What is Yoga…Really?

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What is Yoga…Really?
by Ashlea Hartz, N.C., RYT

photo 2When your friend asks you to join them for a yoga class you might jump with joy searching for your mat, or cringe at the mere thought of contorting your body into odd shapes with a room full of strangers. The practice of yoga can take on many forms here in the US, most of which would be unrecognizable to the ancient gurus of India where the science was first born. So as I started to plan my upcoming beginner series at Pleasure Point Yoga, I remembered back to my first trials and explorations into the practice over a decade ago – leading me to dive back into my study and ask myself the question, “what is yoga….really?”

The first definition of yoga that I ever heard, and a very popular translation, is as follows: yoga means union. The root word in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit is yuj, which can mean to yoke, to unite, to meet or to bring two things together. I like this meaning in reference to asana: our physical practice of yoga that happens on the mat. For this we use the 90 minute class to unite our body and breath.

The breath in yoga is known as prana, which means energy or life force. This makes sense scientifically since oxygen is needed to fuel our cells and create all the energy we use in the body to pump our heart and move our legs. As you bring attention to the breath when you first sit down, you may find that you haven’t even thought about it all day long. Our busy, modern days are full of meetings, smartphones and multitasking, and many of us have forgotten how to breathe consciously. As we practice yoga postures, our goal is to keep a long steady breath throughout the movements. This challenges us to be present in our body as we sync with our breath and allow the two to fall into a rhythmic dance that brings a sense of calm and ease to our often hectic days.

It was this rhythm and dance of body and breath that first drew me to the practice of yoga – and soon I was hooked. At the time I was in my early 20’s, just a kid, and all alone fighting photo 3my way into a career in New York City. I found that when I entered the studio, the music started and we began to flow, it was like I was being transformed. The noise that filled my head slowly started to fade. I felt at home in the space, and began to feel at home in my body.

Living in New York, I was able to attend some outstanding classes with teachers who opened my eyes to a new way of moving, breathing and thinking. These teachers left an impact on my soul, and pointed me in a direction that allowed me to explore and deepen my practice at my own pace. I quickly learned that yoga is not about stretching, it’s not about sweating, it’s not even about what happens on the mat. At the very essence, yoga is about the connection you have with your breath.

With nearly fifteen years of (often inconsistent and far from perfect) practice, yoga has taught me so much about myself and the world that connects us all. It wasn’t until just this year that a few words struck a deep chord as if they were words coming from a teacher of ancient yoga –  I was in a basic class, enjoying an easy flow but worrying about the pain in my hip or the work assignment I had to finish –  when the sweet teacher said,”all you have to do today is breathe, and take care of yourself.”

That’s it. That is yoga in its own true splendor. Stripping away the noise of the world and resting in the sound of your own breath as you sit inside a body that you care for every day. That’s what it’s all about, really.