What Is Yoga?

By Jarek Tuszyński / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GDFL, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5540072I practice Iyengar yoga, a lineage named for B.K.S. Iyengar. He dedicated his life to teaching yoga in India and around the world. His own experience learning the practice led him to design a style of yoga that worked to meet the body where it is in the moment, working the body, mind, and attention at the edge of what is possible while recognizing and respecting the body’s current state. To learn and teach Iyengar’s style is a slow process and a lifelong pursuit, and so his work influences everything I know and teach about yoga. Might as well acknowledge that up front.

So what is yoga?

Yoga is mind, body, spirit, energy working together in harmony. Yoga is meditation, practice, breath-work (pranayama) and dedication — when you take the time to get out the mat, when you take a deep breath and choose not to yell at the husband/kid/dog, when you opt for the salad bar over the chocolate bar — all that is yoga too.

The Yoga Sutras

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were written sometime between the 1st and 5th centuries BCE and are one of the best and most often-read collections of yogic philosophy. Patanjali’s work lays out Eight Limbs of Yoga like the spokes of  a wheel — not to be explored one after the other like rungs on a ladder but all together, each practice reinforcing and advancing each other practice to help the Seeker achieve a peaceful mind, authority over Self and the physical world, and a path to exploring and understanding Divinity.

BKS Iyengar’s exploration of the Yoga Sutras, Light on the Yoga Sutras explores the original text, expanding Patanjali’s 196 bite-sized maxims into a wealth of spiritual knowledge. It’s not for the faint of heart to dig in and dissect — Iyengar was never one to shy away from the complex and many-layered nature of life, the universe, and everything. But it’s one of the most complete explorations of yogic philosophy that’s accessible to the Western, English-speaking mind.

Yoga on Torayla.com

Iyengar was both prolific and an immaculate writer. I’ll work with and cite his work in my own explorations of how yoga’s practices, actions, non-actions, and philosophies can inform our self-study, our understanding of the world, and our interaction with the energies that make up all things.

For now, I’ll separate the yogic portions of Torayla.com into Pranayama, Asana, and Philosophy. Meditation will have its own section, since it crosses so many traditions worldwide. I’ll explore postures (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama), but what I really want to dig into is how yoga’s philosophies intersect with mystery traditions and the archetypal understandings of energy and the elements around the world. Wherever and whenever you are: As within, so without. As above, so below.

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