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What is Yoga?

Updated: Apr 22, 2019

noun: yoga

1. a Hindu #spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple #meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practised for #health and #relaxation.

(Source: Google)


Yoga has certainly become big business over the past few years, and it could be said that what #yoga actually is or the true meaning of Yoga, has become somewhat blurred. In a broader sense, is there really an answer to "What is Yoga?" as for each individual it can and will be a completely different experience to the next person, for their mind, body, maybe soul. Likewise, what an individual is looking for through the practice of Yoga will completely differ to the person in downward dog next to them.


You may or may not have seen a dispute that is currently being publicised between a well known Yoga/ Yoga Lifestyle brand and a number of Yoga teachers. I have seen other Yogis/ Yoga practitioners comment about this through their social media, which of course they are free to do. Strangely though, I actually saw one Yogi/ Yoga practitioner who very often #'s the brand in question, post a link to the individuals side of the story, and was very encouraging in a "go girl, bring down the big brands" way. Then 2 days later when posting a link to the company's response, added a comment saying that they did not agree or disagree with either side, and had no opinion? I was a bit confused by all this and other posts and comments I had seen surrounding the topic, the #authenticity of it all, and how 'Yogi' any of this actually was really.


These kind of articles or dispute of Yoga/ Yogis in essence, along with other things that I have seen or heard since becoming a Yoga teacher made me think once again about what Yoga really is, and what it is to me. Isn't there a difference between practising Yoga #asana, and practising Yoga on and off the mat as a way of life?


To me these are 2 very different things. I really could include so much within this blog but instead I decided to re read and post an essay that I wrote during my 2nd year of my 200 hr Yoga Teacher Training. It is always interesting for me to look back on my work, often when I am questioning or #contemplating, to see where maybe my #feelings and opinions have developed or changed, and it's quite a personal thing to share work that I have previously written sometimes. I started the essay with one of my all time favourite quotes from The Bhagavad Gita- so simple and yet so true.


"Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self"

The practice of Yoga is thousands of years old, and rooted in Eastern philosophy. Quite how old Yoga is cannot be definitively answered as originally teachers or sages would pass down their #wisdom and practice to their students verbally. Although much of Yoga and many of the #deities are rooted in #Hinduism, Yoga is not a religion- it is a #spiritual #philosophy on #life, and for many people myself included, a deep and personal #journey. The language of Yoga is Sanskrit, and the translation of the word Yoga is "union", from this is derived the English word "yoke". This unification is not only of the #mind, #body, and #soul, but our greater understanding of self and realisation of #union with a higher power or higher consciousness- which will ultimately lead us to spiritual enlightenment (Samadhi).


In modern Western society many of us are so caught up in doing rather than being. We are disconnected with or body and ruled by our own busy minds and the constant chitter chatter both within us and around us. Yoga is a way in which we can learn to control this constant noise through the practice of Asana, Pranayama, Meditation and Relaxation, and to find a sense of #balance and #peace within our everyday lives. Yoga is a journey that can not only allow us to #reconnect with our bodies, but also to become aware of our inner #spirit or #soul, and thus become more aware of ourselves as a whole. On a deeper level of spiritual understanding, Yoga is the realisation that we are a spirit within a human form, and that we are all connected in one greater #universal consciousness. Possibly also to an even greater realisation, that we are all inextricably linked.

For me, the question "What is Yoga?" could be both an incredibly simple and incredibly complex one to answer- if there even is an answer. Yoga could be defined as in the ancient #sacred texts such as The Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads, it could be defined by looking to the aphorisms of Patanjali and the Eight Limbs of Yoga, personal experience could be drawn upon- or of course a mixture of all and more. What Yoga is to me personally is likely to be very different to how somebody else may define Yoga. Some may define Yoga as a physical practice alone, and something which keeps the body healthy and strong, whilst others may look at it as more of a #spiritual practice which benefits them mentally. For me it has been, and continues to be a mixture of both.


Today, the roots of Yoga could to a certain extent be seen as being lost, or certainly watered down, as the focus has shifted away from a practice encompassing the #mind, #body and #soul and more towards the physical practice of #asana only. Nischala Joy Devi notes in her book The Secret Power of Yoga- "Today the word Yoga conjures up the image of some difficult or contorted pose. Once relegated to a few faraway ashrams or caves, it is now practised in gyms, health clubs, and studios all over the Western world."


The Bhagavad Gita tells us Yoga is a #journey of the self, through the self, to the self. The true self is within us always, it is not something that we can create, but something that we can discover through the practice of Yoga. The Gita is a story of the spiritual struggle of the human soul, depicted through war and a battlefield. Spiritual seeker Arjuna converses with Lord #Krishna, and through this helps himself (and the reader), to a better understanding, and for me personally quite deep contemplation into the true meaning of Yoga, through explanation of #Atman (true self), #Brahman (God), and the paths of Yoga- #Jnana, #Karma, #Bhakti and #Raja.

These paths of Yoga may be defined differently, but ultimately are all a journey towards the same destination; realisation of the true self and unification with God (or God as you believe it). Whilst some Yogis may choose to exclusively focus on one #path alone and thus this may be there definition of Yoga, as a #teacher and certainly in modern Western teaching of Yoga, these paths may be merged, and we can take what resonates with us and leave the rest. Some Yogis may find they are drawn towards one certain path, but may also in essence be practising parts of a different path.


