Yoga is commonly known in the US as a form of exercise that has some relaxing side effects. There are yoga studios everywhere with different hooks for pulling in students – hot yoga, goat yoga, even rage yoga (yes that’s a thing now). Some yoga classes might be very physical – like ashtanga yoga – or physically form specific – like Iyengar yoga – and other classes may focus on physical restoration or work with a specific group – like prenatal yoga. While the physical exercises of yoga (or asana) are a part of the yoga tradition, there is much more to the practice.
The traditional philosophy of yoga is based more on changing the mind than the body. The goal of yoga practice could be condensed into the idea of reducing suffering and increasing one’s capacity for joy. The traditional yoga philosophy from Patajali’s Yoga Sutra describes the process of eliminating the habit patterns of the mind (samskara) and connecting to one’s true self. In the Yoga Sutra, a method of personal evolution includes movement, breath (pranayama), and meditation.
Deep yoga practice includes awareness of all these elements – the body, breath, and mind. One of my teachers is fond of saying that you do not have a hamstring without a liver and an attitude. So, the practice of yoga is to acknowledge and incorporate all of these things for the goal of reducing suffering and increasing one’s capacity for joy.
So when I say yoga, I mean the full spectrum of movement, breath, mind, sound, and ritual that best serve you. My perspective is that no matter the entry that you make into yoga, the goal is to increase your ability to pay attention and reduce distractions.