The word “yoga” is Sanskrit. It’s 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.” In English, it allows us to put it all together.
But really, what is Yoga? As a yogi, socially engaged artist and therapist, I’m constantly redefining what yoga means, letting the definition blossom, letting it die. And then allowing it to be reborn again.
Yoga is not about turning your body into a pretzel or how flexible you think you should be. It’s about experiencing your body fully. In a single pose, we are continually creating and discovering our own personal edge, and working within these boundaries can feel very liberating, or very stagnate. However, your experience, as well as what you make of it, is yoga. We don’t need to worry about much else—at least not on the yoga mat.
How does someone practice and why do people call it a practice? We can practice yoga through āsana, but this is just one part of yoga, a slice of the ashtanga (eight limbs) of the yoga tradition. Asana is the trendy part of the yoga path. It’s also the most fun and non-conceptual part because it tethers us to the earth with its physicality. After all, how could we experience anything without a body?
The word āsana simply means “seat” but it’s often used interchangeably with “pose” during yoga classes. It’s worth questioning in what ways we take our seats (poses), and what we invite ourselves to sit with, how we are unwilling to sit with, and how we may be meeting these edges.
The continued practice of āsana gives us the deep opportunity to discover the textures of our mind-body. Poses are the cave of our psychic themes, a dynamic place to explore how our minds can be expressed through shape, form, and energy. Being in our body may feel good, but it might also feel terrifying because expressing a pose means exploring how we settle into, or feel unsettled in ourselves. Since we have yet to relate to our bodies in this way, it may feel foreign and awkward, perhaps even shaky and plain weird. We may even 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.
The good news is that our precious bodies will always 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 a true opportunity to intensify and turn up the volume, using each breath and pose 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 delicate physical vehicle that amplifies our experience. Yoga is an active and creative way to listen!
Yoga allows 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, our vehicle, 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: 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 our precious planet and beings benefit from the yoga practice.