“The physical body is a tool which can be strengthened through asana, and this strong body can be used to follow the path of Yoga, which culminates in the acceptance and sharing of Love.”
Warrior II, a well-known yoga posture, is being displayed by me in the photo above. This is a typical example of someone “practicing yoga” by a common definition which equates Yoga to physical exercise. But, in reality, I am displaying an asana, only one of several tools of Yoga. To say that this photo exemplifies Yoga would be equivalent to saying that a photo of a horse’s tail displays all aspects of a horse.
Difference Between Yoga and Physical Exercise
Yoga is a system which guides an individual along the path of deep self-investigation. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an ancient, complete manual for the study and practice of Yoga, provide eight limbs or guidelines; when the eight limbs of Yoga are observed and practiced with strong discipline, they guide a student to “complete mastery over the mind (1).”
The eight limbs of Yoga are: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi (2). For simplicities sake, lets define yama as universal morality, niyama as a personal code of disciplines, asana as physical postures, pranayama as breath control and control of the body’s energetic properties, pratyahara as control of the senses, dharana as concentrating and cultivating inner-awareness, dhyana as meditation with divine awareness, and samadhi as union with God (2).
As you can see, the path of Yoga, when followed to perfection, leads one to the state of enlightenment. Yoga is far more than how long you can hold a handstand or how high your leg reaches above your head.
On Yoga Classes
I was introduced to Yoga via an organic process: a friend who had been taught from a young age began teaching me and a few other friends at a river cabin. She would guide us through linking our breath with each movement, easing us into challenging postures, and teaching us to love and respect our limitations. We’d end with hugs, gratitude, and of course beet juice & lentil soup ;-). This is Yoga – although it was centered around a physical practice, the end result was a deeper understanding of the self and love being shared. This eventually led to my friend teaching 10 or more of us at a time under an ancient oak tree with sprawling branches called Edna. Again, we ended with hugs, deep conversations, and lifetime friendships.
From my experience, when a Yoga instructor can ground themselves, connect to a higher source for guidance, and lead the class through postures and breathwork which promote a sense of well-being and peace, then the purpose of a Yoga class has been served.
The physical body is a tool which can be strengthened through asana, and this strong body can be used to follow the path of Yoga, which culminates in the acceptance and sharing of Love.
Hope you enjoyed! Namaste 😉
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*Originally posted on my old website which no longer exists, riverbearfitness.com.