I often come across strong opinions on “what is yoga” or “what is true yoga” and what is not. What constitutes legitimate practices and how should they be performed. Before we begin to make any sort of determination, we should explore what the word “yoga” is pointing to.
We are taught that the word yoga etymologically comes from the word “yuj”, meaning to yoke as in yoking oxen with a cart. “Union” is another definition used to describe yoga. So what does yoking or union mean? Both yoke and union infer the bringing together of more that one thing. It connotes a relationship or connection of some kind. From this we could say that yoga means the relationship between things or the connection between things. Okay, so what “things” are we talking about? Each of us is always in a conscious or less conscious relationship with the various aspects of both our inner and outer worlds. We are in relationship with our bodies, our thoughts and feelings, other people, and our planetary environment.
Formal yoga practice over time has come to include, body oriented practices (asana), mind and emotional oriented practices (meditation), and practices of energy and breath work (pranayama) that connects to our very essence. Chanting, sound, visualizations and mudras are also considered part of the wider prescription of practice. Yet these practices in themselves are not yoga. These practices are merely formalized tools to help us experience yoga. We cannot “do” yoga. Through our practice we potentially come to experience a deeper connection with our internal landscape and become more aware of how we connect to the world around us. Ultimately any activity we engage in, whether it is asana, dancing, talking with a friend, washing dishes, or sitting quietly looking at the clouds is an opportunity to experience the profound relationship between our thoughts, our feelings, and our activities in our environment. (The alternative to yoga is called bhoga; unskillful states of mind and behavior that lead to a sense of separation, disharmony and discord).
As we become more conscious of the underlying connection between things, we can begin to choose the qualities these relationships are imbued with. We can become more aware of whether these relationships reflect our highest intentions and deepest aspirations. Will we come to see and develop a harmonious connection with all aspects of life, or will we perpetuate delusion and discord? If we see our whole life’s experience as an opportunity to skillfully cultivate conscious, beneficial relationship, then anything we engage in can bring us to a state of yoga.