This term: What is yoga?

Wednesday evening yoga returns tonight (8 January)

During my last yoga study group, another teacher asked: ‘When did yoga become about relaxation?’ I can’t stop thinking about this question. I suspect the need to disengage with the busyness of life has redefined the perception of what yoga is. The trouble with the word ‘relaxation’ is that it can be viewed as disengaging. Emptying the mind. Allowing the body to switch off.

Our focus for this term is: Yoga is engagement. It is an active (but gentle) process to find presence of mind and to be in the world, not separate from it. It is to be aware. To know what is going on internally so that we understand our reactions to the external and sit with those reactions so we can find our response. In a world of immediacy this is really really important.

I have (finally) started reading a new book published by my teachers’ Ranju Roy and Dave Charlton: Embodying the Yoga Sutra: Support Direction Space. The book focuses on 17 key sutras. The first chapter begins at the start of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. It brings the focus back to what yoga is. It’s tempting to write out the whole chapter … however these are some of the reflections to support our practice this term:

  • Yoga is a word used at different times and in different contexts to refer to quite different things. Different definitions are not necessarily contradictory
  • The root yuj = to join together, link. Yoga links two principles to allow a useful outcome
  • Yoga is not union. We yoke two things together but they remain two separate things
  • Yoga as a practice is a transformative process. In yoga we place ourselves in relationship to something in order to produce a positive effect. No relationship no yoga. No transformation no yoga
  • We have become focused on the external which can be overwhelming. With lack of space we ignore what is going on internally. Yoga practice cultivates are sensitivity to our inner landscape and processes. Yoga can change our sense of being and our quality of seeing
  • Stillness is part of the practice
  • The route to quietening the mind for meditation is to focus it not suppress it [yc: or try to empty it]
  • Cultivating stillness requires a light touch

Link to book

I was then sent a link to a YouTube video of TKV Desikachar in 1996, talking about his book the Heart of Yoga. Desikachar was the son of Krishnamacharya. If you have a half hour to sit and watch I really encourage you to do so. The conversations are done in a question and answer format. Some ideas support our theme for the term:

  • Yoga allows us to manage life. To feel better. If we have symptoms that take us away from ease then yoga practice changes these symptoms because we feel better
  • The tools of yoga are asana (physical exercises), pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation (enquiry)
  • It is the linking of one thing to another to bring about something profound
  • Where does yoga lead? To freedom
  • The goal of yoga is a different idea but again it leads to freedom. We can be independent
  • There is only one yoga. Over the world, yoga looks different because of local requirements and the preference of teachers but bring them together and they are all the same. Different yogas are just practices with a different emphasis

Link to YouTube Video

Term information

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