What Is Yoga?
Nature is a reflection of relationships. In this photo I see the beauty of give and take and the sweetness of yield and push as the sagebrush, grass and wood all relate to one another. All things in nature are adapting and changing in every moment and those changes can look messy and hard but can also bring everything toward equilibrium. Each moment is created in the beauty of chaos and perfection. When I see this, it makes me think of Yoga.
When someone asks me, “What Is Yoga?”, I lose my words and don’t know what to say. I have heard that when someone experiences enlightenment, they have no words to describe it. They try and then throw up their hands in delight, laughing, claiming there are simply no words to explain their current state of being. As I try to describe yoga to people, I want to say something wise and insightful that will convey what it is, what it has meant to me, and what my teachers have taught me. Instead, I throw my arms up, laughing, because I can’t find words to describe what Yoga is. Yoga continues to evolve, as does my relationship to it. The defining moments appear for me each time I get on my mat or come in to my practice.
Like nature, Yoga has changed throughout the years. I can share some of the definitions that you will see when searching; Yoga is the capacity for something to change, it is the union of mind, body, and spirit, the ability to achieve one point of focus, or union with the Divine. As the sagebrush grows, it adapts its shape to accommodate the form of the wood and the wood moves around to create a protective frame around the sage. When I show up on my yoga mat, I adapt to what is in front of me, I change shape, and grow. How we describe those changes depends on who we are.
Yoga asana, the physical postures that are taught in Hatha Yoga classes, help us to heal our bodies. If our bodies are sick, or we experience pain, the anguish of that reality keeps us distracted and unable to focus our attention toward something beyond the pain. Asana frees up space within, and our consciousness can be directed elsewhere.
We can gaze toward the breath, which in Yoga is called Pranayama or breathing exercises. Let’s say you want to learn to swim. You go to the pool, take lessons, and then practice. The swim instructor teaches you techniques to be an excellent swimmer. The instructor does not want you floundering around using all of your energy just trying to stay afloat. They want you to be an efficient and powerful swimmer. It is the same when breathing while practicing Yoga. When we experience trauma, either emotional, physical, or psychological, it changes our breathing. For us to maintain the most efficient breath possible, we practice letting go of the barriers that constrict our full, effortless, strong breath.
Pranayama is a gateway to healing our breath and bringing the expression of it back to its natural flow. When our bodies are no longer in pain, and we can access the healing potential of our organic breath, Yoga urges us to meditate. Now that we can sit comfortably and breathe with ease, we settle ourselves into a deep abiding quiet. Meditation teaches stamina, focus, and patience. We learn to be present in our current situation, and to stay with it.
Humans grow due to our relationships. Yoga is a practice of relating; to our self and to that which created us. To discover the true definition of the word Yoga, one must dive into the practice and see what reveals itself. Through this relationship, you just may hear the answer to the question – Who Am I?