What Is Yoga?

Why hello there!  It’s been a little while since my last post (confession?).  I am not going to make excuses I am just going to accept that right now I am blogging when I can find the time.  And if no one is reading that’s okay.  But if someone is, well I’m glad you’re here and I’m still excited to share with you!

I was sifting through some old emails this week and found my Final from Yoga Teacher Training.  Part of my final was to write “What is Yoga?” to me.  I always find it’s an interesting experience to read my own writing months or years later.  I’m usually taken back by the wisdom that I can find in my own words when I read them after the fact.  Typically as I’m writing there is always a little voice in my head saying ‘this stinks.’ Maybe that’s a deeper conversation for a different post!

After reading my ‘What is Yoga?‘ piece almost a year later, I knew I wanted to share it.  It’s funny, it hasn’t changed all that much for me.  What brought me to yoga, kept me coming back, and ultimately led me to become a yoga teacher is still all the same. Here’s what I mean:

What is Yoga?

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When I first rolled out my yoga mat three years ago it was out of the desire to try something new and add dimension to my exercise routine. After that first 90 minutes my curiosity was awakened. I knew I had to explore this practice more.

Of course I liked that I walked away dripping with sweat, feeling invigorated and my body tingling from the mere physicality of the practice. But there was something more. Something more that told me this was the beginning of a long lasting relationship. I was at a point in my life where I was trying to find my place in the world. What did I want to do with my life? What would I contribute to this giant earth and the people living on it? Would I ever find someone to share my life with unconditionally? Somehow I knew that Yoga would help me explore those questions and begin a journey towards the answers.

Over the next two years I nurtured my relationship with Yoga. I met myself on the mat a few times a week. I craved it and without it I felt disconnected. It was a way for me to de-stress from work, let go of anxious thoughts, and free myself of worry. That in itself was amazing in my eyes. On top of these calming benefits, Yoga started to become a vessel through which I saw myself. I started to learn what made my heart beat, the limits which I could take myself, and most importantly how to live in the present moment. Seeing myself more clearly, I carried myself through the world differently. My interactions with those in my life changed. I became more accepting, more open, and allowed others closer to my heart. I soon started to realize that I was only skimming the surface of what yoga had to offer. I wanted to dig deeper. I knew all of the “what’s” and “how’s” of yoga but I wanted to learn “why.”

That initial curiosity which got me on the mat continued to provoke the desire to learn more. Learning the “why” of Yoga is what led me toYogaversity. I now realize that I have only opened the first chapter of the why but that it’s closer than I was before. What commonality I keep coming back to, from the first traces of Yoga through to it being introduced to the West, is the desire to learn how to navigate through the world. During the Vedic Period, the Aryans wrote the Veda’s to describe the way life unfolded. When the nomadic Aryans settled the Upanishads were composed to start philosophical conversations and teachings on life. This is where their beliefs of Yoga became less of an external conquest and more of an internal reflection. This is where Yoga as the self was born and is clearly still apparent in today’s teachings. Over the next few periods Yoga continued to consist of beliefs, ways to understand the world, and texts to prove so.

When Hatha Yoga was introduced these philosophical conversations started to be intertwined with a physical practice. The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit term “yuj,” meaning to bind, join, or attach. Joining together the mind, body, and heart has been the intention of Yoga from the beginning and still holds true today. A 3500 year old practice can take on many different forms in that time. It can stray from what it originally looked like and find its way back eventually. It can be combined with other practices to form a new practice. It can be stripped down only to be built back up.

Today we see Yoga in many different forms. We see it in gyms as a fitness class. We see it as a way for athletes to prevent or heal injuries. We see it in churches or places of worship. We see it in retail stores selling active wear in order to market a brand. We see Yoga in small studios in the suburbs or in giant city buildings where people swarm to classes in the hundreds. Any one person in any of these scenarios may answer the question “What is Yoga?” a little differently. It can take on a different meaning to different people in different places at different times.

If we can all agree on the fact that Yoga is a practice to help us understand the world around us. To help us join together our mind, body, and heart. To make discoveries about ourselves and the way we navigate through life. If we can all agree on at least that much, then I think Yoga has remained authentic and connected in some way to its original intention.

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