What is yoga?
Well, this depends on who is doing the asking and who is being asked.
Over the centuries, yoga has evolved to mean a variety of things to many different people.
In the earliest known writings about yoga, the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes yoga as “the cessation of the thoughtwaves of the mind.”
According to the sutras, through a process of meditation, you gradually move your attention inward, through all the levels of your being, gaining mastery along the way. Eventually you come to rest in your true nature, which is beyond all of those levels. This action and the realization of this center of consciousness, is the meaning of Yoga.
Yoga is often translated as “union”, literally, to yoke, from the root yuj, which means to join or to integrate. Along these lines, B.K.S. Iyengar describes yoga as “the true union of our will with the will of God,” or the “yoking of all the powers of body, mind, and soul to God.”
In addition to a state of union, Iyengar explains yoga as a course of action or way of being, similar to that described by Patanjali: “Yoga is the method by which the restless mind is calmed and the energy directed into constructive channels,” (from Light on Yoga).
Since it’s rise to popularity in the West, yoga has taken on several new meanings.
If you were to ask some of the famous yoga instructors of the West, they would likely describe yoga in a way similar to how it was described by the great yogis of the past–as a pathway to inner transformation, to greater physical health and emotional well-being, and to universal connectedness.
As Seane Corn explained, to her yoga means “to come together to make whole…Yoga recognizes that we are all one, all divine.”
However, if you were to ask a physical trainer, healthcare practitioner, doctor, or chiropractor, you may be told that yoga is a form of physical exercise or even a form of “alternate medicine.”
According to ScienceDaily, “Yoga is a healing system of theory and practice, its a combination of breathing exercises, physical postures, and meditation.”
Something for Everyone
But if you ask an 18 year old girl in a hot vinyasa class, she might tell you it’s her favorite way to stay in shape and how she got her “yoga butt.”
If you ask a mother-to-be in a prenatal class, she’ll probably tell you yoga has really improved her breathing, which is not only calming and centering, but will also be a tremendous help when she goes into labor.
If you ask a 60-year old man in a restorative yoga class, he may say yoga helps him manage the aches and pains of age and arthritis.
If you ask a soldier who is suffering from PTSD, he might say yoga helps him find some peace and actually sleep through the night.
If you ask a deaf woman in a yoga class specially tailored to meet her needs, she may inform you that yoga has allowed her to “find greater peace in the silence.”
If you ask an 8-year old, he might say yoga is a lot of fun and helps him feel relaxed.
Yoga for Me
If you ask me, I say yoga is a physical and mental practice that when practiced consciously, has the power to transform our lives in incredible ways, leading us to greater health, healing, and happiness.
Yoga has been passed down over the centuries and has evolved into both an art and a science that unites the body, mind, and spirit.
Yoga is the path to a deeper connection to my truest self as well as a connection to the universal truth that resides within everyone and everything and permeates through all of existence. (I know that’s getting a little out there, but spend a month at yoga school and I promise you’ll feel it too!)
Practicing yoga makes me feel stronger and more balanced, flexible, aligned, and relaxed. I’ve also found yoga to be one of the best ways to quiet mental chatter and to ground myself in the present moment.
Yoga is not just something I practice on a mat or meditation cushion. It’s a practice that flows continuously in all aspects of my life, both on and off the mat, becoming not just a practice, but truly a way of life.
Yoga for You
Now ask yourself, what is yoga to you?
If you are new to yoga or have never practiced before, look back over each of these answers and just imagine what yoga can be for you!
Please share which of these resonated most deeply with you, or even your own version of what yoga is to you. I would love to hear your thoughts!