Monday, August 5, 2013

Defining Yoga

When I tell people I teach yoga, they mostly respond with variations of the comment,“Oh, you must be very flexible.” Westerners often associate the word yoga with physical postures, but this is a very limited definition of yoga. For example, if I used this same approach with a music teacher, I might say, “Oh, you teach music? You must be very good at tuning an instrument.” Do not mistake all of yoga with asana – the Sanskrit word that refers to the posture or pose; that is only one part of it, just as a musician tunes his instrument, but that is not all of what he does to make music. 

Asana practice allows us to “tune” ourselves in preparation for the larger practice of living.

Photo credit: Chris Lombardi
Yoga refers to a joining of ourselves with a larger network, and you can define that network by your frame of reference. 

For example, if you narrow your focus to yourself, then a yoga practice will help you become more aware of your own sensation, breath, thoughts and emotions; if you widen your focus to include your relationships, a yoga practice will help you identify your patterns of behavior when dealing with others, and will help you cultivate compassion and equanimity in your relationships; if you expand your focus to view your community, a yoga practice will help you become more socially aware, ecologically sensitive and active in changing your world; if you focus on your relationship with a divine higher power, yoga can help you deepen your religious beliefs and spirituality. Asana practice alone cannot do this, but a yoga practice can.

Yoga reminds me that I always have a choice, no matter what my present situation. Whatever action I take (including non-action), I choose it with awareness of my sensations, my breath, my mind and my emotions.

When I explain to newcomers that my yoga class is like visiting a buffet, where some dishes are appropriate for you and others you might pass up today, they often giggle, but it is true that you have options in your practice. There is always the breath that you can feast on, and there is always awareness of your breath, body, thoughts and emotions that you can sample at any time. During times of stress, joy, pain, peace, laughter and tears, you always have a choice. Your life's journey will present you with many opportunities to choose, although you may not like your options, and you might mistake these choices for no choice. Don’t be fooled, you always have the power to choose, the option to breathe, to feel and to connect, which is what I define as yoga.


  • Please see my previous post about schedule changes coming in September.
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  • Remember, if you can't make it to class, you can always pop in my DVD, Healing Yoga for Wellness, available at, Breathe Los Gatos, Pacific Healing Arts, Cancer CAREpoint resource center and Kaiser Mind-Body-Wellness center.