While it may seem very straightforward, the question “What is yoga?” is in fact rather complex to answer. Fewer things have more misconceptions than yoga does.
To answer what is yoga, let’s try and expand our limitations. Yoga is not just an exercise routine or a way to get physically fit. Yoga is the practice of movement of body and breath. And along with that is the mindfulness and awareness of your breath, your body, and the energy in and around us. It is a step-by-step process of attuning your life and yourself with the universe around you. Basically, yoga is a way of life that helps you be the best that you can be in mind, body, heart, and soul. You can practice yoga in little ways and in big ways – starting out easy and making it tougher as you go along.
The Definition of Yoga
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuja. Yuja means the union of the individual consciousness with universal consciousness. Yoga is a practice which helps you enter the highest level of comprehension and knowledge.
True Yoga has eight different “organs” or parts:
- Yama: The positive rules that you must adhere to do while practicing meditation.
- Niyama: The prohibitory rules of meditation – all that you must not do.
- Asanas: What we know yoga as, the movement of physical postures and transitions.
- Pranayama: The breathing techniques of yoga, done with asanas or just as.
- Pratyahara: The practice of controlling one’s mind.
- Dharana: The practicing of looking within you with the mind’s eye.
- Dhyana: The practice of meditation with a goal in mind.
- Samadhi: The practice of meditation without a goal for the sake of dhyana. Such dhyana leads to Samadhi. Here, one’s individual consciousness (atma) becomes part of the universal consciousness (Paramatma).
Starting Out With Yoga
After understanding that yoga is a lot more than a series of movements, let’s boil it down to a simpler start. Yoga is a 5000-year old practice, so done by Hindu ascetics of yore. It begins with the movement of the body and the breath, the asanas along with the pranayama. So while we did say that yoga is not about movement, it is definitely, partly about movement. And any movement is life, isn’t it? But yoga is also more of a thought process as well—it’s the closest you can get to nirvana while living on this earth. Yoga is empowering.
Beginner yoga usually entails you signing up for a class. The class can be onsite (find one near you here!) or even virtual, or even from books. Here you will begin to learn to practice the movements, called poses or asanas. Along with showing you the asanas, a yoga teacher will also talk in a soothing tone of voice. This helps you modulate your breathing and relax your mind. Each asana is correctly performed with dual movements—that of your breath and that of your body. Breathing right is key to yoga. This dual dance of breathing and movement will relax your body, mind, and soul. And you won't once lose your breath. The asanas or poses of yoga help you achieve a healthy body since it does do a slow burn on the calories as well.
Once you get the basics, remember that there will be many more types of yoga for you to follow through your interest in. Some of the yoga will use props, while some will be as fast as an aerobics class!
The Benefits Of Yoga
For someone who has always been a gym-freak, or a runner, or even a swimmer, yoga may not hold much appeal. As a practice, the benefits of yoga are such that they help everybody achieve better health.
- The breathing techniques of yoga aid in mental relaxation. As does the soothing music or the monologue of a yoga teacher. This, in turn, may lower stress levels.
- The movement of yoga is such that the asanas help burn calories and increase strength. It also increases the flexibility of the human body and even the mind.
- Yoga is vigorous exercise but performed in a gentle sequence. It increases strength and avoids any injury that may come about with excess of exercise or force.
- Everyone can practice yoga—from the muscular to the lean or big bodied. Under supervision, yoga can also aid those recuperating from an injury or illness.
- Yoga builds you up as a person and makes you stronger inside out. It gives you a healthy body, a relaxed and balanced mind and a happy, higher level of consciousness (soul).
All in all, yoga and even beginner yoga is a practice of movement of the body, mind, and soul. In doing so, you align yourself with the cosmos—and so become the best that you can on every plane of health there is: physical, mental, and spiritual. Namaste!