The term “yoga” is Sanskrit. It has been translated as “to add; to unite; to join; to connect.” From the root word yuj, it has been figuratively connected to the “harnessing of horses,” or “to put something to use.”
What is Yoga? As a yogi, socially engaged artist, and psychotherapy student, I’m constantly redefining what yoga means, letting that definition blossom. Letting it die. And then allowing it to be reborn again.
Yoga is not about turning your body into a pretzel. It’s about experiencing your body fully. In a single pose, you are continually creating and discovering your own personal edge, and working within these boundaries can feel very liberating.
How does someone practice and why do people call it a practice? āsanas are just one part of yoga, a slice of the ashtanga (eight limbs) of the yoga tradition. It’s the trendy part. It’s also the most fun and non-conceptual part that tethers us to the earth because it’s physical. The word āsana simply means “seat” but it’s often used interchangeably with “pose” during yoga classes.
The practice of āsana gives us the deep opportunity to discover the textures of our mind-body. It’s the cave of our psychic themes, a dwelling place to explore how our minds can be expressed through shape, form, and energy. Being in your body feels good, but it may also feel terrifying because expressing a pose means exploring how we settle into, or feel unsettled in ourselves. Since we have yet to train our bodies in this way, it can feel foreign and awkward. We may find that meeting our edges with a strong desire either to get into a pose, give up, or push too hard, can show up immediately when we experience the quality of how we’re relating to each asana.
In other words, our bodies serve as dynamic feedback of what we’re experiencing. This feedback is a conversation that will only end at our last breath, and during yoga we have an amazing opportunity to intensify and turn up the volume, using each breath as a guide post. We wouldn’t need āsana practice if we could listen to all the subtleties, but lucky for us we have this precious physical vehicle that amplifies our experience. Yoga is the fun way to listen!
Yoga may allow us to feel more because of the edges we’re meeting, both physically and mentally. With a consistent yoga practice, we continually celebrate this container of body, engaging wholeheartedly in our humanness. With the rickety, wobbling, uncertainty of balancing in a pose, and with the strong, steady, easeful joy of coming back to the mat, we choose to meet our fragility and our power. Again and again, breath after breath, pose after pose, practice after practice.
Aspiration for today: Whatever you place your attention on, may it serve you well and deeply enough to feel it in your bones, swell in your organs, and pulse through your blood. May you join the shadow of your mind with the flame of your heart. May this precious planet and its beings benefit from the practice.