My intention is to write a short introduction, as well as explanation, to what Yoga truly is. And I am very much reminded how all definitions and explanations are lacking by nature. They are mere shadows of the actual experiences and sensations, no matter how we try to define or explain. Definitions, by the very nature of the defining act, exclude. Yoga, on the other hand – like the wind, the sun, the moon – is completely inclusive. So Yoga is truly to be experienced, not defined…
I do believe that it is important for me to initially point out that Yoga is so much more than mastering postures and increasing your physical flexibility and strength. The traditional purpose of Yoga has always been to bring about a profound transformation in the person through the transcendence of the ego.
The classical techniques of Yoga date back more than 5,000 years. In ancient times in India, the desire for greater personal freedom, health, long life, and heightened self-understanding, gave birth to this system of physical and mental exercises. Since then the system of Yoga has spread from India throughout the world. The word Yoga means “to join or yoke together,” which is interpreted in two ways; as bringing the body and mind together into one harmonious experience and/or the union of a person’s own consciousness with the universal consciousness. Pre–philosophical speculations and diverse ascetic practices of first millennium BCE were systematized into a formal philosophy in early centuries CE by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This eight limbed system of yoga is called Ashtanga or Raja Yoga. It’s called “Raja”, meaning “royal”, because it incorporates exercise and breathing practice with meditation and self study, producing a well-rounded practice as well as individual. Ancient Yogis had a belief that in order for man to be in harmony with himself and his environment, he has to integrate the body, the mind, and the spirit. For these three to be integrated, emotion, action, and intelligence must be in balance. The Yogis formulated a way to achieve and maintain this balance. I as a yoga teacher put all I have into teaching the tradition of Raja Yoga to the best of my knowledge and ability. Do understand that there are several different branches of yoga, Ashtanga being one, and thousands of different schools of teaching within them.
The tradition of Yoga has always been passed on individually from teacher to student through oral teaching and practical demonstration. The formal techniques that are now known as Yoga are, therefore, based on the collective experiences of many individuals over many thousands of years. The particular manner in which the techniques are taught and practiced today depends on the approach passed down in the line of teachers supporting the individual practitioner.
A typical class of mine will offer you a practice of postures in a mindful, slow tempo. Pace is extremely important to the posture practice as the over-all intention is to increase our level of consciousness. If we move fast through our postures, very few of us are able to actually be aware of what we are doing and what is taking place. This does not only contradict the purpose with the practice but also very easily leads to injuries. The class will also offer breathing exercises and techniques to ultimately free your breath. Meditation is taught and encouraged while practicing the postures and breathing exercises, and as a lying down and seated practice.
Yoga is not a religion. It has no creed or fixed set of beliefs, nor is there a prescribed godlike figure to be worshipped in a particular manner. Religions for the most part are based upon the belief in and worship of things (God or godlike figures) that exist outside one self. The core of Yoga’s philosophy is that everything is supplied from within the individual. Thus, there is no dependence on an external figure, either in the sense of a person or god figure, or a religious organization.
Yoga is available for anyone who is willing to learn its ways and ideas. It actually does not require any special equipment or clothing. What it requires is your will to have a healthier, happier, and more balanced sense of self. Many westerners approach Yoga as a way to achieve a healthier body and to keep fit. Yoga really does help in improving your physical health with stretching and toning your muscles and exercising your entire skeletal system. But it’s important to understand that Yoga encourages you to reflect on yourself and to experience your own full potential as well as inner peace. It exercises not just your body but your mind as well. With a healthy body and mind, you’re on your way to a more fulfilling life!