What is Yoga?
Updated: Apr 1
Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning “Yoke” or "Union." Yoga, as we know it in the west, is a physical practice of moving the body in a variety of postures, known as asana. At the end of your class, sometimes sweaty, sometimes very gentle and restorative, you will lie on your back known as savasana, a.k.a corpse pose, for deep relaxation. With the guidance of a knowledgeable teacher you will also be coordinating your breath with movement, learn how your mind is connected with your body and discover new things about yourself. And if you are even luckier, you might have a teacher who guides you through specific breathing exercises, visualizations and perhaps shares more about the philosophy of yoga. Regardless of the style or rigor of your yoga class (Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, Restorative, Gentle, Vinyasa, etc), they are all designed to make the body and mind feel more clear or open at the end of a practice. Yoga, however is a much deeper practice with more meaning, philosophy, practical application for this messy life, than the physical movement practice. Through its rich 2,000-year-old history, yoga has become the most popular practical system worldwide for healing the body, mind, and soul.
The path of Yoga is a scientific way of reducing suffering, known as dhuka in Sanskrit, and increasing sukha, or space for body and mind balance and inner balance. It is an ongoing practice that helps you develop reigns to reconnect the body and mind so you move through life with more awareness. Yoga, as recorded by the great sage Patanjali in the ancient text, Yoga Sutras, is a deep integration process encompassing an eight-fold path: yamas (moral principles), niyamas (personal principles), asana (physical postures), pranayama (breath awareness), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). Metaphorically, if practiced consistently with sincere dedication, yoga is a path that leads us from the dark to the light, unreal to the real and death (of the Soul) to immortality (union with the Supreme). Despite the analogous and metaphorical nature of yoga and its teachings, yoga is a scientific practice, like Ayurveda, helps to reduce suffering in your own life. Imagine the ripple created when you reduce just one small part of suffering from your body (ailments, pain, dis-ease, or illness) or mind. Imagine the possibilities.
Yoga is not a religion but embraces all religions as a path to self-realization and ultimate self-awareness. Recognizing that Humans are not having a spiritual experience but are Spirits having a Human experience, Yoga is the path to discovering, understanding, experiencing and realizing we are more than our physical body, and at the core of our existence we are just energy. Through the practice of yoga, regardless of your religious belief, you will begin to notice and become aware of our interconnectedness with all things, including each other, nature, the cosmos, and all things.
For me, yoga is a way of seeing the world. Yoga is a way of life. Yoga helps me to take responsibility for my own suffering and discomfort in situations or ideas and helps me to open my perspective, or blockages, to consider other possibilities. In a more practical way, yoga philosophy teaches you about healthy relationships with your self, your mind, and therefore others. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it? Well as a former business minded, scientific, atheist who needed to see life in a proof or explained by science in order to believe anything, I can vow for the real and lasting benefits of adding yoga to one's life. Without it, I wouldn't be who I am today, where I am today, or as healthy as I am.
Yoga and Ayurveda, its sister-science of holistic health practices, are such wide and vast topics. I will continue to post more about the philosophy, practices and how to's. Yoga, is, after all, the backbone of Breathe. Connect. Be.