What is Yoga?
Updated: Nov 5, 2022
Yoga is derived from the sanskrit word “yuj” meaning “union”. “Union” with what? Through the practice of Yoga, union is experienced through the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies. Union is achieved through experiencing oneness with the universe and all of its creations. The union with love, compassion, awareness, breath and many other qualities. Yoga is beyond a physical posture called “asana”. It is a way of being that can be incorporated into all aspects of our life if we choose to do so. This is a natural evolution and does not necessarily have to be your intention the first time you sit on a mat or try to do an asana. As long as you are open to experiencing yoga, your first purpose may just be physical. And perhaps when you experience the physical benefits, you may be curious as to the many other assets of yoga.
“Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha” is the definition of yoga from Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Yoga is the quieting of the fluctuations of the mind. This was written 1700 years ago and the tendancies of the mind then and now are almost the same. Our minds are restless and if left to its own may run endlessly. This restlessness creates our stress, chaos, anxieties, fears, and an endless amount of other diseases for ourselves and the universe around us. If we can “quiet” the “fluctuations of the mind”, then we can liberate ourselves from these emotions and feelings, whether they have physically manifested into disease or not. This is the power of yoga, it is the quieting of the mind so we can feel liberation and peace from these disturbances. An emancipation from our restless thoughts so we do not become slaves to the fluctuations of our mind.
When yoga is explained in this way, it provides a focus whether we hold an asana practice or not. First start with contemplation of this definition: yoga is the quieting of the fluctuations of the mind. This will assist you in guiding your practice. If you practice all the postures of yoga and your mind is running endlessly, have you practiced yoga? And if you do not practice postures and you are not entertaining the numerous thoughts that are coming into your mind, have you practiced yoga? Because yoga is inward, the practice of yoga is a very personal experience and can not be determined by an outward image or illustration.
The practice of yoga is a lifelong journey of learning. Start with this definition and understanding. Next read our upcoming articles on the Yamas and Niyamas. The Yamas and Niyamas are observances, external and internal, that provide the foundation or deep roots to this practice. These make up the first two steps of yoga, which is an 8 step path. When followed in this way, the asanas are sprouts growing out of these deep roots that will eventually bloom into a beautiful flower. When yoga is practiced without this foundation, it does not always lead to a blooming flower.