Is it a science or is it a sport? A strict discipline or a luxurious leisure on the beach? An Instagram picture and a nice quote or a vast and deep ocean of ancient knowledge? Well, perhaps it is all of it. Being that the word yoga literally means “union”, one definition of yoga mustn’t necessarily contradict the other, but more so- bring more unity between them.
Yoga is the stopping of the fluctuations of the mind. It is learning how to become so present that you exhaust all distractions from the now. And thus, becoming completely one with all aspects of yourself. Embracing the good, the bad and the ugly and unlearning all the ways in which we have been disconnected with ourselves. Perhaps one could describe it as a giant magnificent hug ending all wars.
Now that sounds great, doesn’t it? But yoga is also the journey there. It is the way in which we constantly fall in and out of alignment to become more and more skillful in the art of becoming whole. Yoga is the path we walk upon to learn and grow into ourselves as stronger and more harmonious individuals and as a collective. It brings community because it acknowledges that there is no real separation once we peak behind the veil of distortions.
Yoga teaches us how to sit with ourselves, our bodies, emotions and thoughts, in peace and acceptance. And from that space, it motivates us to move with more ease and confidence in the world. It is the physical practice of the body through various postures designed to stimulate healing as well as a mental practice to cultivate virtues and healthy habits in the character. In yoga, the practitioners ultimate goal is self-realization by merging the human personality with the eternal and highest self, the nameless and the absolute.
There are many ways to approach yoga, depending on the nature of your persona one must practice yoga in accordance with the self. Yoga is, ultimately, a self-practice which no other can impose upon the practitioner. A true yogi knows which postures exceed his capabilities and realizes the steps he should take to get there. And so, yoga provides a concrete system of tools to bring the human being to their highest level of physical well-being, mental clarity and spiritual consciousness.
Neatly organized and summarized by the great Patanjali, these tools come in the form of 8 limbs, which constitute the main pillars of Yoga. Perhaps you’ve heard of Asana, meaning postures? Or Pranayama which is breath work? But even before addressing the physical and energetic body with posture and breath work, there’s the Yamas and the Niyamas. The Yamas are the great vows to the universe and include famous ideas such as non-violence and truthfulness. The Niyamas are most simply explained as the right attitudes which one should adapt to properly follow the yogic path. The next steps is something which can only be understood with experience. Yoga explains to us mortals a wisdom which is unbound of time, and the only way to truly understand it is to immerse oneself in the experience itself. How do we ever understand the concept of withdrawing the senses inwards, Pratyahara, if we don’t ever try? How do we begin to imagine ourselves as one with the object of our concentration, Dharana, unless we first sit down to practice?