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What Is Yoga (Part 1)

A look at The Four Chapters of Freedom commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Sage Patanjali Swami Satyananda Saraswati to dissect the definition of Yoga.

Woman doing yoga on the beach in from of a fiery sunset/sunrise

“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied.” — Aadil Palkhivala, Fire of Love

For us to fully embody the practice of yoga, it is important that we know it's origins and intended purpose. Once we know these aspects we can more easily transform our practice into a self expression. We may build a foundation that will guide us in a direction of self discovery, understanding and compassion. So in this first part we will explore the ancient scripture to find out what is yoga.

In ancient sanskrit yoga is defined as: Yogaschitta vrtti nirodhah. This definition is broken down into four words: yoga, chitta, vritti and nirodhah. Chitta is derived from the idea of chit, meaning to see, to be consciousness, and to be aware; hence we define it as individual consciousness. This represents the whole of individual consciousness; the conscious, subconscious and also unconscious state of mind. Vritti is recognized as the fluctuations or modifications of our state of awareness as a result of the practice. Nirodhah means a process of blocking. Here we are attempting at blocking the patterns of awareness, not awareness itself. If you are a practitioner of yoga, then you can agree that the patterns of awareness become blocked in the yogic state of meditation. I personally wouldn’t describe it as a blocking of awareness because for those new to the practice may misunderstand this definition. Rather, I would say that one finds stillness in the awareness. When we put all of these definitions together we can simplify the translation of the sanskrit definition to; yoga is the stillness of the fluctuations of the mind. Once we break the definition down we are able to see that yoga is all about the processes and practices which result in the union of mind, body and spirit. It is here where we may find real liberation, self realization and actualization. Yoga allows us to delve deeper into an observation of the external you, the "ego I”, and the internal you, the "real I”. The practice attempts to discover a union of these. Without both we are not complete. This is where we start to find true balance.

Think about it this way. You’re sitting at a lake on a clear night's day. The is moon full and shining bright. You begin to see your reflection in the water. It is hard to make out a clear image of yourself in the water as the ripples create a distorted image of you. Those ripples are the stream of thoughts in your mind. Once we find stillness in the water, the image of you becomes clearer and clearer. Now you are able to see your beautiful eyes shining in the light of the moon. You are now looking at the “real I”, free of prejudice and expectations. This is what the practice of yoga attempts at achieving.

Every single person is on their own yoga journey and no two journeys look the same. We are all simply attempting at finding stillness in our minds so that we can connect to the NOW. Yoga is not here to achieve something new but to show us something that is already there. Yoga is about the knowledge, people to people, story telling, consciousness and awareness of how we are receiving.

In the next blog, I discuss the 8 limbs of yoga in a bit of detail to further understand what yoga is.


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