Such a frustrating question I have often received from friends and family members. They know I am athletic but everything I do and teach is more about energy, meditation & the mind than it is about poses and stretching. They are confused. This is normal though as many in the west think of yoga as a stretching class and there are some teachers out there who approach it as such too, so there is bound to be some confusion.
Here are some interesting tid bits that might also help anyone new to yoga answer this question from family and friends.
1. Yoga is about union. It”™s about getting you to your highest and brightest potential, about being your best self, as Oprah would say.
2. Yoga is what ever it needs to be so that a practitioner can unplug from the drama of life and recharge on the way to a higher way of living. For many westerners this means getting the body in line, or unwinding stress and tension in the body, so that the mind has a chance to find peace. This is what westerners needed, so in the west we are used to Yoga as a physical practice.
“The first workout-like practice of asanas, or poses, stem from the Sritattvanidhi, a book written in the early 1800’s by Mummadi Krishnaraja, a patron of Indian culture and arts.” Sadie Nardini
But Yoga has always been so much more than working on the physical level. In order for union (yoga) to happen one must train the mind and live a noble life. There are many teachings on spirituality (non-religious), mental development, right living, and philosophy to guide practitioners.
“If we agree that yoga includes both preliminary and advanced practices for the body, mind and spirit, then there is plenty of archeological, linguistic, textual, genetic or other evidence to suggest that Hatha Yoga is at least 1500 years old, that Tantra is at least 6000 years old, that Yoga philosophy is at least 3500 years old, and that goraksasana (a complex Hatha Yoga bhanda) was practiced more than 4000 years ago.” Ramesh Bjonnes
There are forms of yoga that hardly stretch at all such as Jana yoga (working with the mind), Bhakti yoga (working with the heart), and Kundalini yoga (working with energy).
So it is up to us to help our western friends (and some teachers) understand the vast offering within yoga to help us on many deep levels to live a better life. It is not just stretching the body, it is stretching the mind and soul. Physical poses help calm us down enough to get to the good stuff!
“Confront a fear, practice patience, express gratitude, exercise generosity, and think of others first. This is what I call emotional yoga.” Dr. Miles Neale