What is yoga?

The most frequently asked yoga-related question is, What is yoga?

The question is often asked in the context of whether or not it contravenes religious beliefs, mostly Christianity. My simple answer is that only you can determine that. If you have even the slightest doubt that yoga may in some way go against your beliefs, don’t do it. Nothing, no matter how good or beneficial it it may be, is worth doing if it is against your core beliefs.
But what is yoga?
According to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, yoga is a spiritual discipline based on an extremely subtle science that focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body through breathing. It is an art and a science of healthy living. The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” meaning “to join” or “to yoke” or “to unite.”
The practice of yoga is believed to have started with the very dawn of civilization thousands of years ago, long before the first religions or belief systems began.
Several thousand years ago, on the banks of Lake Kantisarovar below the Himalayas, Adiyogi poured his profound knowledge into the legendary Saptarishis or “seven sages”. The sages carried this powerful yogic science to different parts of the world, including Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and South America. Interestingly though, there is a school of thought that believes that yoga originated in Africa.
While physical and mental health are natural consequences of yoga, the goal of yoga is more far-reaching. “Yoga is about harmonising oneself with the universe. It is the technology of aligning individual geometry with the cosmic to achieve the highest level of perception and harmony.”
Yoga is increasingly becoming popular throughout the world for its many benefits. It became mainstream in America in the 1970s through Indra Devi, a daughter of European nobility whose passion for yoga led her to open a yoga studio in Los Angeles, subsequently bringing it to our screens through pop culture.
Many people get introduced to yoga through asana (the physical practice). Funky yoga postures on Instagram have been influential in making the practice popular. However, it is important to note that asana is just one of the eight limbs of yoga. Asana is the preparatory process so that the body can sustain higher levels of energy.
The eight limbs of yoga are Yama (attitudes toward our environment), Niyama (attitudes towards ourselves), Asana (physical postures) Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (complete integration).
If I had to summarise what yoga means to me, I would say yoga is a lifestyle that encapsulates our relationship with the environment – how we view ourselves and interact with others. It means taking care of our physical health to attain overall wellness of mind, body and spirit. Yoga is a fairy godmother; it is whimsical and charming!
To learn more, visit www.yownnyoga.com, you can also sign up for a free trail at @yownnyoga on Instagram.
Bonolo Phaladze is a registered yoga teacher (RYT200) with Yoga Alliance, a global governing body for yoga teachers. She is the teacher lead at Yownn Yoga Studio in Gaborone.