What is Yoga?
The system of Hatha Yoga combines movements and postural exercises (Asana) with breath control (Pranayama), mindfulness and tranquility meditation (Shamatha). If performed skilfully the asana work can help us become more aware of, and loosen, our breathing as well as facilitating deep relaxation.
Much has been written about yoga in all its forms and there are various views as to what it is. Differing views have led to many methods and ‘paths’ all of which lead to a similar ‘result’.
Yoga is a Path from dissatisfaction - ‘Dukha’, to liberation - ‘Moksha’
(or in Buddhist terminology: Samsara to Nirvana).
Aspects of the Yogic Path:
- Consideration of Morality (or Lifestyle) examines both how we relate to others and the environment, and how we look after ourselves. Or as my teacher puts it: ‘do good, avoid doing bad, train the mind.’
- Concentration/ Relaxation/ Meditation: the aspect we more usually think of when we use the word yoga (indeed stress is what brings many people to their first class). This aspect provides mental and physical tranquility and well being. Continued and skilful practice leads towards a sense of Shamatha (‘calm abiding’) preparing the ground for the Insight Meditations of ‘What am I?’
- Wisdom and Motivation. Insight Meditation leads us to begin to differentiate appearance or illusion (Sanskrit: ‘Maya’) from what really is. This in turn generates a deeply moving compassion for all beings whose lack of ‘insight’ causes them to remain in Dukha/Samsara. This compassion becomes motivation to help others.
Most of us would like to feel more relaxed, to let go of our internal commentaries, to manage the chatter of the mind more successfully and to become more flexible (mentally as well as physically). Yoga practice then could be referred to as a map towards, and through, a combination of disciplines which can, when used together with the right attitude, awaken a sense of balance, harmony, and vitality. Hatha Yoga is yoga that works towards this balance.
This doesn’t just benefit ourselves, but all those around us.