What does Yoga actually mean? It's probably not what you think!

So lets do a really, really, (really, really, really) brief and simplified (and completely inadequate) history of Yoga.

This might get a little controversial, depending on your teacher’s tradition or which website you read – but bear with me...  

Yoga translated from Sanskrit means ‘union’ or ‘yoke’ - as through action (yoga practice) we can unite (yoke) ourselves with our highest nature or potential.

Simple! Great. Got it. So then yoga happens when I go to my local studio / church hall / community centre / gym?

Well it totally can, but what if I told you that your physical class practice of throwing some nice shapes to chill-out tunes is just ONE aspect of the tradition of Yoga? (There are 8 - yes EIGHT - components of practice).

I know right – mind blown!

So this is the most commonly understood western interpretation and practice of Yoga: the physical, postural practice that you do in your class, which is also known as āsana. This physical, active postural form of Yoga practice has it's foundations in the traditions of Hatha Yoga.

So what’s Hatha then? Hatha translated can mean two things: “sun” (ha) and “moon” (tha) which refer to a yoga of balance and unity. Essentially the practice of sun-moon yoga harmonises the mind and body: the front and back, left and right, top and bottom. It can also be interpreted to mean infer “willful” or “forceful” as in the yoga of activity.

The Hatha traditional consists of over 200 postures (āsana) and variations, and is often taught with breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana) which combine for an overall objective of a healthy body and peaceful mind. This focus is designed to bring about optimum organ, gland, and tissue health so as to stretch and align the body.

So this is what people have been practicing for 5,000 years! Phew… relief now we can move on. Not so fast yogini!

Recent research cites that it’s not until the late 1800s / early 1900s that a collision of European gymnastic practices developed by Swede Per Henrik Ling, the introduction of YMCA physical education into India, and innumerable other individual developments, practices and discussions, that a physical ‘Yoga’ came to be. In fact, āsana was said to be introduced to India as form of “curative gymnastics” (Singleton, 2010) that would enhance traditional Hatha practices, including breath and mediation.

Not sure about this timeline? Well it seems to make a good case when you consider that Yoga’s seminal literary texts, The Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, only use the word āsana once in reference to sitting, or taking a comfortable sitting posture for meditation.

That’s about as much as I’m going to go into the history, but feel free to read a whole lot more about this hot topic here

My point is merely to let you know that there are many, many opinions, research perspectives and firmly held ‘beliefs’ swirling around in the yoga world about the history and significance of āsana (postural practice).

And the truth is that your physical practice is just one way in which you can be a rocking Yogini.

I'd love to hear about what Yoga you practice?