What is Yoga, Exactly?

What is Yoga, Exactly?

Lots of people do it. Lots of people say they practice yoga. What is yoga, exactly?

It is always a good idea when having a discussion to define terms so that everyone remains on the same page. This concept comes straight from the Yoga Sutra. Patanjali understood that his audience would make assumptions about what certain words mean, and so he was exceedingly clear with how he used them. For example, straight away in the second sutra of the book we find a precise definition of yoga:

Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah (YS 2.1)

Yoga is steadiness in the field of the mind.

Patanjali’s definition of yoga is striking: It is a state of mind. Patanjali clearly states that yoga is a psychological state where the mind is calm, at rest, still. Yoga, strictly defined, is not bound by the condition of the body, but rather is a condition of the mind that has a greater effect on the totality of your being. When the mind is utterly at ease, the body is as well. We cannot feel physical stress without mental stress, and a mental calmness results in a complete state of relaxation. Our inner state reflects our outer state and vice versa, just as the old alchemical principle of “As above, so below” illustrates—all things are connected and influence one another.

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But, what about that other definition of yoga? The one with which nearly every yoga book begins: Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root, yuj, which means “to yoke” or “to unite.” Yoga as union indicates the union between atman (soul) and brahman (source). This union between soul and source is experienced beyond the chatter of the mind, just as Patanjali tells us that yoga occurs when the mind is still. Yoga essentially is a spiritual psychology. Our experience of spirituality is psychological. When we elevate our awareness, we access new levels of our psyche—the totality of our psychospiritual self. Every spiritual experience happens as a psychological event within the psyche.

While asana practice is the modern trend, there is still room to infuse the modern practice with a more traditional understanding of what yoga is…and re-envision it as a tool for connecting with your bliss. Yoga is such a powerful and compelling state of mind that when it occurs, you know yourself to be completely whole and perfect; essentially missing nothing. In such a state, you experience life fully. Yoga is connection: connection to self, soul, life and the rest of the world.

**above excerpted from Alanna’s book: Yoga Beyond the Mat: How to Make Yoga Your Spiritual Practice. Get your Root chakra practice now!


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