What is Yoga?
Ask several people and you are likely to get several very different answers. The fitness buff might say, “Oh I LOVE yoga! It keeps me so fit and strong and flexible!” The new-ager might respond with, “Yoga keeps my chakras balanced and aligned, and clears my karma.” A spiritualist might respond with something like, “Yoga will help you to remember your birthright of peace and bliss and show you how to merge with God.” Someone who has recently "googled" the word yoga might simply define it as "union", and a traditionalist might claim that no one in the western world has any idea what yoga truly is. It can be confusing and off-putting, to say the least, to try to find some meaning and clarification on what “yoga” really is or isn’t.
Quite simply, yoga is a path to self-realization. It is a chosen and very personal path, by which one can be liberated from the obstacles of the mind and body, and discover one’s true nature of timeless spirit. For one who has never had that experience, thinking of yoga as a method of fitness might sound less daunting. That’s fine! It is a chosen and very personal path, as I said. But if you have come to yoga for fitness only, and you are fortunate to have stumbled upon a good teacher, it will only be a matter of time before your “fitness program” reveals so much more! It cannot be confined to the time and space of 1 hour on a rectangular sticky mat 2-5 times per week. The revelations and experiences spill over and begin to bring a sort of awareness and intention to every aspect of our lives. These 1 hour yoga classes can create an experience that ignites an interest and desire to live, understand and create the experiences we have on the mat in every other aspect of our lives. When we are able, even if just for a brief moment, to go beyond our thoughts and our attachment to our physical form, absolute truth is revealed. It cannot be “undone.” It cannot be understood by reading about it or listening to someone else’s descriptions of it. Though these things can inspire us, they are limited. It can only be understood through the experience of it. This is why yoga is such a personal path. There are as many paths as there are people.
Some of the paths of yoga have names and specific instructions on what should or should not be done on that specific path. They include Jnana, Bhakti, Kundalini, Ashtanga (speaking of Patanjali’s, not Patabhi Jois’), and Karma Yoga. Some of these paths encourage absolute renunciation of sense gratification, others encourage only partial renunciation or renunciation during a specific period of life, such as time spent as a monk. There are prescriptions and descriptions, which are vulnerable to becoming dogma, as in any other belief system. It’s up to each of to decide what resonates, what is helpful and liberating, and what is actually incarcerating. Tradition and community can support and teach you on your path to liberation, or it can simply be another distraction on the path. A dose of analysis and skepticism is a very healthy thing. At the core and heart of yoga is self-study, self-awareness, and self-realization. It is through self-realization that we come to understand everything other than self, not the other way around. I, personally, am wary of any path that tries to show me truth from the reverse route.
So…what is yoga? It is a means by which we come to know, or remember, truth, that we are not our thoughts, not our body, not our “personality”, or even our deeds and words. We are spirit and energy, timeless, eternal, and blissful. Beneath the persona you call “you”, and aside from the body you are using at the time, you are light and love and consciousness, eternally. Some call this “God”, but there are many names given to it. The name is just the packaging, and it changes like all concepts do, with time. The essence of it is unchanging and the only reality we can ever truly know. First-hand realization of it is yoga.
Peace and love to you,