When you think of modern-day yoga, you probably think of a well-to-do housewife in black spandex doing some contorted pose that allows her to sniff her foot.
What I learned from my journey to India is that yoga is actually so much more than just the physical practice that we think of in the West.
Yoga, at its core, is a philosophical, yet practical approach to reach enlightenment.
"Yoga" in sanskrit means union, as in union with God/universe/diety-of-your-choice. And actually there are a number of ways to reach said union including:
Karma yoga - path of service, i.e. Gandhi or Mother Teresa
Jnana yoga - path of knowledge, i.e. Buddha
Bhakti yoga - path of devotion, i.e. St. Francis of Assisi
Raja/Kriya yoga - path of meditation, i.e. Pramahansa Yogananda
Hatha yoga - 8-step path, what most people refer to when they say "yoga," i.e. BKS Iyengar
Even within Hatha yoga, the physical practice is just one of the eight steps. What are the other steps? Funny you should ask, I'm just about to tell you...
Yamas - 5 don'ts, like the Commandments
Niyamas - 5 do's, like what your mother told you
Asanas - physical practice, 99% of what yoga studios offer in the West
Pranayama - breath control
Pratyahara - withdrawal of senses
Dharana - mindfulness, concentration
Dhayana - meditation
Samadhi - enlightenment
I'm not going to get into each of the steps, there are plenty of resources that do. Mainly I wanted to just share that these other tools even exist!
BUT, since everyone likes simple rules, maxims, and Confucianistic sayings let's briefly cover the five yamas and five niyamas.
Side note: Being raised Catholic, I was always drawn to the Ten Commandments as a generally good guide on how to live - or at least the Commandments that fit my belief system. Not surprisingly, the the yamas/niyamas and the Commandments share a few similarities. i.e. Y'all don't kill, ya hear?
The Five Don'ts - often related to how we interact with others
Don't kill or be violent
Don't do things in excess (sex, alcohol, Netflix)
Don't be possessive or greedy
The Five Do's - related to our inner world
Be clean, pure
Be disciplined, dedicated
Be self-taught, introspective
Be the best person possible
Now with some of these rules, the more your research them, the more subjective they become. So I find it helpful to follow what feels right for me, not convenient, but right. And what may seem right for me, might not for you. That's okay. The yogis of yesterday would tell us to use these as general guidelines to the best of your ability - especially if your goal is enlightenment!
And if you want to know more about the other parts of yoga, just reach out!