This seemingly simple question is quite difficult to answer actually. Answers differ – it depends on who is asking the question, and who is being asked.
Put this question to a traditionalist…and he would surely mention the ‘union’, the melting of consciousness, and a lot more. As a Neo-teacher of yoga, and the most likely answer would involve a lot of ‘posturing’, with a bit of pop spirituality in between. But ask Google, and that’s when it hits the pits. Beer yoga, wine yoga, rage yoga, lamb(??) yoga…the list of quirks is endless.
So, what is yoga?
Is it Hatha Yoga, which by some is interpreted as a symphony of asanas, strung together so as to deliver the tunes of fine health (sometimes, in 20 days, or your money back).
Of course, there exist many serious practitioners of Hatha Yoga, but most of them are lost in the cacophony of downward dogs and fire breaths.
Then there is Ashtanga Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, and many many more.
The last one (yes, Kundalini) has been abused to almost comical proportions, with ‘masters’ claiming to ‘raise your kundalini’ in six days, and articles written on ’15 ways to raise your kundalini today’. Well, its a pity that the sages of yore were blissfully (yes, pun intended) unaware of these superquick and failsafe methods; they must have been pretty stupid to spend years and years trying to achieve what is now ‘guaranteed in 6 days flat’. Ancient inefficiency?
And yes, do throw a liberal dash of chakra mumbo-jumbo into the mix. Phrases such as ‘chakra balancing’ are popular, probably among auto-enthusiasts who must surely see this as a logical and organic extension of wheel-balancing their Mustang Shelbys.
There are claims of activating, correcting and aligning these mystical chakras, processes that can solve all your problems and take you from the mundane sufferings of this world, to transcendental experiences…all in 432 Hz on You Tube. After all, the Universe does send you back gifts, based on your karma and now enraged kundalinis. Satisfied? Satiated? Enlightened?
Ok, so what is yoga…the question persists. Much like the kid who refuses to take all the answers you throw at her, in your feeble attempts to clarify or confuse (whatever gets her out of the way of you binge-watching Netflix). Either way, she doesn’t bite, and stands in front of you, wide-eyed, the question still written large on her innocent face.
SO WHAT IS YOGA?
समत्वं योग उच्यते
Samatvam yoga uchyate – says the Bhagavad Gita – a balanced state where you are in harmony with yourself, with nature, with everyone else.
Yoga is…discovery. Of yourself, of your true Self, of your existence, or non-existence, of individual and collective consciousness.
Yoga is…obliteration. Of boundaries, between you, me and everyone and everything in this world, and beyond.
Yoga is…union. Of my individual consciousness, with the universal consciousness.
कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
Karmanye vadhikaraste, maa phaleshu cadachana.
Pure action, with any attachment to the results, just a focus and devotion to the process.
Yoga is…knowledge. Not what you get from books, but true knowledge, which is experiential.
Yoga is…devotion. To the path of liberation, to the process of reaching the goal of liberation.
Yoga is…stillness of the mind.
Yoga is all this..and more.
But, all these seem pretty esoteric, don’t they?
The crux of the matter – and the reason that you are still reading this, is…
WHATS IN IT FOR ME?
Well, here is a small exercise for you. Do this with utmost sincerity, and I promise you that you won’t be disappointed. Involve yourself in this for the next couple of minutes. No notifications, no noises…just read, and experience. You can also read through, and then close your eyes, take your time and feel it. Deal? Ok, here goes:
Think of the last time you heard a really great piece of music. No, not the one blaring away on your car speakers…the other one. The one that made you close your eyes and forget the world when it played. The one that possibly brought back memories of a loved one..of a friend..of a time that you probably consider the golden part of your life..that music….hear it play in your head…and relive that moment…those moments…take your time..experience it…
Now..think of the last time you had some really great food. Food that made you set aside your phone (that’s an achievement in itself), take a spoonful in your mouth, and lose yourself in pure taste…maybe something that your mother made for you…or your spouse…or a loved one…maybe that one course you had at the Michelin Star restaurant that made you go ummmmmm…take your time now…relish it..
And think of the last time you had a beautiful conversation with your loved one. An intimate conversation…over dinner…maybe the time you proposed…or were proposed to…that moment when she saw the ring…that expression on her face…take your time…relive it…
Was that just the best two minutes that you had in a while? Didn’t these moments make you forget yourself, the world, your troubles, maybe even the smaller joys…no thoughts, no thought of time, nothing.
And, at the peak of that experience…when all that existed, even if it was for a few moments, that bliss…wasn’t that wonderful?
Well my dear, that was your short glimpse, but a true glimpse..of YOGA.