yoga philosophy

What is Yoga?

“I’m not really flexible” is usually the response I get when I ask someone if they’ve tried yoga. I get it, lately with the yogis posting on instagram all the super difficult, highly flexible postures, it’s easy to believe it’s not for everybody.

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There are millions of articles and tons of dialogue about yoga trending right now. But for some reason I felt the need to get back to the basics.

What is yoga?

When you ask that question, you will get varied and maybe even conflicting answers.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the fundamental literature on yoga and a compilation of sutras or “threads” of meaning on which the yoga philosophy and tradition is based on, sutra 1.2 says (as translated from sanskrit), “The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.” In other words, yoga is the experience of taming or controlling the monkey mind and thoughts which then empowers you to create a peaceful existence, a peaceful life no matter your circumstances.

Others may describe yoga as a path to enlightenment and healing through 8 limbs, which include Yamas or ethical standards, Niyamas or self-discipline, Asana- the physical practice, Pranayama or breathwork, Pratyahara or sensory withdrawal, Dharana - concentration, Dhyana- meditation or contemplation, and lastly Samadhi or state of ecstacy or bliss as you finally experience true peace.

Still others define yoga as a science, the balancing of the neurological system through breathwork, meditation and physical postures.

Yoga is so many things to so many people and to each person experiencing the practice it may be different.

I first found yoga at a new studio in my hometown in highschool. I too just thought of it as the physical practice. The room was candlelit and hot. I was an insecure young girl that focused way too much on comparing my flexibility or strength with the others in the room; however, even at that time it gave me this feeling that I was small and the universe was loving. Yoga then followed me to college with a vhs tape of MTV’s Yoga Video performed by reality tv stars from the Real World. Then it continued to show up as I was first married and dedicated myself to an at-home yoga practice 5 days a week. Then drawing me to train as a yoga teacher last year. It kept showing up and my curiosity and need for it in my life grew deeper, my practice changing as I changed and always being there like an old friend that gets you and doesn’t care if you haven’t called in over a year.

Misconceptions about yoga prevent a lot of people from ever trying it. I live in the South and it’s common to find people who think it’s a religion that conflicts with christian beliefs.

The truth is yoga can fit into any religion. It deepens your connection with your God through meditation, stillness, inner work, but it doesn’t require you have beliefs in a higher power. Your yoga practice can be devotional or not. This is what makes it so unifying. People from all religions, backgrounds, histories or cultures can practice yoga, worship their own God, and still unify with collective energy and the desire to grow into their true selves.

The takeaway here is that from everything I described above,

physical flexibility has very little to do with it.

What the physical postures are intended to do is prepare the mind for that experience of the peace that passes all understanding. The mind cannot contemplate or meditate and achieve samadhi with physical ailments and pain. Also the body serves as a holding place for stuck energy or trauma and a significant goal of the practice of yoga is to raise your energy and allow energy to flow freely without blocking in your body.

You can spend a lifetime studying yoga. There is so much to learn and as an ancient practice thousands of years old, it will continue to grow and expand and change lives.

Yoga to me is a daily practice and philosophy to guide my habits, my thoughts, and my behaviors towards a life of peace. It is also the most healing and empowering practice I have found to counteract the stress response in my body.

For now, I just ask you this, if you seek stillness, peace, a way to turn inward to find peace rather than waiting on the world around you to give it to you, then try yoga. If the first class feels like too much, try again.

Your yoga teacher truly doesn’t mind your lack of flexibility or knowledge of the postures. Your yoga teacher is there to hold space for you to grow into your true self. Your yoga teacher sees you and the fact you showed up and that is truly all that matters. Namaste.