What is yoga to you? What images, preconceptions or experiences come to mind? Worldwide we can find diverse portrayals of yoga in social media, magazines, clothing stores, television and more. Facebook showcases trends, like Beer Yoga, Goat Yoga, Nude Yoga and the list goes on. Amid all the colorful interpretations, tracing its earlier roots can offer a grounding understanding of such a life-transformative practice.
Yoga is union, in its literal definition. One of the earliest teachers to bring yoga to the West from India in 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda, explains:
(Yoga is) ’union’ of the individual consciousness or soul with the Universal Consciousness or Spirit. Though many people think of yoga only as physical exercises – the asanas or postures that have gained widespread popularity in recent decades – these are actually only the most superficial aspect of this profound science of unfolding the infinite potentials of the human mind and soul. (Self-Realization Fellowship)
Of the various paths of yoga that lead towards this concept of union, Hatha Yoga uses physical postures to purify the body, build awareness and control over its internal states and prepare it for meditation. Out of Hatha Yoga, numerous styles emerged, such as the alignment-based Iyengar, breath-led movement-centered Vinyasa Flow or the deep stretch and relaxation-oriented Restorative and Yin Yoga, which comprise the hybrid approach I teach and practice.
As a lover of physical movement and its gateway to personal insight, I entered the path of yoga seeking its physical benefits, but through years of consistent practice, the psychological and spiritual gains unfolded. In urban Los Angeles, California culture, with its many external stimuli, physical yoga practice offers an accessible doorway for self-discovery and true self-empowerment that ripples positivity in the world. Through breath awareness and mindfulness, we can use the postures and movements as various looking glasses or contexts through which we see our habits of thinking, doing, speaking (both to ourselves and others) or moving about in this world. Arising insights can help us peel the layers of engrained belief systems, cultural norms and societal roles that often blind us into a mechanical state of doing, and instead live consciously with intention. This is the transference of yoga from physical poses to a practice of being, or rather a lifestyle.
*For CSUN (University) Students, here are 7 Common Postures in a Vinyasa Yoga Class that we’ll break down this first week of fall semester. You may find it useful to preview and review them in Yoga Journal’s yoga pose database of photos and descriptions:
Downward Facing Dog/Adho Mukha Svanasana
Plank Pose/ Kumbhakasana
4-Limbed Staff Pose/Chaturanga Dandasana
Upward Facing Dog/Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
*Additional Resource: Read Yoga Journal’s Yoga 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Practice, Meditation & the Sutras
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