Lately I have been thinking a lot about what is the meaning of yoga. What does it mean to me, since I am aware that it means different things to each and every one of us. I also watched the documentary ‘Who owns yoga’ by Al Jezeera, which is definitely a must see for everyone interested in the development of yoga and the modern perspectives on it.
This line of thought took me back to basics, so I did some more research on the philosophies behind the yoga practice:
- The Yamas – they relate to what we should stop doing, in order to live in harmony with ourselves and those around us.
- Ahimsa – refers to not practicing violence, in words, thoughts or deeds.
- Satya – is related to always being truthful
- Asteya – focuses on not stealing; it doesn’t only refer to material items, but also to stealing people’s spotlight, time or energy
- Brahmacarya – is related to being moderate and controlling our human impulses of excess
- Aparigraha – instigates to not hoard or possess, cultivate generosity and be helpful and giving towards others
- The Niyamas – what we commit to ourselves
- Saucha – being clean. Through the asana practice, the body is purified. More to this, this Niyama relates to eating mindfully and paying attention to what we read or watch
- Santosha – being contempt with what you have and practicing gratitude
- Tapahs – discipline and effort. Learning to work hard for your achievements
- Svadhyaya – studying and loving yourself.
- Isvara pranidhana – surrender to a higher force, or devotion to your practice. This is related to seeing outside your ego, and spreading love in the universe.
I believe these teachings to be truly beautiful. In a world that values individuality, career prosperity and material possessions, it is refreshing to take a moment and reflect on how we want our path to be. There are many voices out there saying that yoga is much more than asana, and that, as you practice, you cannot help but embrace some of the yoga philosophy. Do you agree?
The above mentioned documentary went from bodybuilders that make their living out of yoga because it’s the trend of this century and an easy source of income, to traditional teachers who still believe that yoga is rooted in hindu thought and that practicing just asana is not yoga. But in the end, who is entitled to define it? I believe we can all attribute our own definitions to it, according to what works for us, and where our personal journey has taken us. I also firmly believe that no one can say what yoga is not. May it be just asana, or may it be practicing while also enjoying a steak or a glass of wine from time to time. And I believe that all those practices the so-called ‘yogis’ have been frowning upon are nevertheless still yoga practices.
So what does yoga mean?
For me, it is balance. Tolerance. Gratitude. Shutting down the ego, when all it would do is harm. Accepting who you are, and who those around you are, and listening to what they can teach you. Silencing the mind when it wants to achieve physical goals (now!) and understanding that many things take practice, and other might never come easy. Appreciating what you have and being happy to be alive, to have a ray of sun caressing your cheek or a warm hug from somebody close. And most of all, remembering who the person you want to be is, and forgiving yourself when you stray away from this idealistic version of yourself. If you are ashamed or sad about your actions, this means you care, you acknowledge, and you learn. Be easier on yourself and try again tomorrow.
What about you? Feel free to share what your yoga practice means for you!