What Does “Practicing Yoga” Mean?
When people hear that I am a yoga teacher, they often casually inform me that the reason they are not practicing yoga is because they are not flexible enough to do “yoga”. I would then ask them “What do you think “yoga” is?” Usually they would laugh and say something like “putting your legs behind your head”. As entertaining as that might sound, this perception is quite gloomy in reality. Although yoga postures are a part of what yoga is, yoga actually has a much broader meaning, and it encompasses much more.
Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj”, which means “to yoke” or “to bind”. In other words, yoga means to yoke, or to bind, or to connect the Inner Self with the Divine – the universal consciousness.
Patanjali, in his book the “Yoga Sutras” described steps for people to use to achieve this state, called the Eight-Limbs of Yoga. Patanjali wrote the sentence: Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodha, which means “Yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind”. This may sound simple, but in real life it is quite challenging. Therefore, Patanjali elaborated and described the obstacles that may prevent a person from attaining this state. He described the process as being like a ladder that takes a person through the steps until they attain Samadhi, which is pure bliss. Samadhi is the state of Kaivalyam, which is absolute freedom, and the detachment of the Inner Self from the material body.
So What Are We Practicing?
What if someone just practices yoga as yoga postures without understanding the philosophy behind it? Is this useless? Is this wrong? On the contrary, asana or yoga postures are indeed part of the eight limbs of yoga. It is completely fine for a person to be practicing yoga asana just to get familiar with their body, and to get familiar with the postures. Maybe with more practice, this person might then start to explore how the mind is affected by the body. Later this practitioner may start to explore how the breath connects the body with the mind.
Many of us started our yoga journey through yoga asana practice. Somehow something shifted in us during the practice, and we were drawn to learn more about the truth of our being. We dug deeper into our spiritual journey. Through learning, living and practicing the other limbs, for example the Yamas and Niyamas, maybe we were then drawn to start practicing the other principles such as non-violence – Ahimsa – towards ourselves and others. In our Yoga Teacher Training at Shades of Yoga, we include philosophy and self-enquiry to try to cultivate this transformation. Living a yogic life is a journey.
We Are Where We’re Supposed to Be
No matter where you are in your yoga journey, one thing to remember is that we are where we are supposed to be. Patabhi Jois once said “practice and all is coming”. Just keep on practicing yoga as a lifestyle. Be gentle to yourself and to others. Don’t judge yourself or others. Enjoy the yoga journey!