What is yoga? Why are you doing yoga? Do we really want to understand yoga? Lately these questions went through my head again and again. The trigger for these thoughts is usually when people ask me what kind of yoga I am doing, and if yoga is good for weight loss or if they can get a good workout with yoga. It seems like asking a computer sales rep if you can write e-mails with their newest computer model. - Maybe that is not a too good comparison, but one that came to me just then.
Here is what we covered in the Yoga Day on the 11th of Feb in "Union of Head, Heart and Hands".
The aim of yoga is not getting a beautiful body or getting a flexible body - not even to get a healthy body. All these things will be possibly a side effect of yoga while the real goal is self realisation. And therefore we have to look at three definitions of yoga.
1. Yoga is a discipline. Through this discipline the body, mind and spirit can get connected like the parts of a tree are connected: the trunk (body and the sense organs), the branches with leaves, flowers and fruit ( mental and emotional faculties) and the roots that are the foundation for a strong healthy tree that expands outward the way it's meant to (the spirit which we are the least connected with).
2. Yoga as integration of head, heart and hands. There is meditation and Yoga Nidra to expand our mental abilities, pranayama (breathing practises) to connect with our heart through becoming aware of our emotions, and asanas (Yoga "postures", done with awareness) to connect us with the physical body to become aware of our actions and fine tune them so that they become selfless.
3. Yoga as the path to expanded awareness. This we know that today as mindfulness.
If we summarise this and bring it together so we can do something with these definitions, so that yoga is lived rather than practiced in one or tow yoga sessions a week we go to, we can say that yoga is a discipline we cultivate by setting daily a little time aside to practice some asanas, some pranayama and some meditation / relaxation. By setting a specific time aside we become the master over our mind (and not the other way round) that could find 1000 excuses why you should do it once in a while or that there are more important things to do on that particular day etc. Through doing the practice with awareness of movement in coordination with the breath and then being the witness of the thoughts that are jumping around in your mind and the reasons that come up why it is silly to always do the same thing every day, that you need to do something for your neck instead of your lower back.... and on an on it goes - you get to really practising yoga and then living it. In this way you find out a lot about your mind, your tendencies, but also your strengths. Your awareness will be fine tuned so that life after your "yoga practice" looks different as well and you will be different in the world. too. ;-)
One's whole experience of life gets lightened up, and one really dives into the experience of life.
Or as my yoga master Swami Niranjananda Saraswati from Bihar Yoga Bharati said :
"Practicing yoga and learning about yourself is like entering a big dark room and turning the lights on one by one. People want instant transformation. Yoga is not for these people. It is for people who are patient and willing to work hard to overcome their limitations."