Why do we Yoga?
Just as Gandhi said, “there as many religions in the world as there are people”, I understand that there are as many types of yoga as there are yogis in the world. How can it be so different for so many, yet still be called the same thing? What is yoga then? Why are more than 300 million people in the world, a number that seems to be ever growing, practicing this yoga? And what exactly does that mean, to yoga?
We refer to the yoga poses such as Child’s Pose (Balasana) or Downward Facing Dog (Adho mukha svanasana), for example, as asana. Many people in the US begin their yoga journey by learning asana, which typically brings about physical benefits such as greater strength and flexibility. This physical practice may be what first comes to mind when we mention “doing yoga” but asanas just scratch the surface of what it means to yoga.
It is often the case that other benefits such as greater concentration, a deeper sense of connection, and greater ability to tolerate stress and distress is experienced with a somewhat regular practice. I look to Panatanjali’s 8-Limb’s of Yoga to understand the many elements of and ways to engage in my yoga. In short, the Eight Limbs are: Yama (Restraints), Niyama (Observances), Asana (Posture), Pranayama (Breath Control), Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the Senses), Dharana (Concentration), Dhyana (Meditation), and Samadhi (Pure Contemplation).
Yoga is many things and even if you are simply engaging in a few asanas on the mat, chances are you are also practicing some of the other limbs such as Pranayama (breath control) and Dharana (concentration). This explains why there are so many benefits experienced and why each person can taylor a yoga practice to their own needs and intentions.
Finally, as I understand more of what it means to “yoga" it makes sense to learn that the word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning “to yoke,” or “to unite”. Yoga is a practice that fosters union between the mind, the body, and the spirit. To yoke is to connect, this connection could be to our own personal intentions or could be connecting to a higher power or the Universe. This connection is felt in our communities and seen in the ways we treat others. We “yoke" together.
- Beth Lewis