So… what is yoga?

IMG_0854Someone approaches you with a leaflet for a new yoga class. If you are not already a convert what comes to mind? I asked some people with no experience of yoga at all and here are the results!

  • Shiny happy American ladies with perfect make up and perfect hair, tying themselves in knots and standing on their hands in front of amazing landscapes?
  • Tiny Indian men living in caves with long beards sitting for hours in uncomfortable looking positions?
  • Young, thin, active people who appear to have no bones in their bodies?
  • New age hippy types wafting around with candles and incense?
  • Something Madonna does?


There are so many stereotypes out there and there may be some truth in all of them. What became apparent to me was the answers I was getting were more focused on WHO practices yoga, rather than WHAT yoga is. Just from these answers we can see that a huge variety of people practice yoga but what is it that draws them in?According to Patanjali in ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ (I’m using a translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda)

Yogas citta vrtti norodhah

The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga.

Sutra 1.2

Now this might seem rather a difficult sentence, so lets demystify it. In essence Patanjali is saying that yoga is a way in which we come to realisation. A way to see our true consciousness without illusion, with clarity of mind, we understand all. We aim to work towards this through meditative practices. Don’t panic! Patanjali very helpfully sets out a guide with the 8 limbs of yoga. (more on the 8 limbs coming soon)

You have probably noticed that this mentions nothing about physical practice. What in the west is seen as yoga is in fact only 1 of the 8 limbs. It is actually the 3rd limb – asana or physical postures… And, huge sigh of relief from those who think, “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga!” Asana is as Patanjali states – a steady comfortable posture.

Sthira Sukhamasanam

Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.

Sutra 2.46

Of course what is comfortable and within your practice is going to change and evolve, so in time maybe you will be tying yourself in knots – maybe you won’t. It’s really not necessary but it is rather fun! Acceptance of where you are now and the journey you take to progress is all important.

In reality, anything can be yoga dependent on the intention of the practitioner, which (dun dun dun…) means yoga is accessible to all. There is a way to integrate and enjoy yoga for everyone.

So…what are you waiting for?!


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