The question, What is Yoga? can be answered in hundreds of ways and it would be impossible to assign one definition to yoga. It is easy to think it is all about bending into crazy poses and contorting the body in a way that is impressive and unattainable for the average person. In the western philosophy where we embrace so much about the outward and physical aspects of our beings, yoga is a physical practice of poses and breathing that is performed for the physical benefits of health and fitness with little or no focus on the spiritual or emotional aspects of yoga.
Wikipedia defines yoga as a ‘mental, physical, and spiritual practice or discipline that originated in India’.
Webster’s Dictionary defines yoga as 1- A series of postures and breathing exercises practiced to attain physical and mental control and tranquility; 2- A school of Hindu philosophy using yoga to unify the self with the Super Being.
Neither of these definitions even scratch the surface of defining what yoga truly is. The sanskrit word Yoga translates to ‘union’ or ‘to yoke or harness’ referring to the yoking and uniting of the mind and body to universal consciousness. There are so many paths and practices that can achieve this union, and as yoga has changed and developed over the past 5,000 years it has created many branches and types of yoga, some more physical in nature like the Hatha Yoga traditionally seen in fitness centers and others more spiritually focused.
Many who have not studied yoga believe it to be a religion, but yoga is so universal in the principles it teaches and so holistically beneficial, it is possible for everyone to benefit from its’ practice, no matter their religious beliefs. It does not require you to give up your faith, but simply enhances your life and ability to live what you believe more fully.
For me, yoga is a path to quieting the mind, opening the heart and creating space in the self or soul for God to communicate with me. It is a path the brings me greater peace, improved health and lowered stress, physical strength and stamina, and an improved sense of well being and being comfortable in my skin. I feel more loving and patient and connected with those around me when I practice yoga, and that includes more love for myself as well. And my kids can tell when I haven’t practiced that day–I am less balanced and centered and more easily tossed about by daily stresses without my practice.
And on a more superficial note-yoga has helped me regain my figure after 4 babies. I have more muscle tone and strength, and it brought my stomach back so I’m confident in a bathing suit again. I am also a distance runner and triathlete and yoga has helped me recover faster and I don’t get injured like I used to.
My yoga practice includes Pranayama (breath work), Dhyana (meditation), and Asana (physical poses and classes). These are but three of the eight aspects or astanga (limbs) to yoga as taught by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras each with the goal of achieving Samadhi-the ultimate state of Self-Realization, union with the source.
As I continue to learn more about yoga, I know that my practice will expand and become a part of me in every way. It is a life-long pursuit and that is why it is called a yoga practice, not yoga perfect. And what a wonderful and fun journey this yoga life is.