This is a question that only seems to have arisen in my mind relatively recently.
I have practised yoga it seems for many years without actually questioning what this is all about. Of course I have read the books, partook upon a 4 years teacher training with the British Wheel of Yoga, attended countless classes, workshops, retreats, all in the “name” of yoga. So what actually IS this Yoga?
If I try to look upon the yoga market place from the perspective of a yoga newbie, I would see a lot of skinny (and mostly beautiful!) young-ish ladies scantily clad and with the physical ability of an Olympic trained gymnast. I would see a quasi new age ethos embracing eastern philosophy and current diet and well being fads. How does this relate to a system that has been cultivated over hundred, even thousand of years? My own experience, I’ve realised, is just that – experience. I am not referring to the many (and counting) hours of practice, the asana, pranayama and meditation, for myself they are tools, a system or tool kit that enables me to move and age with grace, with clarity. I realise and recognise my mind, my egocentric concept of myself and my life around me. But, the older I get, the more of life’s pleasures and pitfalls I experience, I realize the actual practice (the tools) of yoga can almost become an entrapment. Whilst life flows freely and happiness abounds, the tools of yoga seem to compliment, even propagate the process. However, what happens when the flow of life is shadowed by hurt, sadness, illness and circumstances beyond our control (and control being just another concept and a theme for another day!)? What then?
Just a simple injury might be enough for you to question your yoga if you can’t practice your usual routine. Is this a lesson? Do we learn from this? What if a loved one is ill or dies? Another lesson? Are we not just rationalising the irrational, as if seeing shapes, forms and faces in the clouds?
So what is yoga? Yoga is a stage beyond the recognition of the mind, beyond the concept of our egocentric self. Words, descriptions and metaphors can be read, our minds will nod and agree, yes I get “it”. Experience, how do we feel are inquiries not to be answered by a thought. Instead it is the feeling, the realisation. And… it’s not something exclusive to years of yoga practice. You don’t need to have sat in a cave in the Himalayas to experience it. It is there right now, it always has been. The un-thought, unspoken feeling which accompanies the embrace of a loved one, the caress of a warm summer breeze, the delight of watching dust dance as the first rays of dawn’s sunlight pierce the shadows of night. To try and describe Yoga is to try and describe unconditional love itself.