What is yoga to you?

In America alone, more than 36 million people practice yoga. From Vinyasa to Power yoga, Hatha to Iyengar yoga, Bikram to Ashtanga yoga, Jivamukti to Sivananda yoga, and Restorative to Yin yoga, we are exposed to a variety of schools of yoga in the States. However, how much do we really know what yoga is about and why we practice it?

Just by simple conversations with some of my students and people I meet, I hear just as many responses as to why they practice yoga to the number yoga poses there are:

“It makes me feel energized and wakes me up in the morning."

“It’s a good workout. I have gotten stronger with yoga.”

“I feel calmer throughout the day when I’m at work."

“I don’t get angry as often anymore. I am more patient."

“My body just feels really good after yoga!"

“I feel so relaxed after Restorative yoga - my tension just melts away."

“I’d come in with aches and pains in my body. But after yoga, these aches are gone!"

“I feel more clear-headed after yoga."

These are just some of the examples of responses I hear. 

It is great that many people feel the physical and mental benefits of yoga, but let’s take a little deeper look to the definition of yoga according to the Yoga Sutras.

yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah

"Yoga is the cessation of mind-fluctuations."

This is the most standardized translation of what yoga is. 

Here is another translation, my favorite one, in fact:

“Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart."

Citta is the individual consciousness that exists within all of us. Vrtti is the projected modifications of this consciousness that stirs our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. 

Nischala Joy Devi describes the meaning of “consciousness” best:

Chit is pure universal consciousness and chitta is the same consciousness individually expressed. Chit is the ocean of consciousness, vast and unlimited. At birth each of us gathers a small quantity of this vastness and encases it in the temple of our heart, as chitta, individual consciousness. Held for many years, it remains unchanged. Then, at the end of our life, it is released back into the ocean of consciousness; the recognition of oneness causes the chitta to instantaneously unite with the chit. 

Therefore, the intention and purpose of yoga is to unite our individual consciousness to the universal consciousness. That is being proven a challenge as we get drawn over and over again to the external, material world. We then start to identify and attach ourselves to the material things, titles, and projected beliefs that make us believe that we are separate from one another rather than unified because we all came from this single, vast pool of consciousness. 

Let’s take the example of a can of soda. Most of us would not associate the fluids of the soda with the vast ocean of water on Earth. However, soda water is ultimately one and the same as the ocean water, albeit being a little tainted and processed by human machines and ingredients. 

Similarly, just because we may wear different clothes, work at different jobs bearing different titles, hold different religious or political beliefs, doesn’t mean that we are not the same as one another. Within each of us is a drop of pure, pristine consciousness from the ocean of chit

yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah

“Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart."

Ultimately, yoga is about being comfortable in our own bodies, calm in our minds, and peaceful in our spirits so that we can return to being that pure, pristine drop of water, untainted by sugar, coloring, and other agents. When we can see that we are this pristine drop of consciousness in ourselves and in others, then we understand that there is no separation in this world. And that is yoga.