Your crazy aunt has been doing yoga for some time now, but now so is Lebron James. Your gym partner, your neighbor, and that cute receptionist you’ve had your eye on have all been telling you how awesome yoga is. And now, you just found out that your mom is doing it too.
So what the heck is yoga? And why is everyone doing it?
So what is yoga? What does it mean?
Defining the word yoga is sort of like defining the word sport. There are many different types. People participate for many different reasons. And some types, though secular now, have their roots seeped in religion (think Olympic games, Lacrosse, and the Mayan ball game, which is kind of like basketball, but it was one on one and the loser was sacrificed!)
Yoga is a system that has evolved many times over several continents, through various religions, and different cultures, through the course of thousands of years – producing several different strands, meanings, systems, and practices.
Today, yoga usually refers to the mental, spiritual, and physical system of achieving a healthy well being.
The journey through this system is often filled with dualisms, such as strengthening and stretching your muscles at the same time. You will often find the word yoga defined as “union,” and you can think of it as a ying yang.
It is the union between conflicting forces. It is the union between your body and your mind, between you and the rest of society, and between active poses and a still mind.
We like Sage Roundtree’s explanation in her book, The Athletes Guide To Yoga:
“The ultimate purpose of yoga is to see your own true nature, to know yourself for what you are. With this knowledge, you come to recognize that your personal self (with a lowercase s) is part of a universal Self (with a capital S).”
Traditional yoga is basically the process of achieving an enlightened state. Some call this state happiness. Others call it zen or nirvana.
For some it’s a religious thing. For others it’s a spiritual thing. It can also be a state of mind such as clarity. Know that feeling when you feel like you are a part of something greater? Like attending a big sports game or seeing a show and singing along with hundreds of people? It’s kind of like that.
For most of yoga’s history, the process of achieving this heightened state was through seated meditation, although there were other ways as well, such as through wisdom, devotion, and good deeds. Over time, in order to reach this heightened state more efficiently, several “tools” were added to the yogi’s arsenal. First came deep breathing. Then, a few hundred years later, came physical poses.
It is thought that by mastering control of your body through difficult poses (yoga exercises), you would be better prepared to exhibit control over your mind as well – eventually preparing yourself for meditation.
Besides these tools, there is an entire system of lifestyle choices (think of them as mantras akin to the 10 commandments) that one call follow in order to help achieve that state of enlightenment. These additional tools were all created to help you achieve that “union” with your surroundings in your quest for nirvana.
The practice of going through those mantras, that system and all of those rules, that is the practice of yoga.
Check out our complete guide to the 8 limbs of yoga and the mantras, rules, and systems that make up yoga.
Does one have to go through all of these mantras in order to achieve their goals? You can be the judge
Yoga studios around the country focus on different aspects of that system. There are strands of yoga such as Kundalini Yoga that put as much emphasis on how you live and what you can eat to the physical aspect of yoga.
Learn more about the different types of yoga here and how to find a class that is right for you.
At Body By Yoga, we focus on the physical exercises part of the yogi “toolkit.”
To us, yoga is a low impact workout system that builds strength, improves balance and flexibility, and speeds up muscle recovery. Another words, we focus on the physical benefits of yoga rather than the spirituality part – and we certainly never tell you how to live your life.
Physical yoga poses have been developed over hundreds of years and if something is that old, there has to be something to it. But don’t take our word for it. Check out the scientifically proven benefits of yoga workouts and learn more about how you can use yoga to achieve your personal fitness and mental goals.