There are many misconceptions about yoga, especially what it actually is. I asked a few people what they thought:
‘I have never tried yoga, but it looks like a kind of exercise which helps you to be relaxed and definitely should be good for health (mind and body need harmony).’
‘It makes you fart….or in my case, fart, fall asleep and start snoring! I obviously relaxed too much! But thoroughly enjoyed it….’
‘Tried it once – but didn’t enjoy it. I get very dizzy when I lie down completely flat on my back so didn’t feel at all relaxed and also found it hard to keep a straight face. Exercise should be fun.’
‘I always think of it as linked to Eastern religion – physical stretches and position-holding, whilst emptying your mind, or focusing your mind on ‘deeper’ things. It’s more of a discipline isn’t it? Linked with repeating mantras and meditation?’
These answers are quite typical of what people often say – a type of exercise, something to do with Eastern religion, which brings a sense of peace, and may cause embarrassment!
But, what actually is yoga?
Tara Fraser, in her highly accessible and informative book ‘Yoga for You,’ explains, ‘Yoga, the union of our physical, mental and spiritual selves, is far more than a form of exercise – it is a way of life. The Sanskrit word ‘yoga’ has many meanings among which is to ‘yoke’ or ‘unite’, referring to the individual self with the universal consciousness … (it) also describes the union of the physical body with the mind and spirit as a method of transcending the limitations of the ego and reaching enlightenment.’ (Page 14)
After looking that up I thought to myself ‘that is fine as a dictionary definition but what does yoga mean to me?’ Can I say what yoga is as an experience?
And after reflection, I think it is a means of reconnection with myself, in particular my physical self, to root me down into the here and now when my mind is racing with a million thoughts and ideas. I’m an incessant thinker, and my practice allows me to concentrate on something in the real world and give my head a break. It is also a refuge. A place I can go to whatever the weather of my life and know I am accepted and loved. My mat is my friend. Always there for me, but sometimes I don’t want to be there. I have lazy days, when I want to curl up with a book but know my practice is important, so drag myself onto the mat. And I always, always feel I never do enough.
Yoga means union, and my union is with the present moment. It enables me to resist the memories of the past and the lure of the future.
Yoga unites me with the present gift of my life. What does it mean to you?