Yogic texts speak of Atman and Brahman, which in full and #philosophical understanding of Yoga are extremely significant. In simple terms Atman is the true self which exists within us all. Brahman, while to some extent can almost not be defined as its definition alone is infinite, is Universal Consciousness, the Great Divine, God (as we believe it). To understand the concept of Atman and Brahman can be quite complex, especially to somebody new to Yoga, or those not necessarily open or looking for a #spiritual understanding within Yoga. However for those wishing to immerse themselves a little deeper we can come to understand Atman and Brahman even on the simplest level.


Atman = our true self, pure consciousness, which exists within us all. Essentially our spirit or soul where the physical body is just a vehicle for this. Atman is the 'energy' or #essence of each living thing. It is #eternal and #immortal.

Brahman = not a physical form but everything. Brahman exists within and without everything. A higher consciousness, universal #energy, or God (as we believe it). The eternal essence or 'energy' of the entire universe.

Vedanta #philosophy would tell us that the nature of Atman and Brahman are the same. The #universal energy that exists within us but also within Brahman would then also tell us that we, and everything that exists within the universe are linked. There is no separate entity, but rather we are one; one with ourselves, one with God (or higher #consciousness as we believe it), and one with all other energy in the #universe. All living things are #divine in their deepest selves, and we are all connected.

The ancient #sage Patanjali himself defined Yoga as "The stilling of the movement of thought in the mind in order to know the true self." Patanjali's Sutras, which detail the Eight Limbs of Yoga including the Yamas and Niyamas, are in essence guidelines of personal and universal conduct in order for us to find our true self, and our #connection to higher consciousness. These guidelines are not about changing who we are as an individual, but offer us a logical path to follow on our Yoga journey, and maybe for some answers to the question of what Yoga is all about. Patanjali tells us that through the practice of Yoga and the Eight Limbs we can find #liberation through none attachment, and therefore find our true self, and continue on our journey to ultimate #enlightenment (Samadhi).


For me personally Yoga is a combination of so many things; physical practice to better understand and 'feel' my own body, to help me stay strong and #healthy, #meditation to try and still my often very busy mind, understanding of my mind and body on a deeper level by exploring areas such as the #chakras (energy centres within the body), and how imbalances here can affect me. But on its very deepest level it really has, and continues to be a journey of self discovery. Of course I appreciate that to others it may not be. I also appreciate that some days Yoga to me can be just about the asana practice, as in that moment that is all I need. Other days I may look towards meditation and #relaxation, or for some words of #inspiration and #wisdom within one of the Yogic texts. Yoga is a way of life to me, and to call myself a Yogi (which in my opinion is very different to a Yoga practitioner), I should be practising Yoga even after I have rolled up my mat.


I feel that Yoga has helped me to become a more #compassionate and understanding #human, not only towards myself but to others also. As a teacher I am sure that there will be many different reasons that people come to classes, different interpretations of these classes, and what Yoga means to them. This is not my business and it is certainly not my job to force my personal ideas of what Yoga is onto others. I can talk about the history of Yoga, teach correct and safe asana, #pranayama, meditation and relaxation, but what they take from this in the class and off the mat is really beyond my control. I do however think an important and valuable part of teaching is to share my own personal thoughts and experiences, where appropriate.

Really, I am not sure that it matters how each individual defines Yoga as long as they are personally getting something from it? For me it may be about transcending the #ego, a physical and spiritual practice but for others it is different. What I do feel quite strongly about is that there is a difference between a Yogi and a Yoga practitioner, and as a teacher it is important to me that I fall into the first category. I am not just teaching asana, I am hoping to resonate and teach much more than that- a way of life, even if students themselves only choose to take the asana part with them.


As a teacher, and human the way I choose to live my life off the mat is incredibly important to me, and I hope to always do it with #authenticity. For example, I am not exploring a plant based diet or becoming a #vegan because this is a fad or becoming more popular currently and would give me more 'exposure'. I am Vegan because I believe in the principles of Yoga, one of which is #ahimsa (none harm). I am not at all saying those who don't follow this are wrong , I am just stating my personal choice, and more so the importance of this being #authentic and true to me, and my Yoga journey.


I think a huge part of what Yoga is to me has been a lesson in letting go. Being less judgemental and hard on myself, learning to forgive myself for not being a perfect human in the past and also for not being able to 'save' others. I would consider my 'real' journey into Yoga (when I fully immersed myself and soon after decided to embark on teacher training), came in the aftermath of a really difficult time in my life. Yoga helped me immensely to not only find #forgiveness for myself, but to be more at #peace each day with the actions of another individual towards me. To know that I create my own karma, and they theirs. More than this, I feel that from such a negative experience Yoga helped guide me to a much more positive place- towards my #dharma, which I believe is to share Yoga with others, to be able to help them on their own #personal journey and interpretation of what Yoga is to them, as I continue mine also.


Something #beautiful that I read in the book Your Quest for a Spiritual Life, by Michele Corrigan-

"You have learnt to walk in your own power and you understand the concept of mind, body and soul. You know the #self, you have done much work and you walk and #live in #light. Your #healing will show in the way you speak, walk and show yourself to the world. Others will feel your beautiful #presence and your #healing energies will spread to others and out into the Universe."


What does Yoga mean to you? How has it helped you? I would love to hear your thoughts!


Unitl next time...


Namaste,

K x

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