Do You Really Know the True Meaning of Yoga?
Yoga is more than just a system of poses. It is also more than just mental centering and calming philosophy. It is all of this and more. Think of yoga as a life practice with the purposeful focus on self-awareness through both physical and mental actions. These actions can be in the form of a movement but could also be breathing or meditation or focused thought.
Yoga is the simple practice of using your entire being to connect to your entire being. Daily activities tend to pull parts of “us” in different directions, work, life, friends, and family. They all see a different side of “us”. Our moments of self dedication through yoga allow the different parts of “us” to unify again so that we can be reminded about who we are and who we want to be. Let’s dig a little deeper into the practice.
Where Does Yoga Come From?
Yoga originated in India about 5,000 years ago. Yoga become increasingly popular in the west at the end of the 19th century. By the 1920s and ’30s there was an explosion of popularity. There is no single individual that is referenced as the originator of the practice as the teachings were passed down from student to student with little being recorded about the origins. However, from the beginning and still today the purpose of yoga was to create a system of improving the individual’s wellbeing including their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of their lives.
Yoga Alliance teaches that yoga benefits the whole self, which includes improvements to “fitness, stress relief, wellness, vitality, mental clarity, healing, peace of mind and spiritual growth.” But remember that yoga isn’t just about a core set of beliefs. It is based on the principal of guidance. You should never find a yogi or yoginis telling you that a pose or thought “must” be done. Rather over the course of 5,000 years of history yoga has developed into a guided practice. Guided here means that instructions are a recommended action for you the beneficiary to take and consider. Do what your body allows to the extent that it is your goal. The practice of yoga is your path and yours alone. What allows you to feel centered and whole may not work for anyone else, but that should be an indication to you that you have discovered your inner uniqueness not that you have diverted from any particular path.
Are There Texts To Read Or Just Practice?
There are two core texts that are considered the main source texts for yoga, the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. Both texts are thousands of years old but do not originate from the start of the yoga practice. Rather they are a collection of poses, practices, and philosophical ideals that form the core of yoga and the Hindu faith. Both were originally written in Sanskrit and retain their importance to this day. These aren’t the only texts on the practice of yoga. Since its popularity boom in the early 20thcentury in the west, countless books have been written that try to formulate what yoga is and how to properly practice yoga. These books can be helpful, instructive, and informative. However, the practice of yoga is meant to be experienced through the teacher-pupil relationship. Guidance can only be truly learned through the interaction with a yoga teacher during practice. So, though texts and instructional books have their place and are important to educate the soul, there is no substitute for the watchful eye and soft guidance of a teacher.
What Are The Philosophies Of Yoga?
As you are transitioning into a routine practice of yoga it is useful to understand certain philosophical specialties of yoga. This is not to say that you can’t find your center and wholeness without subscribing to a philosophy. The thought is that the core branches can help guide if necessary those that need the extra direction or focus. But ideally we practice them all as whole. Below is a list of the 6 branches (think of them as branches stemming from the yoga tree trunk):
- Hatha yoga: Most common or well know branch combining physical and mental awareness
- Raja yoga: The “eight limbs” of yoga focuses on a strict set of meditative steps
- Karma yoga: This branch offers a philosophy on service to free the future from troubles
- Bhakti yoga: Devotion, acceptance, and tolerance are all a focal point to channel emotions
- Jnana yoga: This branch seeks to improve wisdom and intellect through study
- Tantra yoga: The word tantra means to weave or expand. It works on the subtle energies within the body to enhance spiritual growth and physical wellbeing.
Note that hatha yoga is most likely the practice you find in a yoga studio though yoga philosophies can extend beyond the studio to all aspects of your daily life.
How Do Chakras Fit Into Yoga?
Chakras are focal points for the different centers of your whole self. There is an energy, thoughts, feelings, and a physical body chakra. The translation of chakra is spinning wheel. So, you can think of your chakra as a mill wheel with water constantly spilling over and turning the wheel allowing flour (your positive energy) to be produced. When there is an imbalance or if your energy is blocked, the water doesn’t stop but the mill wheel does. This blockage causes anxiety, depression, physical symptoms, and lethargy. The practice of yoga seeks to keep both the water flowing and the wheel spinning at all times.
Is Yoga Right For Me?
Because yoga isn’t a thing like coffee or medication, it relies on the practitioner (you) to devote yourself to the moment while practicing. So, meaning, yoga is the act of the whole individual connection with the whole of the self. Whatever time or energy you can give, as long as it is honest and genuine, you can grow with time and practice. Just like any activity, yoga is a life long pursuit for inner connectedness and self-awareness.
The difficulty is not in the actual movements or lack there of but is based on what works for you and what actions or inactions allow you to find your inner-self and reconnect the whole. Proper guidance is key.
I encourage you to try yoga, if you are interested to connect better with your mind, body and soul and expand that connection beyond the mat onto your daily life.