What is yoga? What is yoga for you? How would you explain what yoga is to another person, to yourself? Many people associate yoga with stretching, exercises, aerobics, and a yogi sitting in padmasana (lotus posture) vocalizing AUUMMM …
That in itself is not bad, but yoga is much more than gymnastics. Certainly, these exercises (poses or postures), called asanas in yoga, are a major part in many yoga practices, but there are yoga practices that don’t require any physical exercise, such as Bhakti Yoga or Jnana Yoga.
The difference is to consciously practice the asanas, without hurting yourself, and on the contrary, reap lots of benefits. It is not about doing the posture perfectly. For example, you may not touch your toes when you bend down or stay on your head for more than thirty seconds. You do what you can. More important is what is happening inside you when you are holding an asana, when you’re practicing consciously. Yoga is controlling how your body, mind, and emotions react; being able to relax, eliminate stress, and find peace, motivation, and more energy. Yoga is communicating better with what surrounds you and with yourself.
Although Yoga is not just an exercise, there is certainly a great truth in the saying “healthy mind in a healthy body”. I believe in exercises and have been exercising since childhood, taking ballet, playing tennis, kayaking, or trekking in the Nepalese Himalayas mountains. I also enjoy running and walking before my yoga practice.
But what is yoga? Yoga first appeared in India in the Vedas, the most ancient and sacred Hindu manuscript, written in Sanskrit, the classical language of Hinduism. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which translates into “unite or integrate.” Yoga is thus the union of a person’s own consciousness with the universal consciousness, the integration of mind, body, emotions, and spirit as one. So, we practice yoga to strengthen in every way and to find balance and synchronicity within the universe and within ourselves.
In one of the most influential books of yoga, the Yoga Sütras, Patañjali writes “yoga citta vritti nirodhah”. Citta is consciousness, the instrument through which we interact with both the outside world and our own inner world. In this context, vrittis are all activities and mental fluctuations, such as thoughts, fears, emotions … Nirodah means cessation, suppression.
The translation, word for word is: Yoga is the suppression of the fluctuations of the mind. But a better translation for our daily life would be: Yoga is the control of the fluctuations of the mind. In yoga the practitioner works to control her thoughts and emotions, instead of letting them control her. Yoga is being able to shut off your mind, and enjoy a peaceful time without overwhelming thoughts.
Can you be happy when you feel tension in your neck and shoulders? Can you give your best when you are depressed? Can you concentrate on your work when your thoughts are like monkeys jumping wildly from branch to branch? That tension in your neck, that stress that suffocates you, those guilty feelings, that sensation of hopelessness, those insecurities, fears, and uncontrolled agglomeration of thoughts – all those are fluctuations of the mind. And unless you control them, they control you, and you end up unhappy and suffering from all kinds of ailments.
Yoga is the perfect example of holistic health, working with the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual-energy bodies. The word holistic comes from the Greek root holos, which means whole. Thus, yoga focuses on the whole routine of a person, rather than just the physical part. The practitioner realizes that his sufferings are the result of a lack of harmony in his lifestyle and applies the philosophy of yoga into his daily life, conscious of what he is doing and the changes he needs to make. It is a journey that requires strength, which increases as the student steps up his practice in and outside the classroom.
“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you
as by the attitude you bring to life;
not so much by what happens to you
as by the way your mind looks at what happens.”
~ Kahlil Gibran
For more information about yoga benefits, read the following articles:
Harvard Health Publication, Harvard Medical School
Yoga for Anxiety and Depression
Yoga: Fight Stress and Find Serenity
American Osteopathic Association
The Benefits of Yoga