What is Yoga?



Most of us think of yoga as a class we take in a studio or a gym. And yes, that is yoga. And no, that is not yoga. Like many things, the West has taken what is only a small part of a wisdom tradition extending back many thousands of years and pulled out a piece of it that seems to fit our frantic western culture. So today we have thousands of yoga studios where people rush to before or after work to “do yoga.”

Now there is nothing wrong with going to yoga classes. It can be a great practice. I attended yoga classes for many years. It helped me strengthen and tone my body, brought greater flexibility and eventually helped me start to “do yoga.” I finally began to know I was “in yoga”, when during class I was so present on the mat that I wasn’t paying attention to the other bodies around me or how I looked in comparison to them. My mind wasn’t wandering through the forest of random thoughts or wondering when this class would be over. It didn’t matter what shape my body was in, when I was “in yoga” I was fully present in my body, in the moment, in the posture, in myself. 

In the West, yoga has been associated with a series of physical postures. In yoga, this is known as Asana. Asana is a part of yoga, for sure, but it is really just a small part. Asana serves a great purpose of not only maintaining a healthy and flexible body but grounding you into your physical body. How much of our day is spent in the swirling vortex of thought without much presence in our bodies or the actual moment that is occurring? Like meditation (another part of yoga), physical asana can help us drop into the state of true presence. All of which is quite unlike running on a treadmill and watching TV at a gym. Again, nothing wrong with hitting the treadmill, but the nature of that experience is quite different. 

The word “yoga” means “union.” It also means a yoke. We don’t use yokes much more these days but think of an animal being yoked to a cart or plow. So, think of yoga as the process and practice of yoking yourself to something more meaningful than the mundane matters of daily life. The human mind likes to break things down and categorize things, so we can point to various elements of a yogic practice such as asana, meditation, breathwork, kryiya, devotion, wisdom, etc. But it is all yoga. 

So, yoga isn’t something you “do,” it is a way of being and a state of consciousness. Yoga is a lifestyle. It includes how you eat, how you interact with others, how you move through the world. Yoga is how you experience joy in life no matter what the circumstances may be. To think of yoga as a physical exercise would be like saying, “Oh, I did life this morning. I got up and ate, I breathed for a while and then my heart beat. Then, I went to work and did the real world.” 

In addition to a series of practices that help you move into a state of yoga, yoga is a whole perspective on life. Being “in yoga,” means being in full connection with the life energy that flows in you, through you, as you in and everything around you. It means, even for just a few moments at a time, catching that glimpse of being in union with the sacred source of life. 

Be Joyful,
Paul Rogers
Cofounder, Love. Life. Wisdom. LLC

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