What Is Yoga?

Before you consider starting a practice, it is important to ask the question “what is yoga?”

the blocking of the activity of the mind” – Patanjali, as interpreted by N. Sjoman

a timeless pragmatic science” – B.K.S. Iyengar

the most versatile spiritual tradition of the world” – G. Feuerstein

These statements are by just three of the experts on the subject. It is perhaps all of the above, to some degree. The word in Sanskrit means to join, to unite, to yoke – essentially meaning bringing unity, harmony, integrity.TKurdvapadmasana

It is important from the start to make a distinction between the ‘traditional’ discipline, that was and is primarily a spiritual/internal practice, and the contemporary, narrowed-down takes on its various components, what we could call ‘modern’ yoga.

There are many methods, styles, techniques, many schools and many teachers – the field now has great diversity.

Perhaps it is best to compare it to the arts. In the field of arts there are many disciplines – painters, writers, sculptors, musicians, etc. Within each of these disciplines there are different styles, within styles different artists produce their work, bringing their own interpretations, adding their own ‘colour’ to the vast palette. So too in yoga – there are many styles and sub-styles – for example the broader style of ‘hatha’ contains revivalist yoga forms such as ‘Shivananda’, ‘Iyengar’, ‘Ashtanga’. The Ashtanga Vinyasa practice style sprouted many further modern sub-styles such as Power Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, Sun Power, etc. I consider all these schools and styles ‘revivalist’, as they are just a few decades old, rather than centuries.

There are styles that do very little physical practice, and there are some that are very much driven by the physical. In our ‘modern’ world the most commonly found forms have much narrower takes on it, using only certain aspects of the classical discipline. We now have yoga for fitness, for relaxation, and a lot of it for just showing off… There are numerous adapted forms that appeal to people – but these should not be confused with the ‘traditional’ discipline at their core.

It should also be noted that contemporary postural practice (asana) is broadly misunderstood and misrepresented. Evidence continues to emerge that the posture practice we have today has been the result of the physical culture revolution around the turn of the 19th and 20th century. Sri T. Krishnamacharya, nowadays seen as the ‘grandfather’ of modern yoga styles, has incorporated many influences into the systems of practices he developed, some of them of western gymnastic origins. Anyone wanting to explore this in more detail should read the books ‘The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace’ by Norman Sjoman, ‘Yoga Body’ by Mark Singleton and ‘The Path of Modern Yoga’ by Elliot Goldberg. These authors are yoga experts and teachers and shed light on yoga dispelling many myths and misconceptions. You can pick up a lot of useful info about recent research on the Hatha Yoga Project and the Modern Yoga Research websites.

Volumes have been written on this subject – in the end ‘yoga’ is just a word. This word can be filled with many meanings. What will make the difference is what it means to you. You can hear about it, you can read about it, but finding out what it can do for you can only come about from exposure to practicing yoga – “yoga should be known through yoga” – claimed in the Sutra of Patanjali, or rather the Patanjalayogashastra.

Our own methodology within the framework of the Paśyanti School of Yoga draws on some classical scriptures and employs their principles. Some methods/techniques have been adopted and adapted from Ashtanga Vinyasa, (the ‘Mysore’ methodology), but allowing modifications at all levels to open up the practice to a wider audience. In order to tailor the practice to individual needs and abilities, techniques from other sources are also used. (Alignment principles from BKS Iyengar, techniques from Norman Sjoman, etc.) Last but not least, we employ techniques and methods that have sprung from our own experiences while practicing and sharing yoga over the years. You can see more about our own approach on the about us page and contact us for more info through the contact page.