What is Yoga?

Here one of our new Teacher training students writes about the roots of Yoga and what it is to her. This is always the first piece of homework that we set at the beginning of teacher training as its always interesting to hear what students think especially as they start to read around the subject prior to the course. Thanks Sally for this insightful piece;

My Yoga Experience

In all honesty, until about 4 years ago I hadn’t thought of yoga in any way other than going to my regular classes, really enjoying stretching it out, often feeling the stiffness after, and realising that I slept really well that night. Yoga was yoga: I’d been going for about 12 years up to that point, and
I didn’t have any particular feeling on it, other than I loved going, loved my teacher, loved the class members, and felt like I was part of a great community group. I was definitely one of those peoplewho didn’t know anything about yoga, other than ‘doing the poses’. Until I started learning Reiki. When I started practising Reiki, and became a Reiki practitioner, I got more sensitive to feeling energy moving around my body. Then going to my yoga classes, something kind of magical happened. It was like the two practices began to merge, and I realised that they were really quite
similar. Both energy related, but I’d never clocked that before about yoga. I know it’s exercise, and that’s obviously energy related, but in a different way. It feels like ‘new’ energy, like Reiki. Quite quickly from then, my yoga practice deepened, I started doing more practice myself outside of
classes, and started reading books about it. I feel yoga has really helped my energy: It’s kept me grounded, removed ‘stuck’ energy and
emotions, got rid of other peoples energy that I sometimes (inadvertently) carry, particularly after Reiki treatments, and made me far more aware and awake of my energy field and boundaries. The other aspects I love about yoga, is that because it is often community based, we can meet
and make friends with like-minded people, and share our love / interest of yoga together. Anyone can do it, and it doesn’t matter if you go only to ‘do the poses’ like I did! It doesn’t matter what we know or don’t know about it – whatever gets us there.
My first experience of yoga was a Geri Halliwell DVD, which I did religiously for about 4 months! I’d heard so many good things about yoga, and thought I needed it in my life. Then I relocated from London to West Yorkshire, and started going to a local Hatha class. I really enjoyed the ‘live’
setting (having only done the dvd previously!), but the class was a bit disorganised, with the teacher quite often being away, and I found that frustrating. A friend recommended I tried an Iyengar classes she went to. So I went along and didn’t look back. The teacher was amazing. She brought
a whole new level of understanding to me about what I was ‘meant’ to be doing, and I felt I made
a lot of progress (certainly posturally!) and finally, I ‘got it’.

What *IS* Yoga?

When I Googled ‘What is Yoga’, Wikipedia told me the following:
Yoga is an ancient discipline from India. It is spiritual and physical. Yoga uses breathing
techniques, exercise and meditation. It helps to improve health and happiness. Yoga is the
Sanskrit word for Union’…..
Patanjali, a pioneer of Classical yoga, defined yoga as: ’The Cessation of the modification of
the mind’ (stopping changing the mind)

Stephen Cope writes in ‘Yoga and The Quest For The True Self’
1 Yoga : The Term

‘The word ‘yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root, ‘yuj’, which means to unite, join, harness,
contact, or connect’. 
To me, yoga is life, breath, movement, collaboration of physical body, mind and spirit ; Energy, stillness, being in the present moment. Ever-changing postures, whether that’s because the body feels cold and stiff or sluggish / tired / feeling unwell or diseased, or warmer, and more flexible, full
of energy, power and vitality. Many see yoga as ‘just stretching and bending’, or purely ‘pose related exercises’, but the more I’ve delved deeper, learned and practiced, the more I understand just how untrue that really is. (I still have a very long way to go, but) I see any progression and
learning – and not in terms of whether I can ‘do’ the poses – but as feeling more enlightened about myself and the world around me. I find it so inspiring how much yoga can teach us about not only our bodies and minds, but how we see and understand life, how we relate and communicate to
others, how we’re truly feeling in that practice, how it clears and focuses the mind, how breathing can control the never ending hectic thought patterns, and how slowing down to be in that moment is so important in this busy world we live in now.

