What Even is Yoga?

Categories: My Thoughts, Yoga Education | Tags: ,
Rachel on yoga mat in pose

So, what exactly is yoga?

Yoga is so many things, it is hard to define.  It can mean different things to different people, it is layered and complex. If you are confused, congratulations you are beginning the process of yoga!

I could not sum it up for you in one word. Some may say the definition of yoga itself is the experience of yoga. Which I like because yoga defined by me, is the experience of being one’s self, practicing full and complete awareness of the present moment on a mat or in a chair without judging it in any way, just noticing. It begins with attention inward, possibly by simply noticing the breath. It may or may not involve ‘bendy positions’ for the body. That is up to you. The physical poses or postures of the physical body (Asana) are not the primary focus.

It is not about one thing in particular. 

It is also NOT a religion or a belief system in any way, rather a belief in the self, the human self, which is universal to ALL HUMAN beings, not just the ones that look like us, reminding us of our individual and universal connection.

The opposite of a system or structure perhaps, a kind of unbecoming who you thought you were, who you needed to be or who you were told to be. Yoga can be a really nice addition to any pre-existing belief system, whether it be any religious belief system or non-religion, in a very non-threatening way. Trust me I was brought up in a traditional Lutheran church, it has only enhanced my faith in God, my health and state of mind in a positive way.

The translation of the word yoga traces back to the ancient words yuj or yoke, meaning union. But in order to have a union, you need more than one thing. So, how is it a Union with the self? Well, I often think we forget what the human self is made up of. The human self is made up of 3 separate, yet interconnected parts, the Mind, Body and the Spirit. 3 separate parts of the self that basically cohabitate together undoubtedly affecting each other.

They can do this in harmony or union, or not. Yoga itself is the process of fostering this union, making for optimal living conditions. It can be defined as self-realizing, self-actualizing, a process of self-discovery,  the path to enlightenment or an awakening of self. In other words, realizing the power you hold within and living a life accordingly. It is a practice. More than anything it is a way of being in this modern world. It takes time and patience, and for me it has involved lots of self-acceptance, self-love, self-confidence and self-discipline.

When we enter our Teacher Training program, we study many texts, Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Dr. David Frawley and Swami Rama to name a few. Western as well as Eastern teachings. We study the ancient Sutras dating back thousands of years, texts before any organized religion existed. I think we forget sometimes how old humans are. We go way back, way way back! These Sutras or “threads” give us a basic outline of this spiritual self-realization, there are 196. They cover lots, from the fluctuations of the mind, to the body, to the spirit, to the breath, to yoga as a steady consistent practice, and lots more. They are a daily read for me, coming into a slightly deeper different understanding of them each day. It is literally like peeling back layers of an onion.

We also study something referred to as the 8-fold path, or the 8 limbs of yoga, sometimes only 7, the Asanas are not highly linked with the practice, so it is omitted in certain styles.

Yoga is not a physically based practice. It is so much more than an exercise.

In order to practice or teach yoga, you need to really look deep within, I think that must be why there are so many different kinds of yoga, because each of us are so uniquely different, we all have our own unique ways of expressing ourselves. Yet the practice of yoga reminds us that despite these differences there is a commonality among all of us humans, we are one race. There are still about 8 different kinds of yoga to date according to Gaiam:

Hot Yoga

The list grows longer every day. Rage yoga/Goat yoga/ kitten yoga/YS12R and probably more, all kinds of new yoga! They make me so happy to see the gift of yoga being shared in such unique ways! Everyone may not agree, but I think sharing yoga in any personal unique way has got to be expounding loads of much needed positive energy into the world, right?

According to the Chopra Center, “Yoga is a powerful practice that enhances your mind-body integration. Through conscious breathing, movement, and attention to the physical postures, you cultivate a state of body-centered restful awareness. You listen to the signals your body is sending to you in the present moment and you expand the energy in your body through your attention and intention. A body that is listened to responds with greater strength, vitality, and health.”

So what are the eight limbs of yoga?

1. Yamas: The Five Moral Restraints

2. Niyamas: The Five Observances

3. Asana: Postures

4. Pranayama: Mindful Breathing

5. Pratyahara: Turning Inward

6. Dharana: Concentration

7. Dhyana: Meditation

8. Samadhi: Pure Bliss


Join me here for ongoing conversations about Health, Wellness and Yoga.

Group in Virabhadrasana (Warrior II)

Yoga WILL help me connect with my body.

Yoga WILL guide the journey within.

Yoga WILL show me my own strength.

Yoga WILL help me know myself.