Yoga is an ocean
Okay, it’s not what most people think it is — you may already know what I’m onto here. There is no single definition of yoga. Most of us in the West have come to know it as a physical practice consisting of poses, stretches, and breathing exercises, etc. The more astute commentator may go as far as to say that yoga is more than just a physical exercise, it is a meditative practice that blends physical and non-physical benefits, that tunes and develops the soul or harmonizes the nervous system, maybe calibrates chakras, etc. This may be the case for many but it is still far and away from the greater sentimentality behind the strung-together interpretations of what yoga has come to mean over the last several millennia.
“Yoga is not a religion. It is a science, science of well-being, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind and soul.” ― Amit Ray
Yoga is like an ocean, an ocean that serves a multitude of various purposes and caters to different groups. Just as people may appreciate an ocean, not solely for the fact that they can swim in it or that it makes for a scenic postcard, but for the sustenance that it can provide, or perhaps for the air it carries to them or for the sounds it serenades them with. It may be worthwhile looking at what this ocean is comprised of, first, rather than figuring out how to be one with it.
So what is the ocean?
Historically, yoga has been seen as a means to facilitate a connection, a connection or an awakening of consciousness. Between what entities this connection is formed is left open to interpretation — between us and a higher power? Between us and a collective consciousness? Between us and nature? Between different parts of ourselves? The answer is not, nor need it be, etched in stone.
Today, the essence of yoga has been transmuted to include an array of forms. Like water, it is versatile and fluid in its application. And like the ocean, it spans the world, ever changing, providing what is needed.
“Yoga is not about touching your toes. It is what you learn on the way down.” — Jigar Go
What are the benefits of this ocean?
We can look at extracting themes from the many forms of yoga to ascertain the value that lies behind it. Physical yoga (such as hatha yoga for instance) and more spiritual or mental forms of yoga serve their respective purposes but, additionally, they also share common characteristics. They each prompt a deep sense of self-awareness, promote balance and physical or mental health, tune the participant towards euphoric harmony or scintillating self-realization. All in all, it can be said that yoga is a process of self-discovery, revealing our true potential and gaining a sense of mastery over ourselves.
Like with many scientific or philosophical principles, there has also been a divide of Eastern versus Western perspectives when it comes to yoga, the latter of which has only developed as a recent trend in the last several decades, catching more momentum throughout the last several years. I find that that these distinct approaches can further illustrate the true nature of the practice when viewed as a whole or when juxtaposed next to one another.
Traditionally, Western style of thought emphasizes matter, rationality, the scientific method and concrete testing of theory. Knowledge is collected through studying what is external of us. Distinguished from this is the Eastern style of thought, which does not grasp for scientific validation; universal truths are understood and accepted and answers may be found from within.
Of course, I’m condensing things down to an almost insulting degree for the sake of brevity. Nonetheless, yoga seems to exemplify these opposing schools of thought. The West is captivated by the physical appeal of yoga — the proven and tested stress reduction, its effect on cortisol levels and longevity and weight loss, cardiovascular improvement, and so forth. To the East, however, yoga is simply yoga. It is both so much more than that which has been stated above and so much simpler than that.
The first mention of Yoga had been discovered in a collection of ritualistic practices that would eventually flow into the Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita, carrying connotations of enlightenment and enhanced consciousness as though it were a journey of understanding. The physical and mental benefits were auxiliary, if not wholly inconsequential. A pure mind and body needed, of course, but not typically the sole objective.
“I am the shore and the ocean, awaiting myself on both sides.”
― Dejan Stojanovic
Both Eastern and Western perspectives can easily be reconciled: if we want to look at the practice through a rounded perspective, taking both of these major interpretations of it into account, we can most certainly come to view it as a process of enlightenment for the body and the mind. As not just a way to lower our stress, but also as a way to raise our consciousness. As not just a way to achieve euphoria or nirvana, but also as a way to achieve physical harmony.
And so, it can be said that yoga is a journey. It is a subjective journey. Not only one of body, or one of mind, but a dual venture whereby we improve upon a cross-dimensional level of existence. It can can be anything we want it to be — meditative, physically intense, studious, enlightening. There is a belief that all answers can be found from within, and that yoga is a vessel by which we can attain these answers in the most harmonious way possible.
Thus, yoga seems to be a luminescent sense of understanding and awareness, of wholeness and equilibrium, of pureness in body and mind. No matter how we engage with it or how we practice it, yoga is simply yoga, and its respective meaning to every participant can be deeper than the deepest depths of the ocean.