Michael Stone writes in ‘The Inner Tradition Of Yoga’…
‘We cannot enjoy the fruits of yoga if we fixate on one aspect, such as the physical, while
ignoring the others’. 

Inside Out

The physical body communicates with the mind continually, but I think many people have lost that intuitive awareness through constantly busying themselves, technology, or just through generally leading such busy lives. Yoga always brings that inner calmness and the inner voice back to me. It
enables me to feel more in tune with myself and be more body aware, and intuitive. It helps me to make decisions, understand what I need, and makes me really listen in to how I’m feeling – both emotionally and physically, as well as mentally; slowing and calming me down through the
breathing. Practice is different every time, and I have finally learned that this really is normal and totally ok. If one day feels sluggish, slow and difficult, it’s alright. I don’t have to be able to do everything at every practice. It is not a competition either with myself or others – perfect poses
don’t exist, and yoga is not about whether the poses can be achieved or not, (which is sometimes what we’re led to believe) but how I’m feeling inside.

Stephen Cope writes in the introduction of his book, ‘Yoga And The Quest For The True
‘Yoga is probably the world’s most perfect form of exercise. It cultivates cardiovascular
health, and musculoskeletal strength and flexibility, without the painful and damaging side
effects of high-impact aerobics. It tunes up every organ system – -respiratory, digestive,
reproductive, endocrine, lymphatic, and nervous. It cultivates the body’s capacity to relax
and dramatically reduces the negative effects of stress. With regular yoga practice, we
breathe better. We sleep better. We digest our food better. We feel better’….

So, although it’s certainly not about perfection, (or ‘perfect’ poses) practicing yoga does seem to be a near perfect form of whole body exercise!

Yoga teaches me about resilience and persistence. It helps me shift pain, both emotionally and physically. I really enjoy the feeling of strength it brings, the stretching and lengthening of muscles, the expansion of breath in the ribcage, the feeling of freedom and space in the whole body which
yoga crates, and feeling cleansed with all the fresh oxygenated blood rushing around.

BKS Iyengar writes:
‘Extension and expansion bring space, and space brings freedom. Freedom is precision,
and precision is divine. From freedom of the body, comes freedom of the mind, and then
Ultimate Freedom. The Ultimate Freedom that yoga works toward can be tasted in our own
bodies, as each limb gains independence, flexibility and freedom from its neighbouring
limbs. Certainly, stiffness and rigidity in the body is like wearing a straightjacket, or living
ones life in prison’
from Light On Yoga

Yoga feels so freeing to me. Not only to my mind, but the whole body. Practicing makes me feel better all round, restoring me, ridding me of stale energy and preparing me for the day ahead. Any energy high after is a bonus, and knowing that I’m looking after my ‘vehicle’ makes me feel good.
The only drawback to practicing yoga that I can think of, is how progression of any kind is often only ever seen in hindsight, which can take a long time… and because often I want to see results instantly, this can feel frustrating! So it’s also a lesson in patience (to me).

Michael Stone writes from ‘Yoga For A World Out Of Balance’
‘The yoga postures open the stagnant energies of the body through realigning the
energetic pathways of the breath and nervous system……..As the breath rises and falls, so
too does the mind, and we come to see that the natural ecology of the mind, breath and
body are indivisible’.

Breath – Prana

Breathing is one of the most important aspects of yoga to me. It is life force. We literally cannot live without the breath, and it is one long continual cycle, as is life. Again, in the busy lives we lead, breathing ‘properly’, or deeply, is often forgotten about, but has so many positive effects. To
breath consciously and really feel the breath moving through the body, into the ribcage and beyond feels so revitalizing. Synchronizing the breath with the asanas (postures) takes the breath to another level. To breath deeply in a posture which I find tricky, I am really able to feel the
difference the breath makes to enabling an easier / better posture.

Yoga can teach so many things. Not only about the physical body, (for example, whether an asana feels easier on one of the body sides than another / tricky . Easy etc) but also about how far the body can be pushed, bit by bit, breath by breath, day by day, and how strong, resilient and capable it is when you begin to tune in.

Sally Simcox


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