What is yoga?
Yoga is an ancient school of psychology. It dates from c.1500 - c.500 BCE, and is the work of the Vedic, or Indo-Aryan peoples, of Northern India.
Although the teachings of yoga are rich and diverse, they all share a set of foundational principles:
- connecting and relating, whether to ourselves or to others, is central to human nature; from this is derived the essential meaning of yoga - to 'yoke' is to connect.
when one is consistently yoked or related to with compassionate attunement, our systems become balanced, self-knowledge gained & our potential realised.
to practice connecting with attunement & compassion is to practice Yoga, or 'to do a yoga practice'
when the yoking is consistently indifferent, threatening or misattuned, our survival systems dominate and misunderstanding arises - the stage is set for us to shut down, withdraw, become sick and confused
all humans are infinitely capable of practicing yoga
Contemporary attachment & trauma theorists have begun to reach some strikingly similar conclusions.
There are a many different ways to practice yoga, or compassionate attunement.
Hatha yoga is the practice that Western yoga is most closely associated with. It focuses on the body and physical sensations. These physical practices themselves come in different styles but all involve the use of asana (asana = seat or posture) done on a mat.
Hatha yoga is a practice of:
- noticing physical sensation
- making compassionate choices about what to do with one's body based on what one feels
Other practices take a more academic route combining self-reflection with study - this is the path of jnana yoga.
Raja yoga focuses on mindfulness or attention practices. It is therefore an aspect of all other branches of Yoga.
Both karma and bhakti yoga invite it's practitioners to be of service and to try to see the underlying humanity in others.
Picking a practice
Yoga is the Journey of the Self,
Through the Self,
To the Self
All yoga is a practice of compassionate attunement, by you, through you, to you. Agency and free will are, therefore, integral to the process.
If one's yoga practice, teacher or community undermine agency, compassion, attunement & the pursuit of self-knowledge, it is not yoga.
Keeping this in mind may help guide one's choices.