philosophy ahead.... cause I love this stuff!!
I came to yoga because I was looking for something to get my body healthy, and I hated the idea of going to the gym. In our society, most often, yoga is about fitness, physical postures, getting physically strong and healthy. Certainly, we can gain that from yoga. And really, whatever brings you to yoga is perfect, just right for you.
But yoga originated as an ancient, holistic way of living, a philosophy that has been around for over 5000 years. Patanjali is widely regarded as the founder of the formal Yoga philosophy, and he summarized his ideas in 196 Yoga Sutras (divine writings about yoga). In Patanjali's writings, he mentions the physical part of yoga (asanas) in only 3 of his 196 sutras. The physical was the least mentioned part of yoga, though it is often the number one focus in our society. He spoke of the 8-limbed path of yoga. Here are those 8:
Yamas - guidelines about how we treat others (non-violence, honesty, non-covetousness, non-sensuality, non-possessiveness)
Niyamas - guidelines about how we treat ourselves (purity, contentment, austerity, study of the self and god, and surrender to god (whoever or whatever that is to you))
Asanas - Practice of postures
Pranayama - Control of Prana (life force) through breathing exercises
Pratyahara - Withdrawal of the senses, meaning that the exterior world is not a distraction from the interior world within oneself.
Dharana - Concentration, meaning the ability to fix your attention on one thing.
Dhyana - Meditation. Building upon Dharana, the concentration is no longer focused on a single thing but is all encompassing.
Samadhi - Bliss. Building upon Dhyana, the transcendence of the self through meditation. The merging of the self with the universe. Sometimes translated as enlightenment.
I readily confess, when I came to yoga, I had no idea it had such a rich heritage, was such an all-encompassing life view. But as I learn more about it, I get more and more excited. That it can be about getting my body healthy, but also about getting my mind, my heart, my soul, my spirit healthy. That I can be a whole being, and I can come to live my full purpose here on this earth, as a strong, peaceful, healthy Me! (really, that all of us can!)