What is yoga? I've heard the answer as "to yoke" which always makes me giggle because no one has any idea what that really means. I've also heard "the union of the body and mind." That is more tangible and understandable, but it still does not resonate or have much of an impact - no goosebumps from that very literal, linear definition. For years now when I've been asked I emphatically state, "all life is yoga!" To this I usually get a quizzical look and the questioner just kind of walks away, making a mental note never to ask me about yoga again! I also try explaining yoga as a method of breaking contact with pain, but even that doesn't make sense to those living in a fog (the ones who it would most benefit).
The words we use just don't quite measure up to the magnitude of the power behind yoga and what yoga is at its essence, so I believe what helps is to clarify further, first understating what yoga asana practice is also known as hatha yoga and then from there expanding into the big picture of Yoga, which encompasses the traditional 8 limbs (including yoga asana practice) clarifying and expanding into the richness, importance, depth and truth of what Yoga is at it's very core.
First at it's most basic definition, yoga asana practice (no matter if it's power yoga or gentle yoga) is a one-pointed focused meditation technique which creates a gap in the incessant stream of thinking. This allows access to intuition and creativity as well as the ability to form new neuro-pathways and, in essence, the ability to direct your thoughts and thusly change your mind as you wish. It also brings tremendous health and wellness to the physical body, relieving many symptoms of illness and disease. Yoga asana practice is the third of 8 limbs in the tradition of Yoga.
So what then is the tradition of YOGA? Rather than break it down in a linear way, which won't have the impact we're looking for here, let's expand further with Yogi Amrit Desai's rich and valuable explanation:
"YOGA is to realize the truth of who you really are.
"Everything you say after I AM is not you. You made it up! Everyone says something different - we've all identified with something that the ego-mind perceives. Ego-mind is built on the search for good and the fear of evil, but in reality neither exist because good and evil indicates a split and there is no split, no opposite of reality.
So why do you have problems? Because you want to compare, you want to split from and see if your co-worker, neighbor, friend, whoever you are interacting with is a friend or an enemy. Why? Because you only meet people from your past experiences. This is why the practice of hatha yoga is so important - because the mind can not go into the dimension of spirit.
The mind sees everything through comparison. The mind is split, built on the search for good and the fear of evil.
The Ego is not interested in balance and harmony. When you are fearful or feeling negative emotions, your ego is feeding your memory of the past. All fear does is protect your old fears with your body's physical energy, leaving you feeling drained, exhausted and miserable.
You think the other person offended you?
Conflicts are natural, they come from expectations. Expectations are frustrations waiting to happen.
Most people base their relationships with others on conditional external factors - what they want on the outside to happen. So you 'forgive' them but it doesn't work because the cause is still in you - all of your 'problems' live in you because what you are looking for outside of yourself you will never find.
When you feel offended or frustrated by another person, use the 'turn-around technique'. Teach yourself to go inside to solve your problems. Learn acceptance. Forgiveness without acceptance doesn't work, it's not complete by itself. How? Change your perception then you will find acceptance and will truly be able to forgive - feeling the joy, peace and lightness that true forgiveness provides.
All of this is Yoga. It is the Science of the Soul and all lives in your karmic memory. It's based on how we access the quantum field of the undivided whole where there is no division and no time.
This is pure consciousness." - Amrit Desai
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