Consciousness, asana, headstand or deep breathing .. - is this yoga?

During the month of April we have been addressing the question: "What is yoga?" in our POP UP YOGA classes. It is a deeply personal question and a question with many personal answers. Nevertheless it is crucial to ponder on this subject for a while, since yoga is about consciousness and awareness - so how can we practice somthing without actually thinking about what we are practicing and for what reasons?

Deeply inspired by the many essays and definitions of the participants of the 250h Vinyasa Flow Yoga Teacher Training 2017 (some of them were published on this blog), I took my time thinking about my personal answer to this immense question. It is not an easy one to answer, yet very simple. "Yoga is the union of the individual consciousness with the infinite / universal consciousness". This definition can be very abstract for some, here are alternative definitions:

Yoga means meeting, joining together, union.

Yoga is when the strands of the mind tie together.

Yoga means to attain what was previously unattainable

Yoga also means acting in such a way that all of our attention is directed towards the activity in which we are currently engaged.

Yoga is another word for being one with the divine – to feel harmony with that higher power

Yoga is the ability to direct the mind without distraction or interruption

Definition of yoga in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 1.2.  - yogash chitta vritti nirodhah: Yoga is the control (nirodhah, regulation, stilling, quieting) of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field.

We could also define yoga as the 8-step path towards enlightenment. In this definition yoga is the way AND the goal.

The yoga you learn in a yoga class

But let's break it down to a more tangiable definition of yoga. The question I ask myself as a teacher is: What kind of experience do I want to provide to students attending my class? How do I choose to translate the meaning of yoga into the 60 - 90 minutes "asana" class we spend together?

In general terms I always want students to connect with their "Anamaya Kosha" or their outer shell, which is their body. I want them to tune in and go into the feeling body, where they can reconnect with themselves. So it can be that I choose a specific pose, like headstand for this purpose. But the purpose is not to be able to do a beautiful headstand. The goal is to reconnect, to feel, to experience yourself in a new situation where up is down and the floor is the ceiling.

To then go deeper we add conscious breath which serves as a bridge to the mind and emotions. In this way yoga becomes a holistic practice where we find wholeness & harmony through integrating our body, breath and our mind. In a next step we then want to still the mind and travel to a peaceful quietness within.

You gotta do it!

I could go on and on about "what yoga is", there is so much to say. But in conclusion I would like to state that you have to do it, to feel it and understand parts of it.  And then you practice, you chance and you refine your definition of yoga bit by bit. And let me tell you: the path of yoga is an interesting one.. so what are you waiting for?

Autor: Deddou Burkhard, Yoga Teacher & Founder POP UP YOGA