Yoga is not the Asanas

I have completed by second weekend, set of yoga teacher training at Ekahi through the North American School of Yoga Science.  In my last blog on this subject, I noted that my flexibility had improved to the point where I was able to put my shoes on with much greater ease.  I am noticing even greater improvements in function and general range of motion and I am able to do at least a modified version of all poses in most classes.  I still find yoga to be a challenge and hope that I always find ways to challenge myself as I improve.  A big breakthrough happened in a flow class with Rachel last week.  I still found significant challenges with the asanas and the cardiovascular challenges but at the end of the class, I felt something which I find difficult to describe…maybe a feeling of bliss?  The feeling carried forward for days and in my meditation today, I realized something even greater was happening- yoga had allowed a deepening of my dhyana or jhana (meditation) to briefly attain samadhi (deep state of conscious awareness.)  Is this the actual purpose of yoga?

The history of yoga is somewhat obscure.  There are early mentions of the word “yoga” in Vedic texts such as the Rigveda dating back to approximately 15oo BCE.  The Ridveda is a collection of hymns and rituals and yoga was described as a series of movements to prepare the body for sitting for long periods of dhyana.  Around 800 BCE, Hinduism began to develop out of the Vedic traditions.  During the Golden Age of Hinduism (650-320 BCE), six major branches of Hinduism were developed with yoga being one of them.  The Upanishads which are called Vedanta texts (end of Veda) further developed ideas of Brahma (creator) and Atman (spirit).  Yoga became more detailed and expanded as a practice. Another Vedanta text known as the Bhagavad Gita written in approximately 400 BCE further discusses yoga as a practice to attaining samadhi and ending karma.  Yoga which is thought to mean “yoke” or unite body and mind is often thought to be a series of poses such as in hatha yoga or ashtanga yoga but yoga can be chanting, moving, or meditating as a practice unto itself to achieve samadhi and eventually end cycles of karma.

It is the sage, Patanjali who arguably has the greatest impact on “yoga” as we think of it today.  Patanjali who around 400 AD wrote the Yoga Sutras, described yoga has having eight limbs.  In these eight limbs which include things like: dhyana (meditation); dharana (consciousness); Yamas (ethics); Samadhi (state of conscious awarenss); also includes specific asanas (poses) that we see in Hatha practice.  Through my yoga teacher training and some in-depth discussions with Naresh, I realized that I had thought yoga was just about the asanas.  When most people think of yoga, they think of some body contortions and sweating.  In my meditation today, I realized what it is all about – unification of body, mind, and spirit.  The asanas are just part of the process; as important as meditation and conscious living and practicing living Ahimsa (non-violence) to achieve moments of samadhi.  

The next time you hear the word “yoga”, think not just about poses or meditation but a way of living.  Whether you are Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or Atheist, everyone can agree that striving to give conscious awareness to the body and mind and practicing living through non-violence can make the world a better place.  Yoga is for everyone.  

Namaste and mahalo for your consideration,