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What Is Yoga by Suzanne Mariska

This week's installment of Yoga Living Project is right in line with Cambio's theme of the month as guest writer and senior teacher at Cambio Suzanne Mariska calls on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra's to help suss out the conflation of what yoga is. We hope you enjoy this short but sharp article on the subject and as always please either let us know how you like it, share with your friends, and keep an eye for more to come.



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By practicing yoga, one develops a strong mind, able to focus steadily without being distracted by the play of consciousness.

In my late teens, I checked out a yoga book from the library. I don’t know why I chose it, but I had the idea that it would make me better somehow. I tried bending my body into the positions in the photos. I tried the breathing exercises. Nothing much seemed to happen. I returned the book and forgot about yoga for awhile.

A few years later, on my college campus, I heard some people singing in another language. It was some kind of spiritual chant, simple and beautiful. The people singing it seemed really happy. I was confused when they told me that what they were doing was yoga (I thought it was those bendy positions and breathing exercises?).

As time went on, I heard lots of different things about what yoga is. Yoga is done in a very hot room. Yoga is something very calm people do. Yoga is really hard. Yoga is relaxing. Yoga is not just the poses. Yoga is spiritual. Yoga is exercise. Yoga is a philosophy. There is a god with an elephant head in yoga. Anyone can do yoga. You should be doing yoga. Yoga makes you better somehow.

As it turned out, all these things were true. These definitions were the ways the people I talked with had experienced yoga. Because yoga is not really a thing. Yoga is an experience.

The Yoga Sutras say that “yogas citta vrtti nirodha”, which translates to something like “yoga is the stilling of the constant movement of the mind”.

So that’s it, folks. All this twisting into pretzels and standing on one leg, weird breathing routines, chanting in Sanskrit, collapsing into savasana, staring at candles or at the god with an elephant head, all boils down to this. Yoga is the experience of getting quiet – deeply and fully quiet – on the inside.

The map of yoga has a central destination with roads leading in from every direction. The road you choose depends on your current location in life. Hatha yoga is what most people are familiar with – these are all the physical practices of yoga, from the most vigorous to the most gentle. Jñana yoga is the yoga of study and wisdom (if you’re reading this with interest to improve your practice, you’re doing some jñana yoga right now). Karma yoga is the yoga of service to others without expecting anything in return. Basically the original pay-it-forward philosophy. And bhakti yoga is where we step into the mystery and give ourselves to something bigger than who we think we are, by letting yoga be a devoted and spiritual endeavor.

All of these roads can get you there, if you keep putting one foot in front of the other. They are methods of training the brain to focus on one thing, then become still. It takes practice, time, and commitment, and it can’t be rushed or forced. The experience of yoga just happens as a result of practice.

Sometimes yoga fixes things, like an aching back or a bad attitude. Ultimately though, yoga isn’t for fixing you, yoga is for getting you to that place of deep quiet inside. Then the problem you were trying to fix dissolves and becomes irrelevant, like a teaspoon of salt in a lake.

What kind of yoga do you love? Do that one. Do more than one if you want. Keep doing it. Yoga will make you better somehow.

Yoga is a way of life and should be accessible to all.


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