What is the Meaning of Yoga?

What is the Meaning of Yoga?

In 1999, I was on a plane flying home from India, after nine years of living in the Himalayas. I’d been meditating, studying meditation, practicing yoga and living the everyday bliss of self-awareness. On the plane I picked up a glossy magazine and was amazed to see photos of North Americans practicing power yoga poses and talking about how yoga is good for getting a fit body. Now, I agree that yoga is great for your body and your health, but I had to giggle at how differently I’d learned the purpose and meaning of the Sanskrit word ‘yoga’. In India, yoga has been studied and practiced for thousands of years, but it’s not the look of the physical body that is the main aim of yoga there.

Yoga, in Sanskrit, means to completely know yourself and to be at peace in yourself. It is not possible to define this peace except to say it is freedom from all suffering, freedom from doubt and freedom from confusion. A natural blessedness unfolds in you as you feel this peace and you increasingly realize this as the core essence of your life. This realization is called yoga: a clear knowledge of the oneness of your self with the source of all life.

Being established in this knowledge, your life starts to flow with a vital freshness and harmony, with clarity, mental alertness and a fullness of loving understanding. This yoga state is expansive, creative and life-supportive.

You might doubt that this kind of expanded awareness is possible for anyone but a Himalayan sage; but yogis, including myself, have found that self-knowledge is a natural state and is possible! Our consciousness is self-reflective; in other words, you have the capacity to know the essence of your own life and mind. This potential has been researched for thousands of years by meditators. Yoga is an exploration into this nature of consciousness and existence. Yogis have discovered, through deep personal inquiry that at the root of their own life exists freedom and an ever-present space.

But how, you might ask, is this relevant to the everyday life that I live? Once you understand that life’s activities, situations and happenings never alter your essential unchanging existence, your ego doesn’t have to prove its superiority, nor believe in thoughts of inferiority. This pure space of yourself is not affected by praise from anyone, nor is it diminished by criticism. Imagine the relief of living with this sense of perfect ease!

In this state of awareness, the body and mind continue to function perfectly of course, but you don’t need to believe all your thoughts or reactions. One benefit is that negative and painful thoughts in your mind such as anxiety, anger, fear, neediness or confusion no longer seem so real. When ideas are not repeated or re-enforced, after time, they just go away! Try it and see for yourself!

A yogi is someone who engages in practices in order to realize this essential existence and their own potential power of awareness. It’s great to have a healthy body, but this awareness is real power yoga!



Go Softly: The Benefits of Gentle Yoga

Go Softly: The Benefits of Gentle Yoga

Gentle yoga, I think, is the true yoga. We jumped, we did a million planks and down dogs, and we stayed in a pose for five minutes. Now we have arrived at a place where we are learning to be gentle with our body.

In my early teaching days, most people who came to gentle yoga were pregnant women and seniors with injuries. Nowadays I see more and more young people stepping in, wanting to be gentle with their body.

Our body is a living vehicle that we have abused and misused, and it shows wear and tear and all the experiences we have gone through. Gentle yoga helps you realize that you should not take your body for granted. It’s a gift, a costume that allows us to express ourselves and experience this world. It’s the main character in your life’s movie, creating a connection with the stories that make you YOU!

We all know of yoga’s numerous benefits. In gentle yoga, you take time to feel your body move. Breath and movement are pathways to keep the organs healthy and joints lubricated. Mostly, gentle yoga helps you have a sound mind to dictate and nurture the cells in the body. We are made of energy, and gentle yoga makes you listen to your own words and slow your pace a little. What thoughts do you tell your body?

Here’s a sample of a gentle hatha yoga practice.

Gentle yoga is a bridge between moving in flow and staying stationary. It is a midway, where there is equilibrium and bliss in every pose.

You stay in a pose long enough to enjoy that you are not pushing yourself. The body gets rid of toxins naturally. You sweat in a few poses and not at all in others, but the feeling of bliss is constant. Gentle yoga equally strengthens and stretches, increasing flexibility and repairing muscles that are in need of love. There is no hurry to finish a sequence. It’s all about relaxing and allowing yourself and your body to have as much relaxation as you want.

Gentle yoga keeps the atmosphere free of competition and comparison. There is no frustration of not doing a pose, no agitation of holding a pose. We all work within that unity to strengthen groups of muscles together. So the energy of the class is generally happy and calm.

I am very happy to see people take their time during the savasana. Everyone has to return to their own stories sooner or later, but surrendering to the body and waiting for the body to prepare to move is what gentle yoga helps with.

Most importantly, people are becoming aware of their body and how it works individually. And seeing them return for more every week is rewarding.

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