Yogic practice is a complete philosophy, with asana being only one aspect of it. However, asana is the most widely recognized, and has been hijacked by the fitness industry. Yoga means unity of mind, body and spirit. This is achieved through a variation of physical, spiritual and mind freeing practices.
There are many yoga exercise classes around the world offering a range of sessions; Ashtanga, Bikram, Hatha, Kundalini and Power yoga. Most Yoga practices have developed asana routines specific to the philosophy of their creator. For example; Kundalini Yoga is designed for spiritual awareness and raising the kundalini energy up the spine to bring enlightenment. This practice uses the breath, and asana that take stamina to master.
All Yoga practices are designed to find the Self. The asana, breath and lifestyle contribute towards gaining liberation, focusing the mind, eradicating the ego, developing personal responsibility and reaching enlightenment. Each system has developed certain techniques, exercises and guidelines to practice to meet this aim.
Most people have their chosen practice, not for the associated philosophy, spiritual gains, or lifestyle changes. Rather; for the fitness or health benefits that can be achieved. There are many good reasons to take up a yoga exercise class throughout this site, though I would not necessarily class this as being a Yoga practice. I see this more as asana practice. Similarly, I would not call myself a Buddhist if all I did was practice meditation.
I appreciate that Yoga philosophy is not for everyone, and the exercise classes are enough to take on board. In the beginning, Yoga was thought unusual due to the inclusion of relaxation, meditation and chanting in some classes. It seems to have been modified for western preferences with most of the eastern teachings taken out of the class. Therefore, the essence of Yoga has become secondary.
This is not to say that Yoga asana practice is very beneficial for health, well-being, stress relief, and to increase flexibility. No matter which system you prefer, you probably cannot help feeling the added benefits of a quieter mind, increased stamina, improved posture, and perhaps a healthier lifestyle. Lots of excellent reasons to continue your asana practice. You donít have to be a Yogi to practice asana. If your aim for practicing yoga is for the health benefits mentioned, then the path of asana yoga is the certainly a fantastic option.