What is yoga?

I often go back to the question ‘what is yoga?’ There are many ways to approach this question.  Here my direction was set by noting that the word yoga points to two different things: yoga is both an enlightened (awake) state of being and the way to get there.  In more poetic terms, yoga is the sea and the rivers that flow to the sea.

Sometimes it feels like I tap into an inkling of what enlightenment (the sea) might be like but it is always the briefest of encounters:  here a fraction of a second gone the next.  My feeling is that these brief visits to the sea of bliss are like an unexpected light switching on so briefly that there is no time to see the switch and therefore no knowing how to make the same experience happen again.  My intuition is that I shouldn’t sit around waiting for bliss to come because it won’t come unless I continue my journey. In my practice, enlightenment is not the subject.

When I consider the question ‘What is yoga?’ I am in fact considering the question ‘What is the yoga journey?’ I think there are as many answers to this question as there are people practising yoga and I can really only talk about my own yoga journey.  I love reading about what other yoginis are up to and hope that when I share tales from my journey others take what they need from my experience to nourish their own unique journey of discovery.

When I teach an intro to yoga I often start by sharing Patanjali’s definition of yoga as the ending of the fluctuations of the mind.  I link it with the idea that increasing awareness and learning to relax at will are key skills.  I also share Ken Dychtwald’s definition of The Edge.  Then we are ready to explore what is going on and so the journey begins… .

How did I get to this view of yoga?  By embarking on my personal yoga journey.  This is how my journey unfolded.  I somehow emerged from my childhood with limited emotional intelligence.  I just did not have the foggiest idea about how relationships worked.  I did not have much awareness of my own emotions either.  I showed up on the mat! Wow!  Didn’t really know what was going on but it was clearly very good for me so I kept showing up. A few years into my practice Joseph and Lilian Le Page’s teaching introduced me to a view of yoga that explained my experiences.  Three things touched me strongly.  The first is placing the stress response centre stage.  The second is an experiential approach to teaching.  Teaching through experience rather than telling students this is so.  The third is their way of approaching the asana (posture): I just love the way they jam pack the asana practice with learning opportunity – a multidimensional asana practice… .

What is yoga?  Yoga is a journey towards an aware, calm and centred (one-pointed) way of being.

This post used to live elsewhere. It was edited and uploaded to this website, 18 Dec 2016

2 comments

  1. Aside from being a form of meditation and exercise, I’ve always believed that it’s also a way of life. Though it kinda looks boring at first, you’ll be surprised how it can change your life. Good read!

    • Hi Tina,

      “Yoga is a way of life” is a very important addition to any definition of yoga. And yes, I am still surprised by how, after nearly two decades of practice, it still changes my life in unexpected ways.

      Thank you 🙂
      Ella

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *