What Exactly is Yoga?

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Yoga can seem like a complicated concept; or, at the very least, a dizzying array of physical manipulations that turn seemingly happy-looking human beings into happy looking human pretzels

Or even more disconcerting, as we have alluded to in the Introduction, a stereotype does exist in places where the term yoga is synonymous with cult, or some kind of archaic spiritual belief that compels one to quit their job, sell their house, and go live in the middle of nowhere.

In actual fact, Yoga is a very basic thing; and if you’ve had the opportunity to visit a country where it has been established for generations – India, Japan, China, and others – it’s really rather, well, ordinary

The practice of yoga came to the west back in 1893 when one of India’s celebrated gurus, Swami Vivekananda, was welcomed at the World Fair in Chicago.  He is now known for having sparked the West’s interest in yoga.

Literally, the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit term Yug, which means: “to yoke, bind, join, or direct one’s attention”.  At the same time, yoga can also imply concepts such as fusion, union, and discipline.

The sacred scriptures of Hinduism (an ancient belief system from India that has a global presence) also defines yoga as “unitive discipline”; the kind of discipline that, according to experts Georg Feuerstein and Stephan Bodian in their book Living Yoga, leads to inner and outer union, harmony and joy. 

In essence, yoga is most commonly understood as conscious living; of tapping into one’s inner potential for happiness (what Sankrit refers to as ananda).

What Yoga Isn’t

Sometimes it’s helpful to understand things by what they aren’t; especially when dealing with a topic, like Yoga, that is quite easily misunderstood. 

Authors and yoga scholars Feuerstein and Bodian help us understand yoga by telling us what it is NOT:

  • Yoga is NOT calisthenics (marked by the headstand, the lotus posture or some pretzel-like pose).  While it is true that yoga involves many postures – especially in hatha yoga – these are only intended to make people get in touch with their inner feelings. 
  • Yoga is NOT a system of meditation – or a religion – the way many people are misled to believe.  Meditation is only part of the whole process of bringing ourselves into the realm of the spiritual.
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