While there's a lot of misinformation out there and wild ideas about what yoga really is and why there are yoga studios and schools all over the place, hopefully we can shed some light on the topic.
What is true yoga?
Yoga is simply a state of being fully and wholly yourself. It's balance and synchronicity in your mind, body, heart, and spirit and being comfortable and content in your own skin. In short it's not something you do it's something you are.
So what is "yoga" and why do we take "yoga classes"?
Yoga is a combination of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual practices and exercises to help you learn to be more yourself. The specific system we know as "yoga" originated thousands of years ago and has evolved through the ages in order to be specifically designed to help you learn to have full awareness of your present state of being at any given time, in any given posture, and to have control over how you are, act, and react internally and externally, as well as how we're connected to one another, the cosmos, and energy as a whole.
"Yoga" is based off of Astanga (Ashtanga), or 8 separate limbs of practice:
- Yamas - Social Practices
- Ahimsa: non-violence
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-Stealing
- Brahmacharya: Appropriate use of vital energy
- Aparighraha: non-attachment
- Niyamas - Personal Practices
- Saucha: cleanliness
- Santosha: contentment
- Tapas: discipline, practice, being what you intend to be
- Svadhyaya: self-study or study of ancient texts
- Isvarapranidhana: connection to a higher awareness/something bigger than you (nature, god, energy, spirit, whatever it may be)
- Asana - Postures or Physical Practices
- Pranayama - Breath or Energy Control
- Pratyahara - Internalizing the Senses
- Dharana - Focus
- Dhyana - Meditation
- Samadhi - Bliss, Oneness With the Object of Your Meditation
If yoga is just "being ourselves," why do we have to practice?
Sadly, in this world we live in, we are constantly bombarded with stressors that may be constantly positive, negative, or neutral in nature with very little opportunity to ground and balance out. The mind, therefore, ends up often living consistently in a hyper vigilant state and sometimes is stuck primarily in the past or future instead of the now. With the constant stressors and demands of life, often coping techniques are developed that also consistently dissociate emotion and feelings with the present moment, leading us to deny, ignore, or put off our true feelings about any given situation, which often creates dis-ease within our bodies as they attempt to process emotions for us. Additionally, many of us often feel isolated or that we're very separate or alone in this life and our "struggles".
Yoga exercises and practices are a way to bring the mind into the now, the heart into the now, ease to our bodies, awareness into how connected we really are, and to bring a sense of wholeness to ourselves. It helps train the energetic systems and physical systems of self into synchronicity and harmony to create an overall ease and a sense of just being. Specifically and anatomically speaking it helps us balance and calm our overstimulated nervous system, process emotions, focus our minds, and let go of the things we cannot change while embracing ourselves in the now.
When we are in a true state of yoga there is no separation or hesitation in the mind, heart, body, and spirit....everything is clicking into place and life feels more effortless.