Yoga is a Sanskrit word that is frequently translated as “union” or “connection,” the thread that ties it all together, and refers to a state – that sense of being that sometimes hits all of us, a merging of embodiment and consciousness. The term Yoga also refers to specific techniques to achieve the state of Yoga with more control and consistency – potent practices for living more completely and noticing what it is to be.
Yoga can be viewed as the point of life, to wake up to things as they are.
The yogic traditions began thousands of years ago with ancient sages in the high Himalayas of India (exactly when and where is debatable by scholars, since for a long time the practice was passed from teacher to student, without written records). Over time, different lineages and traditions evolved, which have sometimes diverged then converged again later, and the traditions continue to evolve and develop. Much of the yoga that is widely taught in the US involving physical postures is some version of Hatha Yoga, which has roots in Tantra. These classical postures and sequences are deliberately designed to powerfully purify and strengthen the body for optimal health and functionality, in preparation to safely support elevated states of awareness.
When we practice yoga techniques, we focus our attention on certain details (e.g., the breath, activation of particular muscles and energetic sensations, subtle feelings within the body as we move through different poses) to train our bodies and minds in a systematic way, and cultivate a fully embodied awareness. The ability to notice whatever it is that you experience can facilitate a more clear and peaceful existence. Through deliberate (and sometimes intense) physical and breathing practices, we undergo a process of purification and even restructuring, burning up all the unnecessary rubbish and maintaining the best possible health and well-being. With consistent practice, the transformation that unfolds along the way is quite incredible. In fact, it can be said that “Yoga ruins your life.” Yoga is primarily an experiential practice, but it is also helpful to study the philosophical tradition for context and enrichment along the way.
During my years as a Peace Corps volunteer, living in a bamboo palm-thatched hut on a quiet ridge in an indigenous area of Panama, I found the environment conducive for tapping into this clarity. It may be more natural to access when you live in a place without electricity and all the distractions of our “developed” society here in the US, but I have found that practicing yoga makes this clarity (or vidya in Sanskrit) ever present and accessible — anywhere at all, through whatever happens to be going on.
The methods of yoga provide effective practices to keep your body healthy and aging gracefully (no matter what stage of life or health you are in), through postures that systematically stretch, strengthen, and balance, utilizing the full range of movement in joints, physically working out stress, tension, releasing unhelpful emotions and past trauma, along with focused breathing and increasingly subtle meditation techniques. The physical practice is initially aimed at the purification aspect, maintaining or restoring health to the body. You may find that when the body is nicely worked and nicely stretched, concentration, clarity, and joy become much more accessible and even spontaneous.
There is more that unfolds along the path of yoga than you could imagine in your wildest dreams.
We practice yoga to cultivate clarity and strength, balance and awareness – that sense of fully being, making space, and accessing stillness, while being as useful as possible in our individual roles in the world – even in the midst of all the doing and turbulence we may find ourselves in. Along this path, we begin to understand (or remember) a bit more about what we’re doing here. This is an extraordinary practice that can open much more than you expect.
I cannot tell you what it might mean for you in particular. Come find out!