The instructor began one of my recent Sunday morning classes by asking us to close our eyes and share the first word that came to mind upon hearing her say “yoga.”
Responses included peace, self exploration, flexibility, strength and nirvana. She cleverly pointed out that yoga encompasses all of these things and more. I perceive yoga as an element that is unique and different for each person who makes it a part of his life. Each yogi construes his own understanding of what yoga means and incorporates it into his world in a very particular manner.
People practice yoga for different reasons and some may only think of it in terms of posture, or asana, such as downward dog, tree pose, or headstand. This assumption, although correct, overlooks the point that yoga is a lifestyle far more complex, beautiful and challenging than just manipulating the body in a certain way for any amount of time. The word yoga itself is derived from the Sanskrit word, “yuj,” meaning “…to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct and concentrate one’s attention on, to use and apply. It also means union or communion” (B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, 19). Yoga is a practice that yokes the mind, body and spirit together, thereby creating a general sense of equilibrium, tranquility and eventually, bliss.
Yoga, when studied and understood through the writings of sages and yogis, can serve as a vehicle that carries one to true harmony with himself, the world and a divine being. Yoga embodies universal moral commandments, known as yama, and encourages self-purification by discipline, or niyama. Yama stresses non-violence, truth, non-stealing, continence and non-coveting. Niyama emphasizes five elements: purity, contentment, austerity, study of the self and dedication to the Lord. This means that through yoga, we can tame our passions and emotions, and cultivate a peaceful existence with others, which can ultimately lead to spiritual union with a divine force. The center of yoga is harmony, love and understanding that tie the body, mind and soul together as a strong unit. When a daily asana, or posture practice is combined with the universal moral principles of yama and the self-purification of niyama, the individual may treat every muscle, gland and nerve in the body, while cultivating a general state of harmony for himself and his world.
Yoga is more than just asana, it is a highly balanced, wise and fruitful lifestyle.
blog post and thoughts by Allied Yoga student Alex Fitzsimmons