Health: What is Yoga? by Pamela Cleminson

What is yoga?
Yoga citta vrtta nirodha, that’s the opening statement of the essence of yoga by a Sage called Patanjali. One of it’s translations, is “yoga is the bringing of the mind to stillness, allowing the fluctuations of the mind to be absorbed into themselves”
Odd huh?
Because maybe, you thought that yoga was being able to touch your toes or pull yourself into weird shapes. No one knows who Patanjali actually was but a rough agreement is that he lived about two thousand three hundred years ago. Around two hundred years after Buddha and three hundred years before Christ.
So what can some ancient writings really do for us modern day types?
Well, yoga is a philosophy, lets get that very clear from the start. It is not a religion. I think that is one of the reasons I am so drawn to yoga, no one is excluded, and that fits in very nicely with my core values. So you can be the most devoted spiritual practitioner, a full on militant atheist or just someone who isn’t interested in thinking about all that, and the principles and benefits equally apply. There’s no judgement.
There’s just the method, the techniques and the practice, which has the main purpose of pulling your mind, body and spirit into union. Hence the word yoga meaning “to yoke” or union. Sanskrit is an amazing language capable of multilayers of meaning within simple words, but that’s another story.
Patanjali makes scant reference to asana (the posture practice) in his writing but a great deal is made of pranayama. Pranayama are the breathing exercises. All good paths are trying to get you to meditate. To stop being so connected to external influences, to take control of yourself. To live in this moment, rather than some imaginary future or clouded past.
So it would seem that we can achieve the state of yoga simply by getting into our meditation groove and spin off into some higher state of consciousness. Easy…. right?
So why all the funny shape pulling? Until a hundred years ago we relied on a book written 500 CE the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. In it, it lists a scant fifteen postures. Simply, fifteen, not like the hundreds we know now. What happened ? Why did yoga move from meditation and cleansing practices to being the crazy shape pulling?
Well, it was obvious that the world was changing. In the West and increasingly in the East, no one had time to chill out in a cave and find inner peace. If yoga wasn’t going to die it had to reinvent itself. The asanas became like seeds, planted to help the individual start to access the “tight spots” in the mind.
In the West we are entirely body conscious. What we look like is extremely important and this is reflected in the yoga we practice. The sales of cute bum hugging pants causes aspirational A listers to jump on that yoga band wagon.
But, the physical benefits of yoga asana can not be underestimated. You don’t have to look far to see some research talking about the benefits on all the body systems, lowering blood pressure or activating the relaxation responses.
So why do I do it? Well, it’s the cool pants for one. Plus, after twenty seven years of practice, I just keep showing up. It constantly changes. I’ve learnt so much about myself through my practice. It brings me to a place of acceptance, awareness and understanding. It’s made me open up my compassion. It’s given me confidence. I am happy to wake up inside this body, despite its imperfections. How many women do you know who feel like that?
Teaching yoga brings its own rewards. Now, I get to share my passion. I know it works. I know it transforms. Check out a class, check out lots of different teachers. Find one that helps you feel comfortable being you. Get one that teaches about the breath. You might be the next person to walk up to your teacher and say the things that make their day … like
My back feels so much better.
I sleep really well after my yoga class.
My headaches have all gone.
What is meditation again?
Happy yoga.

Love Pamela xxx