Underneath the tight pants, asanas, and soft-spoken teachers, what is yoga really all about?
Why has it lasted for thousands of years, traveling from India to Europe, the United States, and far beyond? What’s the addictive little secret hidden amongst the Westernized way of yoga?
My first yoga class was a congested 30 minutes of stretches, followed by about 10 minutes of breathing techniques, and 5 minutes of corpse pose, otherwise known as lying down. I spent the price of two coffees and an audiobook on that class and dismissed the notion of ever returning. Little did I know that two years later I would be a qualified yoga teacher with a passion for all things yogic.
Well, I actually went on to experience “real” yoga. Yes, I know what you’re thinking—that yoga, especially in the West, is just a bunch of pseudo spiritual, new age girls seeking validation in their latest masterpiece of body origami. But yoga embraces so much more than tight pants and doing the splits. In fact, I’m pretty sure that is simply gymnastics.
My teacher once asked me, “What is yoga?”
I responded promptly with, “A series of movements that flow in unison with breath and body.”
He said, “Do you practice yoga every day?”
“I try to practice every day,” I said reluctantly, noticing his gaze fill with bemusement.
“Well, I don’t think you have truly practiced yoga for a day in your life,” he said, watching my reactions with an awareness beyond my years.
He then went on to explain something that changed everything…from yoga, to my lifestyle, and my future.
“There is the little secret I want to tell you, my friend. Asanas are only one percent of yoga. Yoga goes far beyond simple movements. It’s a form of meditation, reflection, and realization.”
“Meditation?” I asked timidly.
“Yogas chitta vritti nirodha,” he said melodically in his native Sanskrit tongue.
“Well, you know I don’t speak Sanskrit, so what does that mean?” I said, impatient with his riddles.
“It’s a line written by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. It’s the definition of yoga.”
Later that night, I went home and researched everything I needed to know about Patanjali’s definition of yoga—which was to no surprise, perfectly summarized in the first three articles available on Google.
I discovered the other side of the moon. The om to my chant, the breath to my asana, the prayer to my food, the meaning of yoga.
All this time, I had been doing yoga without understanding why.
Yoga is a way of life.
A solution to suffering.
A portal to self.
A path of thinking.
A connection of mind to body and body to spirit.
But really, underneath all the mumbo-jumbo, it is an art.
The art of training your inner world.
Just like with meditation, we close off our awareness of the outside world, focus on our breath, and connect. However, instead of connecting to a wholesome stillness, like in meditation, we connect to a graceful dance—and once we understand the grammar of yoga, we can create our own poetry of movement.
So what’s the difference?
Well, I like to think that meditation is connecting to self and the world around you. It is the art of creating a space between your breath and thoughts, a space that allows you to choose your own response. That allows us to overcome stimuli and reactions, so we can choose who we want to be, moment to moment. Meditation trains our inner world.
Yoga? Well, we learn those complex movements and flows, so we can perfectly synchronize our breath. It’s a way of training one’s body and mind in unison. It’s a moving meditation. Just like meditation, you focus on your breath, connect to the feeling of your body, and aim to clear your mind.
However, it also trains the unconscious. Have you ever noticed the way your body reacts to the world?
Soldiers who stand tall amongst diversity often end up with rigid bodies; or kids under a lot of pressure may experience their posture caving in—often ending up with rounded shoulders, hyper-extended legs, and slumped backs. Or how when we are shy or upset, we move our body inward—like little children who point their feet inward, or how we often cry curled up in a ball to protect our hearts.
We don’t do that consciously—it is like an instinct. It moves of its own accord. Our bodies are the canvas of our emotions, and most often, we let the world paint it.
Our muscles hold our emotions, and our minds hold our thoughts. Yoga allows us to unlock our bodies and feel new movements and sensations, while meditation allows us to declutter our minds. Or, for all those simile lovers out there, yoga teaches us how to clear our canvas, and meditation teaches us how to repaint it.
That’s why yoga training, especially when infused with the philosophical element, is a sanctuary for people seeking self-progression. Retreats create a balanced and uplifting environment where people can grow, play, learn, and connect.
Through the practice of yoga, meditation, and philosophy, we can strengthen our self-progression, self-control, and self-realization. It allows us to unlock new parts of our mind, character, body, and perspective.
That means more awareness of self, more mindfulness of the moment, and more enjoyment of the present.
So, what are you waiting for?
Dance with the flowers of enlightenment—then watch as your mind and body blossom as you begin to harvest the fruits of self-progression and self-realization.
However, remember to be conscious of what seeds you plant, as the garden of your mind is like the world. The longer seeds grow, the more likely they are to become trees. Trees often block the sun’s rays from reaching other seeds, allowing only plants that are acclimated to the shadow of the tree to grow—keeping you stuck with that one reality.
Seeds = Thoughts
Trees = Perceptions
Garden = Mindset
Sun = Focus
There are hundreds of paths to enlightenment out there. If we imagine that enlightenment is a mountain and the goal is to reach the top for the grandest viewpoint, we can also acknowledge that there are many routes up the mountain. While some routes might be more direct than others, every route experiences a different side or view of the mountain—or enlightenment.
So whether you practice the eight-fold path of yoga, the 10 commandments of Christianity, the 10 virtues of Buddhism, or simply follow your own path of virtues—if your goal is to strive for a pure and happy life, and if you follow a path of altruism, dedication, and integrity—you will be sure to advance down the path of enlightenment.
Author: Natasha Potter
Image: Unsplash/Dominic Lowyears
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron