What is Yoga?

Recently I was asked, “what is yoga?” and I found myself momentarily stumped.

After thinking about this question further, I realized that every person may have a different answer, and each of those answers would ring true for that particular person.  My definition of yoga evolves depending on what’s going on in my life at the present moment. At times, yoga has been very physical for me,  helping me achieve my optimal health, both through strong and sweaty classes, as well as through a healthier relationship with food (being more mindful and aware of how I was treating my body by how and what I was eating).

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As I approach new challenges and experiences, I’ve come to define yoga as a means to surrender.  These days, we often want to control everything – whether it’s being connected nonstop to our devices, immediately answering emails, or having strict objectives for our personal and professional lives at age 30, 40, 50, etc. At times I have been guilty of all the above, and in trying to control how my life was going, it made me feel more out of control instead.  I read this recently, and it brought me a lot of clarity:

“Give up our attachment to controlling what we see around us.  The more we try to control our world, the less control we have.  The more we are willing to let go of control and simply stay present with what is, the more control we have.” – Judith Hanson Lasater, Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life

Yoga helps me let go of that control, surrender to, and accept, how I am feeling in that particular moment — whether my feelings are positive or negative, justified or not.  There have been days where I have felt great and strong, and I’ve allowed that feeling to complement and enrich my practice. There are days when I get on my mat feeling anxious about things, and I still allow myself to experience those feelings in that moment. As my anxiety would creep in and distract me, rather than trying to control it, I would recognize and accept the thoughts, and then bring my focus back to the little (but significant) aspects of my practice, such as my breath and how my body felt as I held each pose.  Through this surrender, to just let things be as they are, to give up my attachment to the way I think things should be going, and rather, just be present, I am able to gain control again.

I’m sure if I am asked this question again down the road, my answer will be different.  That’s one of the things that I love about my relationship with yoga, it keeps me on my toes, and it only gets better as time goes on.  How would you define yoga?  Let us know in the comments section!

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