What yoga is

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By Emily Brett, yoga teacher and Ourmala founder & CEO

It’s a beautiful and sunny day and I’m sitting next to the sparkling water in London’s Kings Place, having just finished a meeting with Fiona, our digital guru. Fi’s one of the great volunteers helping Ourmala behind the scenes. We agree that I’ll now blog once a week now so here we go, starting with one of my favourite yoga topics: what yoga actually is… Imagine this in massive hot pink neon letters across the night sky (‘asana’ meaning yoga posture in Sanskrit):

Y O G A   I S   W A Y   M O R E   T H A N   A S A N A

T H E   G O A L   O F   Y O G A   I S   P E A C E   O F  M I N D

Along with I love you, those three words are one of my favourite combos. I still think it’s cool that words can trigger such great sensory reactions… But back to point: who wouldn’t want peace of mind? And this is what yoga’s all about. This lovely little word describes the goal and the way. In other words, yoga = peace of mind and yoga is also the name of the method we use to achieve our goal.

The method, yoga, is a set of practices and principles comprising eight parts and asana (‘posture’ in Sanskrit) is just one of those. In fact, as practitioners of yoga, we only need to focus on the first six. The last two take care of themselves, as results of practice. The photo below shows all parts…

The bottom line (not referring to hot pants!)
Yoga is a beautifully simple and practical philosophy based on a double-sided premise that everything is ultimately interconnected. As an every day activity, yoga is the most profound practice of self-awareness I’ve come across. The thing about practicing self-awareness (or ‘mindfulness’ to use the buzz word) is that the more self-aware you become, the more freedom you tend to experience.

But don’t take my word for it – and this is the other side of the premise. Yoga is the antithesis of a belief system. There’s no leap of faith required, only the invitation to practice and try out yoga’s methods and principles for yourself. If they yield good results, then great – carry on. If they don’t, then forget it.

I’m a realist so this works well for me. The world I observe is full of beauty and suffering and darkness and light. Humans live in our shared external world and our own private inner world. The experience of being alive is one of continual movement between internal and external, navigating people, stuff, commitments, you name it, and on the internal side, thoughts, moods, feelings, etc. When we experience no difference between the two, when we’re totally in the present moment and feeling safe and happy, we can say that this is being in a state of yoga. I can only speak for myself but the more I practice yoga, the more I experience peace of mind.

Try this at home (takes 3 seconds max)
I recommend writing the words ‘peace of mind’ and putting them somewhere you look regularly, such as slipped into the side of your mirror or by your computer. Look at it daily and notice how it makes you feel. If you wish, you could write ‘Don’t over think it’ underneath. That’s a good one too. Try it…

Here’s the kicker
When you practice yoga, your mind calms down so there is less in the world that will trigger a pissed off or angry response, for example. Fascinating scientific evidence exists, explaining how and why this happens but more on that another day. For now, just imagine a world where you looked around and most of everything, including all the people you encountered, made you feel safe and happy and at peace. That’s what yoga practice can do over time. This doesn’t mean that your fight or flight response wouldn’t work if there were a threat, it simply means that your senses and brain are working more efficiently and perceiving life more accurately.

Overview of the eight limbs (parts) of yoga
This a page of Yoga Dharma by Hamish Hendry, my yoga teacher here in London. It’s a short and brilliant book. You’ll see the word ‘God’. Take this to mean all of life, including yourself and everything that is greater than your individual self.

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