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What is yoga?

by Shakti Shira Bassi

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Why is yoga not simply a postures practice? Why is it so important that the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi called the UN to declare 21st June as an International Yoga day? Surely we must consider what is this yoga?

Ask any yoga practitioner why they feel so drawn to yoga? Very few will give an intellectual answer, most will say because it gives some kind of ‘glow’ to their lives at some level, be it mental spiritual or physical.

Yoga is not an intellectual activity. it’s a way of arriving at your wholeness, as a human being.

Mentions have been made in various yoga studios around the world of all the different styles of yoga asanas(postures) styles from the dynamic hot vinyasa flow yoga to the sedate slow yin yoga. The root core of all these is Hatha yoga. This is the origin of all the latest mental forms of yoga that have been adapted from the classical form Hatha (translated as the balance of moon and sun energies)

However beyond this there is so much more to yoga, and it’s all an experiential learning of oneself through oneself, with the guidance of a teacher, which can be internal or external. The term for such teachers is guru. So much of our teachers are attempting to intellectualize even this form of training with a mental syllabus! Quite contrary to yoga which is experiential learning over a life time (as wholeness and balance is life long), a 4 week program cannot offer this depth of awareness, and much damage is caused in peoples lives because of this speed driven yoga. Yoga is designed to enhance wholeness in all life through cultivating an aware human being. At yoga I am, we offer a whole way of being without a certificate! There is no mental satisfaction. Only a wholeness to who you are that is the satisfaction, and it’s an ongoing practice.

Patanjali, who is the main preceptor of yoga, identifies this wholeness practice from the 8 limbs of yoga in his yoga sutras. This then allows the mental, spiritual and physical balance evolves into an expanded awareness of being. This is not for everyone. Hence, certain chunks of these limbs have been taken out singly and applied in the consumerist market place, for example asanas (postures) in the yoga fitness studios, Dyhana (meditation) in mindfulness and meditation programs, Pranayama (breathing) in breath therapy etc.

What if these 8 limbs of patanjali  sutras; Yamas (self restraints) Niyamas (good virtues) Asanas (postures), Prathyara (withdrawal) Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (enlightenment) were not meant to be sliced out like a piece of cake but are in fact like climbing a mountain, and an addition to each prior step, to reach the summit, and if any one step is missed at some level you fall be it mental spiritual or physical, just a thought to be careful  in your yoga practice as you are wiring at a deeper aspect of yourself.

Narendra Modi states that ‘Yoga embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and wellbeing’ June 21st is also summer solstice and according to yogic sources the first transmission of yoga arose on this day.

We all seek harmony externally yet if it’s not internalized. It cannot occur in the external realm. Even science is now accepting this fact. External events are first created at an internal level in the human mind and body and spirit. Yoga allows a whole way of being human and fulfilled.

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