What is Yoga ? A reminder on International Yoga Day

As the world goes about celebrating ‘The International Yoga Day’ primarily via postural demonstrations it’s time to review what Yoga truly is. On this Yoga Day, let us resolve to look at Yoga not as a pose but as a process, not as a class but as a commitment. Below is a simplified elaboration on the complex body of understanding that Yoga is – if you feel it is beneficial, please share. I wish you all a very Happy International Yoga Day.

Q: What is Yoga?
A: Yoga is a wisdom tradition of philosophies and practices spanning over thousands of years, emerging from South Asian region, primarily India, aimed at generating lasting inner peace and Self-understanding (Atmajnana).

Q: Is Yoga as set of physical exercises?
A: No, Yoga is not a set of physical exercises. The aspect of physical exercise falls under the category of Asana and Pranayama practices that emerge predominantly from the Tantra-Hatha orientation of Yoga. Asana per se constitutes a minor aspect of ancient Yogic tradition and was not insisted upon or mandatory for Yogic pursuit.

Q: What are Yoga styles?
A: In modern usage, the term ‘Yoga style’ has come to mean the way in which one practices physical postures – Asana. So, the term ‘Yoga style’ actually means ‘Asana style’, if you will, because Yoga is much more than physical posturing. As far as ‘styles’ of Yoga or ‘types’ of Yoga are concerned, they can be spoken of as various philosophical and practical orientations that brings about clarity of Self-understanding. They are called ‘Marga’ – path. Some of these Yogic orientations are Karma Marga (path of Karma), Bhakti Marga (path of Bhakti) and so on.

Q: Do I have to be physically flexible to practice Yoga?
A: This question comes from wrongly interpreting Asana (physical posture practice) as the whole of Yoga. You don’t have to be flexible to practice either Yoga or even Asana. Yoga and Asana, both are a process of self-development and one can steadily experience the benefits with regular practice.

Q: So do I need to do physical postures to be a Yogi?
A: Your need of doing physical postures depend on your sense of well-being and self-connection – it is personal. As I have mentioned earlier, physical posture practice was a minor part of one of the many orientations of Yoga (i.e Tantric-Hatha orientation). Yogic tradition per se does not insist on physical posture practice. But, I deeply believe that modern humans can truly benefit from a right physical posture practice (Asana) and correct breathing techniques (Pranayama). A steady, patient and sincere practice of Asana and Pranayama will only bring about an improved sense of well-being and a calmer mind to the stressed, busy and chair bound contemporary Yoga practitioner.

Q: Then what do I need to practice Yoga?
A: You need a general sense of wellbeing (Svasthya), faith in Yoga (Shraddha), sincerity towards your practice (Sadhana), dedication towards the spiritual guide (Samarpan) and a keen sense of discerned detachment (Vairagya).

Q: What is the goal of Yoga?
A: The goal of Yogic practices is to first bring about a steady state of regulated, peaceful mind which then leads to realisation of the True-Self within (Atmajnana). The end goal of Yoga is Atmajnana, realizational understanding of the True-Self within.