Yoga is it what we think?
Yoga begins in the present moment.
But what really is yoga? Many associate yoga with asana, the practice of physical postures; what many yogis know as the third limb of yoga (of the 8-limb path). But to be clear, yoga is so much more than that.
Absolutely, asana is a pathway, but what does it then lead to?
The first word in the yoga sutra is- atha, which literally means “now”. My initial understanding of yoga was the typical rendition of yoga, meaning to “unite” or “yoke”, but as Michael Stone puts it “this turns yoga into something one does, a form of willful activity”.
I have both practiced and studied yoga for almost fifteen years now, but to be honest, have only really truly understood the actual meaning of yoga and have worked to apply it to my life in the last few.
Taking this new approach to yoga has allowed both me as a yoga practitioner and as a person simply moving through this thing we call life to find more value in what yoga is trying to teach me (us).
When I think of these two drastically different meanings of yoga, it becomes apparent to me that initially, one may make more sense than the other. That one may be easier to digest, and in return, welcome more people into the arms of yoga; eventually leading those dedicated enough to the true understanding of what yoga is.
The full first yoga sutra reads “Atha yoganusasnam” which translates as “in the present moment is the teachings of yoga”.
So before we even get to asana, we are already told of the present moment…the now.
And it is in this present moment, in this balance between birth and death, darkness and light, the inhale and exhale, it is here, that we feel the completeness of what is: the silence that precedes all things.
In my life, I have come to the mat thousands of times already and although many come to the mat to receive the many benefits of yoga asana; could it be that the true goal of the action of yoga asana- is to step into the stillness that is the moment, not the asana itself? The place we meet our breath, we meet our body, we meet the asana or even another, on this pathway we call life, that we see it as complete.
So then, is it through yoga asana (or any of the other 7 limbs) that we strip away the layers of distraction, dissolution, and ignorance and fully accept and receive the present moment, the now, the silence.
I think about my experiences on the mat itself and after many years of practice, although I love the asanas, I love more where the asanas take me. As a teacher, it has become difficult at times to adhere to the requests students have to push hard, go deep and move beyond what I know and can sense they truly need at this time. But in a culture still blinded by the action of: doing equals success, truly teaching the meaning of yoga proves to be difficult.
The discomfort that arises with being still, breathing, and only focusing on that one breath. Asking your students to slow down and be in their bodies, rather than outside themselves, does soon pass. And it is the practice of asana that can peel away the layers of that discomfort, that distraction, so that you the practitioner can fully arrive in the moment, in the now, in the stillness and silence, so that we can truly understand that “yoga beings now”.
So it may be safe to say that asana is a practice of yoga, but is not yoga. And that through the mat we are given a more clear path, with instructions (hopefully) to guide us to what we now know yoga is…the experience of the moment we work to create on the mat, and the off the mat every single day.
To all the places your yoga practice may lead you, may it in the end, guide you to the one place that is always real, true and pure, the place that is not dependent on which pose you do when, or how long you can balance, or whether your practice is beginner or advanced. In the end, may what we call yoga always guide you into a full completeness and realization of the union of life.
From my heart to yours, from my soul to yours,
References: The Inner Traditions of Yoga by Michael Stone, 2008