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Is yoga just about stretching?

Undeniably with regular physical yoga, you will get stronger and more flexible. Yoga is so much more, though; it is a way of navigating through this world where change is the only constant in life.

Text: Julia Graesser


Explaining what yoga is in one article feels challenging when it’s possible to do it in one sentence. Pantanjali, one of the first authors on yoga, describes yoga as ‘the cessation of the fluctuation of the mind’. To put it in more straightforward terms: yoga is about stopping the ‘monkey mind’. ‘Monkey mind’ is a Buddhist term referring to an unsettled, restless, confused, indecisive or uncontrollable state of mind. To recognise that we are not our thoughts is probably more challenging than performing the most advanced yoga pose. We need to understand that suffering is a product of our minds. Stress is the product of unfulfilled expectations. All of which are constructs of the mind.

I had a teacher who once said, “Expectations are the Universe’s way to make fun of us.”

But coming back to Patanjali. In his Yoga Sutras, he described yoga and presented us with ways of achieving this peace of mind.

The ‘eight limbs’ of yoga are:

  1. Yama - guidelines on how to live within our environment

  2. Niyama - attitudes towards ourselves

  3. Pranayama - often understood as breathwork, but it is better understood as the control of our lifeforce energy - prana; often done with the help of breath

  4. Asana - physical postures

  5. Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses

  6. Dharana – concentration

  7. Dhyana – meditation

  8. Samadhi - complete integration or enlightenment

You might be surprised that only one of the eight seems to address what we mostly think of as yoga today. Most of the physical yoga styles mainly practised at this point in time are relatively new inventions. Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras are estimated to be compiled between 500BC and 400AD. The asana was first described as a seated posture that enables you to do the breath and mind work he describes. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is from the 15th century. Whereby Hatha is the umbrella for all physical yoga techniques. Krishnamansharia was born in 1888, and his physical regime can be seen as the birth of the practice as we know it today.

"Yoga teaches us to see the body and mind as a system and not two separated entities."

Yoga is a living system in forms and shapes, but its core is unchanged. In essence, it will teach us to see the body and mind as a system and not two separated entities. It will teach us a way of living in peace with our own minds and respect the planet on which we live. It will teach us how we can control our breath to get energised or to calm down. It will teach us to maintain our physical body: strong, flexible and free from disease. Yoga will teach you to separate yourself from your thoughts and eliminate suffering. It will teach you to accept things as they are, and you will learn how to thrive in any situation.

There are many reasons why someone tries out yoga, so there are many ways to get started. For most who have experienced the life-changing potential of the practice, they will stay with it for the rest of their lives. Great teachers will confirm: yoga is not understood by reading about it; it can only be experienced. Are you ready to get on the mat? It might take a few attempts, but the patience is well worth it. Try different styles and teachers, and see what works for you. There is no one fits all, but yoga is adaptable for everybody.

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