What You Know About Yoga is Wrong

September 19, 2018

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...


  1. Yamas - 5 don'ts, like the Commandments

  2. Niyamas - 5 do's, like what your mother told you

  3. Asanas - physical practice, 99% of what yoga studios offer in the West

  4. Pranayama - breath control

  5. Pratyahara - withdrawal of senses

  6. Dharana - mindfulness, concentration

  7. Dhayana - meditation

  8. 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

  1. Don't kill or be violent

  2. Don't lie

  3. Don't steal

  4. Don't do things in excess (sex, alcohol, Netflix)

  5. Don't be possessive or greedy


The Five Do's - related to our inner world

  1. Be clean, pure

  2. Be content

  3. Be disciplined, dedicated

  4. Be self-taught, introspective

  5. 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!



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