What is Yoga, really?


Most people think of Yoga as a sequence of intricate postures. Yet the practice of postures (asanas) is only one of the eight limbs of Yoga and a means to an end. Moreover, you may be in a yoga (asana) class doing very advanced postures but if your mind is focusing on emotions and events of the past or thinking about what you are going to eat or do when you get out of class, you are not really practicing yoga. So what is Yoga, really? Yoga is a pragmatic system evolved over thousands of years dealing with the physical, moral, mental and spiritual well-being of man as a whole. It is a system for self-transformation—not into something different than yourself, but into something that is more yourself. As Donna Farhi explains, Yoga is about "liberating ourselves from the barriers we have erected in our minds, in order to have a more authentic connection with ourselves and with the world". It encompasses the way we take care of ourselves, how we treat others, postures that keep our body healthy and discipline our mind, breathing techniques, mastery of the senses, concentration and meditation.  At its peak, when mind, intellect and ego (collectively known as citta- the ‘mind-stuff’) are under control—freed from restless desire—the Individual Soul and the Universal Soul unite. As B.K.S. Iyengar explains in his seminal book, Light on Yoga, Yoga is this extraordinary experience gained by learning how to control (and not be controlled by) the mind.

So how can you start practicing?

  • Begin paying more attention to how you take care of yourself and how you treat others

  • Try asana practice if you haven't already. It is meditation in movement so for many of us, it is easier to access than regular meditation, and you also get incredible physical benefits. If you are new to asana practice, check out your local studio- give it at the very least 5 classes to begin scratching the surface of what yoga is about. Go with an open mind and you might be surprised!

  • If you already have an asana practice, deepen your practice – practice with more awareness and focus; deepen your breath; practice more regularly. Only when you begin putting effort towards quieting the mind will you start to reap the deeper benefits of your practice and the transformation into a more you you.

  • Try pranayama (breathing techniques) or any form of meditation (even a 2 minute daily meditation will have a tremendous impact on your life- check out the Calm App)

  • Or simply start paying more attention to your thoughts and emotions, observe them with more objectivity and less attachment, and slowly practice gaining control over them instead of letting them control you.

Psychology, YogaCarol S