What is Yoga?

If you'd like the shorter answer to this question here's a quick vid I did - otherwise for a good old fashioned read, scroll down to the full article.

What is yoga? These days, that can seem like a difficult question to answer: Hatha, Ashtanga, Bikram, Sivananda, Iyengar, Jivamukti, Vini, Anusara ….. there are so many “kinds” of yoga out there to choose from!

But those are actually just styles, or schools, of yoga, showing a certain way that a group of people have decided to practise yoga. At their root, all of those types have some key characteristics in common.

Yoga is a practice that’s been going on for a LONG time! It’s really ancient! We can trace its origins back to as far as 5,000 BCE – although we don’t have much evidence that what yogis were practising then is the same as most people do now.

As yoga developed, it was much more a spiritually focussed activity, and the postures, which are so popular nowadays, were probably very few, only a handful, and they were mainly aimed at getting the body open enough to sit for meditation (you try sitting still cross legged or in lotus pose for hours on end, it’s not for the fainthearted, or the untrained!)

The word “Yoga” comes from Sanskrit. The root of the word is “yuj”, to yoke or to bind. Yoga aims to give us a means for binding our divine spirit with our physical body in order to attain “samadhi”, or bliss/enlightenment.

As yoga’s history developed, seminal texts were written along the way, such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita, amongst other notables. These texts instruct along the lines of yoga being a spiritual practice for life, the goal of which is to access a divine spark within us, so that we can become aware of our “true self”, rather than the self which is based on ego and the illusion of the material world.

OK, so this is getting a little deep now, right?! So now you have some background, I’m going to loop back and answer the original question in a slightly different way;

What is yoga? Yoga is about learning who you are.

Yes, when they initially come to yoga most people are all about stretching, toning, looking for a more youthful body and keeping mobile as we age; and those things are all great reasons to do yoga.

But as you practice yoga over time, you begin to notice subtle differences in yourself.

By being with the breath, moving the body in synch with breath, practicing how to let go in relaxation (and other practices) several things begin to happen; we become more focussed on what we’re doing as we practice. We start becoming calmer – even when we’re not on the yoga mat. We begin to notice how we’re reacting when we’re in certain poses – some we may like, others, not so much, usually depending on how our body is constructed and our general disposition. And if we’re interested enough to take notice of this, of our likes and dislikes and why we might be feeling them, we start to learn about ourselves at a deeper level.

We build a resilience, a solid foundation, a way that we can keep ourselves sane, no matter what storms are battering the world around us. We eventually find we are bringing our yoga off the mat and into our whole life and outlook.

One of the greatest things about yoga is that there is a style of yoga for absolutely everyone, young, old, rich, poor, male female ... and any other category you wish to think of. Each style has the potential to enhance every single person’s unique requirements on the mat, as well as their unique talent for doing good in the world.

As the old adage goes, the journey always begins with the first step. So I say: step onto a mat, and try a little yoga. Find a style of yoga you enjoy, and a teacher you like and who inspires you. You may need to try a few before you find the right one for you. Once you have, there’s a good chance you’ll be very glad you did.


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