I recently came across a forum topic entitled “Let’s start with the definition of yoga!” Some of the conversation was insightful and interesting. As it turned out, the objective was not to establish a concrete definition as the title would have you believe. But when I first read it in my inbox, I had an immediate reaction. I thought, “No! Let’s not START with the definition of yoga. Let’s start with what YOU NEED.”
As you well know, there are hundreds (thousands?) of books about yoga – what it is, how it works, what it does for you, the history, lineages, etc. There are also many different schools of thought about “proper alignment” and whether or not “Western yoga” has bastardized and co-opted yoga’s true “essence”. While interesting academically/historically, many of these conversations miss the point in my view.
I look at this way. Yoga is an art and science for improving the quality of human lives. Put another way, it’s value lies in how much it helps you improve your life. Much of yoga is very old. Most of it is very wise. But it doesn’t matter. It’s more simple than that. Yoga is ultimately about your now.
If the practice of yoga makes you feel better, then yoga is good. Period. End of conversation.
You could spend a lifetime studying the sutras and going on pilgrimages (and that’s totally great if that’s what you want to do) or you can go to a couple of yoga classes here and there every few weeks. You can do a full-on deep dive into the vast spiritual depths of yoga, or you can take three focused deep breaths while sitting at your computer at work.
The point is, the definition of yoga is irrelevant. What you need to make your life better is of ultimate relevance.
You need to:
You may need to:
- to feel better in your body
- gain strength
- improve your circulation
- lower high blood pressure
- reduce stress
- avoid injury
- feel fulfilled
- feel connected to a sense of purpose
- and so on…
The practice of yoga, even for a few minutes each day, can help you identify, address, and develop what you need.
Then, when you’ve practiced yoga for a little while, you can define it for yourself.
Yoga is what it is to you.