The word yoga means different things to many different people. I have been teaching yoga for just under fifteen years and practicing for half my life and I am at a place were I linger even calling myself a yoga teacher anymore. Not because I don’t want to teach what I teach and live how I live, but rather I don’t fit into the molds our yoga communities have set in place; and to be honest, I never really did.
The idea of labeling something or someone is a very common practice in our culture and we do it often without even knowing we are. For many we “label” to give a sense of control, keep things in order, break it down to understand something.
You observe a person going to church and you assume they are Catholic or Christian without knowing them. You practice yoga and are labeled a worshiper of false gods, or super bendy. You send your kids to a private school and you are assumed you have lots of money, you went to college so you are assumed to be smart, you don’t go to college and you are assumed to not have many options. I could go on but I’ll stop there.
Yoga means different things to different people. I have read dozens of articles talking about how bad yoga is for the body-the glorification of contorted poses is now the new poster child of yoga when it comes to social media. And at some level, this is true, but only for some, because yoga means different things to different people.
Whether or not you practice yoga when you hear the topic of yoga come up what is your initial thought or internal conversation?
What do your thoughts default to? Unattainable poses plastered on Yoga Journal Magazine covers and social media all holding claim to the beauty of yoga (and I have a few out there, I’m not saying it’s bad)?
Do you instantly cast claim to your inexperience in yoga as to determine what yoga then actually is?
Do you only base yoga on physical movement because in the West that is for many what yoga is.
Do you reject all yoga as it’s ancient roots pull from Eastern practices that few here truly understand?
Or that yoga is to be only for women when initially yoga was only practiced by men?
What exactly is yoga to you, and how did you come to that conclusion?
Yoga means different things to different people.
And I think that is part of the beauty and mystery of yoga.
I will often state to my students that yoga to me is a lifestyle, a way of living, a code of conduct- first and foremost within ourselves and then for how we interact with the world (Yamas & Niyamas).
For some, yoga’s philosophical principles are interwoven beautifully into their choice of beliefs as it can often enhance the personal connection with themselves, their personal connection with God and their calling. Still, for others, it is solely a physical experience be it gentle and relaxing or intense and extreme. But even that can deeply affect our internal state when we blow off some steam, get centered and learn to breathe.
Yoga means different things to different people.
Now I am sure some will read this and argue with me that yoga must be this way and must be seen along these lines in order for it to be yoga. And I just want to clear the air, I’m not a yogi scholar, I’m a self-taught business owner, I take things and find what works for me, I’m not perfect and I have many different viewpoints on many things as that is my nature.
BUT the great thing about yoga is: yoga IS all-encompassing, yoga IS universal, yoga IS for everyone, yoga IS a moral compass, and yoga IS a way for anyone who chooses to purify themselves internally and externally, developing a connection with their inner truth and Creator utilizing many facets yoga has encompassed if one chooses to.
So when someone asks me if I teach yoga, the more times passes, I contemplate if saying yes really even matters. Because I can say for certain if some would come to my class they would be appalled I call myself a yoga teacher, I don’t do poses they way most do, I use lots of props, I swing from deeply interweaving life into the practices dialogue to dedicating all teaching language to understanding the physical body and movement. My Sun Salutations are built more like, well, they are building nothing like Sun Salutations and I quite possibly could be lashed for even calling them that (humor intended). I am far from what you’d expect as a yoga teacher, yet what I do works for so many-so maybe what I teach is yoga?…
Regardless, that is the beauty-yoga means different things to different people. Coming from a very dogmatic society, a very black or white way of life, it can be challenging even in yoga to understand that no matter how much you want to you can’t keep things the same. Yoga is not based on rules, the practitioners are often the ones making rules to help keep the control, not usually in the others lives, but in their (our) own.
I use to get quite around certain people and never discuss what I did because when the word yoga came to my lips some would cringe, or instantly cast judgment at the thought of practicing or participating in any yogic practices.
Yoga means different things to different people, and yoga means many different things to me.
Yoga has helped me understand how to live, it brought me through a horrific eating disorder, one I would have, with certainty-died from.
Yoga has helped me understand what faith, belief, and having God in your life really means.
Yoga has helped me talk less and listen more.
Yoga has helped me get more in touch with my body, it taught me how to feel again, it has forced me to become more aware of my actions, reactions and words and the how’s and why’s that go along with them.
Because of the yoga I know, I am no longer floating through life praying I survive another day, desperate to just make due.
Yoga to me is about reclaiming my body as a temple, a place of respect, and within that yoga has taught me how to love myself again and stop caring so much about what others think of me and my choices.
Yoga to me is not about the poses, but rather about what I feel while I’m in them and what I take away after.
Yoga has taught me to trust more, believe more and keep hope.
Yoga has taught me self-control, restraint, and how to feel as I navigate each pose and the mental tribulation that comes with feeling in each pose.
My yoga has brought me to a place where I seldom fear life and what comes with it, and when I do, it’s short-lived as I am re-grounded, able to stay present and remember I have a purpose here and that there is something greater than myself.
Yoga means all of that and more to me, I can say for certain someone will read this and disagree along the way and that is OK, just keep on moving along because yoga means different things to different people.
Read more about Yoga and the Yamas & Niyamas: