What is Yoga?

“अथ योगानुशासनम् ॥१॥”

“Athayoga-anuśāsanam”

Yoga starts here, now.”

– Patanjali

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Photo by Winston Rekert: “The Bog”

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“The primeval intelligence is not like a seed which you must nurture. It is more like a sun that shines through the gaps in the clouds. When we allow a gap, the spontaneous, intuitive understanding of how to proceed on the path suddenly, automatically comes to us.”

 – Chogyam Trungpa

Etymologically , the word Yoga (Sanskrit, Pāli: योग yóga) comes from the verb “yoke”, and  from the root “yuj”, meaning to join, to unite. 

As an ancient contemplative discipline, Yoga is both a path of discovery as well as remembering. It does  not give us recipes for  “how to be” and “what is good for us”, but awakens the profound sensitivity within where,  when tuned in, we find our own undeniable truth which opens the door to wisdom and compassion. It is a practice of being in unity, being whole. In that sense, one cannot  “do” Yoga in order to one day feel whole. One does the practice by “being” Yoga. Often represented by a yogi sitting on an open lotus flower (Sanskrit “Padma”), this  practice never stops “flowering” and growing.   It  represents the wholeness within oneself (microcosm) as an inseparable part of the larger wholeness around us (macrocosm),  and  therefore the practice of service to nature and all life everywhere.

On the outer level, practising Yoga improves the circulation of the Life Force  (Sanskrit “Praan”), which supports the health and well-being of the sophisticated body systems: Respiratory, Neuro-Endocryne, Cardiovascular, Digestive, Muscular, Skeletal, Integumentary, Immune system,  Fluid system etc., keeping  the body vital and the mind relaxed and awake.
This outer form of practice is often associated with the physical movement through Yoga postures (San. Asan) and breathing practices (San. Pranayam).

The inner practice of Yoga uses the body/mind relationship and its countless expressions to discover their inseparability. When unhindered, the mind-body relationship is  inherently open and wise. This happens when we listen and are willing to look deeper, through the layers of resentment, fear, pain or  pleasure, regret or ambition. The main vehicle of this inner aspect of the practice is Meditation.

According to Tibetan Tradition, the highest Yoga (Maha, Anu (San. अनुयोग) and Ati Yoga (Dzogchen, Tibetan རྫོགས་ཆེན་) is considered sacred practice, that can only be orally transmitted by highly qualified  teachers  who themselves have dedicated their whole life  in training and practice.

In its essence, Yoga is a moment to moment practice of being in the world while transcending any dualities. Like a profound martial art which transcends the opponent,  Yoga is a path of courage, a practice that takes one leap beyond the familiar to walk this fragile and unpredictable miracle of  life mindfully, wisely  and  compassionately. 

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