“Yoga is the state experienced when the activity of the thinking mind (citta) dissolves.”
(yogah chitta vritti nirodhah 1.1)
~Patanjali defines the goal of Yoga
Once the realm of sacred masters and spiritual ascetics, yoga is now practiced by people of every shape, size, and gender and in every corner of the world. Yoga originated in a physically demanding world. Everyday life provided them enough opportunity to engage in physical activity; this fact needs to be kept in mind when we begin the exploration of yoga. The steps in yoga that are concerned with the physical body are those that take us to understand the very meaning of the word yoga, which means to come together or to yoke.
The most ancient and widely respected text of yoga, the yoga sutra, makes it clear from the outset that yoga is more about understanding the mind, exploring the cause of dukham (suffering,) and exploring the answers to the most profound questions: Who am I? And what is my purpose?
Yoga is a means by which we can bring about the changes we desire in our lives. The idea to understand is that we are not divided – physically, psychologically, emotionally, or mentally. The holistic nature of our being is tapped into by the various tools that yoga offers.
- asana: posture
- dhyanam: meditation
- pranayama: conscious regulation of breath
- yoama: social attitudes
- niyama: personal attitudes
- mantra: recitation of special sounds
- Mudra: use of special gestures
and many more. Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all practice. Each individual is unique and multidimensional, and all dimensions are interconnected. It is the role of the yoga guide to help the individual form a practice which will most appropriate for their physical and emotional state, as well as their stage of life; this practice may even have to change each day on occasion.
Yoga’s emphasis on a physical practice is based on the fact that the body needs to be healthy and mobile to allow the individual to go beyond the realm of the physical body. The key is to use the tool, or set of tools, which are personalized to the needs of the individual. In a time that we do not even order a coffee without being given choices, it is interesting that we are willing to go into a class – where all different shapes, sizes, genders, and ages of participants are taken through a series of physical movements with no thought of the physical, emotional or psychological well being of the individual – and think we are practicing yoga.
To put into a paragraph or two the colossal philosophy that is yoga would not only be impossible, but would be foolish to attempt. To begin, all we have to understand is that, yes, yoga can help us be more physically fit, be more flexible, lose weight, and serve the body, but its purpose is more elevating than just those benefits. The doctrine of yoga and almost every school of Indian thought accepts the holistic model of the human body. As practitioners, teachers, and lifelong students we must learn to look at the human system in its fullest, richest expression, in its completeness and complexity, rather than as one flat dimension.
~dedicated to the lotus feet of my teachers in this life and before