What Is Yoga?

What comes to your mind when I say the word “yoga”? Do you think about bendy poses? A workout? What if I told you that yoga started as a religious practice in India? It actually did! Thousands of years ago, it began as ritualistic practice worshiping the Earth. Over the centuries, the practice has greatly evolved with influences from various cultures and the practice grew in popularity around the world. There are many different styles of yoga — some that really don’t involve the poses or movement at all, and some that are really focused on a specific sequence of poses. If you do look into any style, however, you will quickly see that yoga is much more than moving your body into shapes.

A white woman with straight blond shoulder length hair, wearing a black top and grey pants, poses in Warrior 2 in a brightly colored room on a dark purple yoga mat.

The poses help prepare the body. Whether you’re relaxing in a Child’s Pose or sweating while flowing through another Vinyasa, the poses and movement help strengthen and support the physical body. The movement aspect of the yoga world has become a large focus of the practice in our modern sedentary lifestyle for good reason! Also, there are just so many styles of the physical yoga practice out there, it’s easy to find something that works for you. Anything from a sweaty practice in a heated room to a relaxing, supportive practice that you hold poses for several minutes supported by bolsters and blankets (Yin yoga). Even the same yoga styles among the different teachers of that style can feel totally different.

Breathwork plays a big role. Your breath helps connect your physical body with your energetic, emotional, and spiritual bodies. I’m not just talking counting your inhales and exhales or Ujjayi breath (aka Ocean breath, fogging a mirror breath, or Darth Vader breath), but even chanting or singing could also be considered breathwork. Sanskrit is the original language of yoga, and Kirtan is a style that embraces chanting or singing in Sanskrit, along with the storytelling aspects of the ancient yoga practice.

Meditation is key. Meditation is a state, not an action. What we may commonly think of as meditation is actually a method of concentration. So the lake imagery, body scan, and mantra (repeating a word or phrase over and over) are all ways to concentrate and steady the mind to reach a state of meditation. I’m not saying you’ve reached meditation when you aren’t thinking. You’re always thinking. You’re in a meditative state when you’re not associated and interacting with your thoughts. You can let them come and go and you’re unaffected by them. Like how clouds move across the sky, but the bright blue sky remains unchanged and steady behind them.

So what is yoga? It’s not a one word answer. It includes movement and poses, but that’s not all it is. It is getting in touch with your deeper being. It is becoming connected to your Self and to the world around you. It is deeply spiritual.

What is yoga for you right now? Are you new to the practice? A seasoned practitioner? Does this blog post change your thoughts on yoga at all? Leave your thoughts in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you!

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