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I own a yoga studio. And I love it. I’m busy every hour of the day, but I love every second of it. One of the most common questions I receive as a teacher and owner is “What is Yoga?”
It’s a simple, yet complex answer. Most everyone thinks of taking a yoga class at your local gym, rec center or studio. You spend an hour moving and stretching your body, and you know how amazing it makes you feel. But Yoga is SO MUCH more than movements on your mat. It is an ancient system for wellbeing and progression toward enlightenment that most “yoga” classes don’t even touch upon.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is an ancient yogic text that is the authoritative text of yoga philosophy. Verse 1.2 clarifies that:
Let’s break this down.
Yoga is a concentrated effort. Is this concentrated effort to assuming wheel pose? Kiiiiind of. This is more of a focus on realizing and releasing the masks/personalities that we wear every day and discovering who we truly are.
The translation for Chitta is Mind or “Mind-Stuff”. There are three functions of our mind.
1.Manas-functioning of senses.
2.Buddhi-discriminative faculty of the mind.
3.Ahamkara-Ego: the sense that we are individuals.
All three of these aspects work together to help us function in the world
Vritti means fluctuations of the mind. Vritti is the deep web of brain activity that brings us to a thought. It’s deep. It demonstrates that the way each of us sees the world is skewed by our past experiences and feeling. These virttis are not bad or meaningless…it’s imperative that we have these so we can LEARN, progress and remember. However, they do not allow us to view our current situations from a place of mindfulness. Most of us also identify with these feelings and thoughts. It is important to remember that we are not our thoughts or feelings, no matter how hard we try to claim them.
Nirodah means calming/restriction. This calming is not done through brute strength. It is done through concentration & meditation, asana practice, self-study and reflection, prayer & worship, selfless service and Yama & Niyamas.
Together this explains that
Does this mean that sweating through a yoga class will calm the waves of the mind? Well, a little bit sure. But the true purpose of Asana (Postures) is to calm the body enough to sit for Pranayama. Pranayama prepares the brain to sit in Meditation. Meditation is where we see the personality enhancements and calmness that we seek with yoga.
Why is there so much focus on the physical aspect of yoga? I think it’s because in our society we place so much emphasis on our physical appearance. Not only that but the asanas make us feel GOOD! Is it wrong to focus solely on the asanas? No, but when we do not focus on the mind or the 8 limbs of yoga, then we are not truly practicing yoga. Sorry folks. If your yoga teacher does not instruct pranayama, meditation, yamas, and niyamas, then your “yoga” is just a workout. That’s certainly fine…but yoga can bring us so much more!
How do we know that all the yoga stuff is working? When we are more peaceful and happier. You’ll know when it’s working! You’ll feel calmer at work, with the family, and in traffic. Your friends will notice that you’re more chill in stressful environments and you’ll have your yoga-glow smile on all of the time! You’ll have a harder time NOT doing your yoga practices then showing up to sit. You’ll demonstrate grace.
So what is yoga to you?