What is Yoga?

Yoga is perhaps one of the most misconstrued terms in contemporary society. In mass culture, when most people say yoga, like pilates, they are most likely referring to a “brand” of exercise one can take at a gym or at a yoga studio, that is also associated with trendy fitness clothes, funny postures, and cool accessories.  Like most people, I also started with this conception of yoga based how it is commercialized and I “consumed” how that product has been packaged and marketed differently in various countries.  The worldwide yoga market is worth billions of dollars, so it is no wonder that yoga styles and sequences have been trademarked and copy-righted by various celebrity gurus and franchises.  Nevertheless, yoga, like good classical music used in TV advertisements, is one of very few things in the world whereby any type of exposure is preferable over no exposure at all. That is because even if one does the asanas and vinyasas without knowledge or understanding, one can still benefit physically and mentally. Most people intuitively appreciate yoga in their first class and many keep coming back.

Often in life, the journeys begun without destinations, timelines, targets, goals, objectives, and intentions—these are the most life changing ones.  Yoga is this type of journey. Recently, I decided to take a sabbatical to study meditation.  I began by looking at books and teachings and then traveled to Dharamsala, India, to study meditation there. Afterwards, I followed the footsteps of the Buddha through northeast India, and visited the temples of the famous gurus in and around Calcutta.  During this time in India, the words “yoga,”  “yogi,” and “yogini” kept coming up over and over—in the context of the original meaning: Divine Union.  In New Age spiritualism, yoga can also be synonymous with Oneness, Self-Realisation, Liberation, Enlightenment, and Super-Consciousness.

I began to understand that many of the great spiritual teachers, such as Krishna, Patanjali, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Babaji, etc.—essentially, each taught a form of yoga or a path to Oneness.  I also realized that although there are many paths, no philosophy or school is more right or more wrong because all sincere spiritual paths eventually converge at the same truth – your “True Self.”   Everything that moves you away from your true Self is the mind. Everything that moves you towards your “True Self” is yoga.   This makes yoga the ultimate paradox because it is the path of no-path (sometimes also described as the path of no-mind) since being attached to the path automatically leads one to stray off it.  Further, like fingerprints and snowflakes, every yogi and yogini is unique, so it is for each person’s inner guru to discern what path feels right for him or her.  My path may not be your path, and vice versa.  However, all paths converge.  Similar to the saying, “all paths lead to Rome,” all paths lead to Oneness.

At the end of my travels in India, from somewhere deep inside, I knew I had to take a closer look at the wisdom inscribed by Patanjali on Ashtanga Yoga.  That is how I ended up in this yoga teacher training course.  From what I have learned so far, Ashtanga yoga presents a proven path of disciplining the body and mind to make ourselves open to universal truth, thereby enabling us to re-become our “True Self.”  Ashtanga yoga encompasses more than asanas and vinyasas. It is an inward journey that involves turning away from the sensory mind, developing body awareness and becoming conscious of the energy of life within and enveloping us, healing and strengthening our physical body and energy meridians, and awakening our inner wisdom—our intuition—which comes from our inner guru.  We then understand that asanas and vinyasas when integrated with deep ujjai breathing are powerful tools for directing, balancing and harmonizing energies in the body and for taming the mind.

Ashtanga Yoga is a beautiful system passed down to us from the ancient Rishiis.  As in the chants we say before each practice, I sincerely offer my thanks and gratitude to the ancient Rishiis for the teachings, especially Patanjali for codifying and inscribing it, and to the many generations of gurus who have gone before and preserved the traditions throughout the ages.  I am also grateful to the teachers at Tirisula for enthusiastically sharing Yoga with me.

PARAMA RISHIBHYO NAMAHA