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The REAL meaning of yoga

I was reading a blog post from eminent yogis and meditators Ed & Deb Shapiro where they say: “Yoga is not just about standing on our head or bending in all sorts of contorted positions. It is the uniting of body, mind, and spirit, encouraging a full experience of the intricate relationship between them and how to bring this relationship into balance. Ultimately, yoga is about self-realization, true freedom, where the individual self merges into the universal self.”

I just had to share this because I really think that we have forgotten the real meaning of yoga in our quest to get better at the physical elements of it. All week I have been teaching a challenging twisted forward bend – Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana – or revolved head to knee pose which was difficult for many of my students. (Have a look at the picture, courtesy of Yoga Journal, and you’ll be able to see why!) This seated forward bend also requires an intense lateral flexion of the spine and a rotation of the spine at the same time. The final posture has the back of the head on the outstretched leg with the torso opening up to the sky as much as possible.

I know it looks impossible and some people want to give up before they attempt it. But, in order to reach that final pose you need to trust and know that if you move slowly, deliberately, with breath and awareness, you will get there in the end. You won’t get there after seeing it once and then forcing your body into submission. (But then that wouldn’t be yoga anyway). I think that a physically and mentally challenging pose like this should be practiced with mindfulness, bringing your complete awareness to your body and breath in order to prevent injury.

For me, the REAL meaning of yoga is to practice the physical postures in order to move beyond the body and even past the mind, into the realm of true ‘union’ with yourself and the divine, or as Ed & Deb say; “where the individual self merges into the universal self.” The only way to do this, in my opinion, is to ensure that your physical practice is led by your breath. And I’ll leave the final words with Ed & Deb: “The breath is the entry point to the body, so watching the flow of the breath brings our attention inward, enabling external distractions to drop away. It focuses our attention and deepens awareness as we do each yoga posture, creating a meditation in action. All we have to do is follow each breath as it enters and leaves, bringing the breath, mind and body together”.