What Is Yoga?
No doubt that yoga is a familiar word to just about everyone now. This word can still conjure up images of a mysterious sage meditating in a far-off cave in the remote Himalayan mountains. But now-a-days it just as easily brings up images of young, flexible people in a hip Los Angeles studio, clad in fashionable ‘stretch-wear’ and being guided through a mind-body-soul bending routine. … Certainly, in modern times, the word “yoga” has been attached to a variety of things. It is used in marketing campaigns throughout nearly every commercial industry now too. On the average city street in America, you can hardly walk a block without seeing some form of advertisement with a beautiful young girl in a yoga-type pose sending out an often bizarre spectrum of consumer messages, which leaves the average person wondering,
… “What is yoga, really?” Let’s start with what yoga is not.
Yoga is not some form of self-torture. Lying on a bed of nails, burying oneself underground, chewing or swallowing pieces of glass, drinking acid, swallowing nails or piercing oneself with pins and needles. This is not yoga. Yoga is not a cult, Yoga is not any weird ceremonial or peculiar rite. It is not hedonism. It is not paganism. It is not palmistry. It is not prophesying. It is not astrology. It is not thought-reading, nor is it the dispensing of charms to ward off evil spirits or ‘possessions’.
YOGA IS NOT about being flexible or being able to touch your head to your knees, or the capability to place your body in a knot. Yoga is a practice of balance, it is about being who you are and accept yourself as an evolving being, with a calm mind. YOGA is a practice of harmony, it is a practice of peace, it is a practice of Union, in which your thoughts, your actions and your words become one, it is a practice of Love. You have to start by loving yourself, as you are, that is flexibility. You can’t wait until you think you are flexible to start practicing, flexibility will be a result of your practice; and usually has more to do with the state of your mind than how far your body can reach. Are you flexible enough to see clearly that you can’t touch the floor with your hands at this moment, but you can breath deeper and freely as you try? Are you flexible enough to respond with a compassionate happy state of mind towards yourself when you can’t reach as far as you would like to, or will you react with self-judgment when you cannot meet your self-created expectations? Sometimes backing off a little, or simply avoiding what is having a negative impact on you or others is what the lesson is all about.
YOGA IS NOT a competition. Yoga is a path towards unity that starts and ends with the Self. Competing with yourself or others about how flexible, how strong, how beautiful, how a great teacher or how psychic you become is a waste of your time, since by competing you are only feeding your Ego; and as long your Ego is leading the practice you will not reach enlightenment, the final goal of Yoga.
YOGA IS NOT about the poses. The most respected ancient yoga masters like Patanjali and Babaji, spent many many many hours in sitting meditation in their effort to reach understanding about the Ultimate Truth and the Natural Law of Change so they could become One with the Universe and raise the vibratory frequency of creation. Sitting so many hours in meditation required to have a healthy body, not a good looking body, a h e a l t h y body; so such yogis, through out time, developed a series of body movements, which we call “asanas” in order to maintain the health of internal organs, blood circulation, cellular function and nervous system in optimum conditions, which through regular practice will lead to longer periods of comfortable sitting meditation. When you are practicing Yoga, the poses, the asana practice, is to be meditation in motion. In order to be meditating as you move , you are aware of your breath being free and your mind staying clear as you do the pose. The pose does not have to look in any specific fixed form, it is about finding your place in every pose and make it a comfortable place to stay still for as many breaths as possible and go deeper into your meditation. If your mind is full of negativity and judgement as you are practicing the poses, you are not doing Yoga.
So,WHAT IS YOGA?
The word yoga means “union” in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India where yoga originated. We can think of the union occurring between the mind, body and spirit. What is commonly referred to as “yoga” can be more accurately described by the Sanskrit word asana,which refers to the practice of physical postures or poses.
Asana is only one of the eight “limbs” of yoga, the majority of which are more concerned with mental and spiritual well-being than physical activity. In the West, however, the words asana and yoga are often used interchangeably.
Many people think that yoga is just stretching. But while stretching is certainly involved, yoga is really about creating balance in the body through developing both strength and flexibility. This is done through the performance of poses or postures, each of which has specific physical benefits. The poses can be done quickly in succession, creating heat in the body through movement or more slowly to increase stamina and perfect the alignment of the pose.
Yoga teachers will often refer to “your practice,” which means your individual experience with yoga as it develops over time. The amazing thing about yoga is that your practice is always evolving and changing, so it never gets boring. Although the poses themselves do not change, your relationship to them will. Anyone can start a yoga practice, even if you don’t feel like you are very flexible or very strong. These things will improve the longer you practice. Another great thing about thinking about “your practice” is that it encourages the noncompetitive spirit of yoga. One of the most difficult, but ultimately most liberating things about yoga is letting go of the ego and accepting that no one is better than anyone else. Everyone is just doing their best on any given day.
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