What is Yoga?

A larger body of work doesnt exist on the planet. In my now 11 years exploring yoga I am amazed to always be learning some new wrinkle about “yoga” that I hadn’t before read about. When analyzing the practice of “yoga” it’s probably best to start with the word.

The word Yoga is a derivation from the sanskrit word Yuj which means to unite, to join or to yoke. In the Yogic scriptures the term leads to a union of the individual consciousness with the Universal Consciousness. Ultimately what we are striving for is the ideal of a perfect harmony or balance between the mind and the body.

To achieve this “perfect” union ends up not being so straight forward; because, as it turns out, the human being is a multitudinous being full of duplicitous tendencies formed before our awareness set in. Our “job” in yoga thus becomes to try to unwind ourselves from that which was thrust upon our nature, by our environments, to experience our truest selves. For this we must employ all manner of physical and mental and emotional practices designed to aid the individual practitioner in his/her path towards the “truth.” And this brings me to the ultimate reason why I believe the yoga teachings are so many and are so varied: because us humans are so many and are so varied. What works for one person may not work for another. Some persons may only need 10% of the philosophy to unravel their “karmic debt” -debt being the unintentional actions and their physical and emotional and mental accumulation before truth was the ideal- while another person may need 90% or greater to unlock themselves.

While most people consider yoga to be the physical postures of the Yogi, who bends and twists, the next level of practitioner will recognize the importance of the breath in mediating the mind-body connection. The breath is truly the foundation of this exploration, every other exploration being a layer on top of that. The breath being the main tool we possess to affect the unconscious mind and to calm the body’s fight or flight response through a slowing of the heart rate, which in turn calms the nervous system which has many nerves wrapped around the heart. In fact the heart is wrapped inside both sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve fibers from both the autonomic and peripheral nervous systems.

Most people could stop with the exploration of the breath alone and find a lifetime’s worth of practice just to hone in on the interplay between the mind and the body and to use the breath to lasso one to the other. And yet, some will venture deeper into the abyss. For me, my constitution and perhaps my Karma indicate that I must dive deeper still into the many physical practices of the oldest and most complete philosophy to grace the planet earth.

Ultimately yoga can be described as “the truth” or rather your truth. I am reminded of the quotation: The truth is one paths are many. Perhaps this idea alone explains why yoga has persisted for so many years and why the practices are so many and are so varied: because when you set such a generic ideal as “the truth” the practice is able to evolve and change over time; and, also, is able to provide each individual with a path specific to them.

While I will not elucidate the many specific practices within yoga philosophy in this very generic post, meant to outline the very basics of the meaning of the word yoga, I will, in time, begin to highlight the different practices I have experimented with and describe each of their efficacy’s, as I see them.

Very Truly Yours,

John


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