What is Yoga?
Where to begin?! Yoga is a practice that goes back thousands of years and it would be impossible for me to share all of the wisdom of yoga here. I’ll start by giving you a brief introduction to the history of yoga, as well as some information on what makes up a yoga practice.
There are two aspects of yoga that I would like to address before we get started.
First, I want to acknowledge the origins of yoga. Yoga is a spiritual practice that originated in India around 3000 BCE. Needless to say, it is an ancient practice with a rich and layered history. At a time, it was banned by European colonists in India but luckily survived underground. It emerged after centuries of oppression and is now very popular in the United States and throughout the world. We are lucky to have this practice despite colonial efforts to destroy it. So with that in mind, I invite you to go to the source and seek out more information from Desi resources who are much better informed than I am. It is not a culture I was raised in, and therefore, I will never have a full understanding of this beautiful practice. Below is a list of resources and influencers where you can learn more about yoga today, and throughout history.
Second, Yoga is not just Asana (physical postures). Asana is one of the eight limbs of yoga (more on that later). The postures we practice are simply vehicles to help us achieve union. Our goal here is both to move and to achieve clarity of mind. This is not a practice that should be used to look like a certain influencer, or to get a “yoga body”. We all have yoga bodies. So let’s use our bodies to get to that mental state where we can be the best versions of ourselves.
So what does Yoga mean?
Here are a few definitions from T.K.V. Desikachar
“To come together” or “to unite:
“To tie the strands of the mind together”
“To attain what was previously unattainable”
“Acting in a way that all of our attention is directed toward the activity in which we are currently engaged”
“Yoga attempts to create a state in which we are always present - really present - in every action, in every moment”
“To be one with the divine” (whatever the word divine means to you)
The list of definitions could go on forever, which is the amazing thing about yoga! But notice, not one of those definitions mentioned a physical practice. My favorite definitions of yoga - “to attain what was previously unattainable” and “acting in a way that all of our attention is directed toward the activity in which we are currently engaged” - demonstrate the effort of the mind in practicing yoga. We use the physical aspect of yoga to get to this point of unity inside our minds.
Check out these resources to learn more about the history of yoga.