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As far as I know, it’s impossible to answer that question without running into an exception. But I do believe that it is possible, and in fact essential for dedicated yoga practitioners to be able to define what yoga is to them. In this regard it’s also important to accept that my freedom is not your freedom; therefore, my yoga does not have to be your yoga, nor does it need to degrade your yoga to uplift my yoga. I believe that accepting diversity and using inclusive terms to define yoga is of great benefit. So, know that I am providing this description to share my love of yoga as an inspiration for you to use what serves you through your personal introspection.
It is valuable to know that many currently understand yoga as something we do to bring balance. The word yoga originally described a state of being. In fact, I believe that in many cases what we call yoga today is a practice that leads to what each individual currently considers balance and health to be. But this balance we are seeking is fleeting, and if we attach our self to the illusion of its perfection, we create imbalance. In the case of traditional yoga, this balance, when aware of its fluctuating waves, is the tool that will allow us to have an experience of yoga. It’s also valuable to know why we do what we do, and what it is we are actually seeking. For example, many tell me they practice yoga for balance and health, but when I ask them to define balance and health, the answer is not so clear. Getting to know our self as we make the journey towards the Self is not only essential to the practice, it is the practice.
Based on my studies, reflections and experiences, I currently define yoga as the willingness to breathe life into everyday living, while awakening a continuous and conscious movement towards nonviolence in thoughts, words, and actions towards I, you, and it.
I know it’s a tall order, and that’s why I use the term "moving towards". It allows me to be where I am, perfect in my imperfection, creates space for growth, and an opportunity to start over as my awareness grows.
The next question to ask is: how I am going to implement my yoga? Well, hatha and raja yoga provide us with techniques, and the ones I focus on include a movement towards keeping up with our efforts in balance with nonattachment (letting go of what we think we should be getting from our practice), focused and disciplined intention, self-study, and devotion.
These fundamental attitudes form the context of my practice and become the underlying energy for how I choose to live my life, which means my definition of yoga practice includes: Journaling and the review of my journals; mindful eating; making the most nonviolent choices available, including asana, pranayama, study, meditation, actively listening to people when they speak, and forgiving.
Also important to me is being with the people I share my life with, and allowing them “to be” without imposition of who I want them to be, and being of service with gratitude.
We all have different aspects that we emphasize and breathe life into, and these aspects change over the years. My yoga journey began with the reflection that I don’t have to believe everything I think. For others, their journey began with meditation, and for some it’s how they approach eating. It can be limiting to reduce the practice of yoga to just one facet. It would be like limiting the vast vegetable garden to one vegetable. The abundance of the garden is what revitalizes our body, and the same is true of yoga, as I see it. But just like vegetables, there are seasons and periods where we focus on root vegetables, and others where the leafy greens are the best choice. Intuition, acceptance of individuality and a willingness to nurture expansion and awareness tends to provide the clarity we need to connect with our inner teacher, breathe life into the most beneficial facet needed at a particular period, and know when to give space to the other elements.
“May we be blessed with the courage to keep up and the wisdom to let go.” - Sylvie Gouin.