what is yoga?

Yoga is many things to many people.  The word “Yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means “to yoke or bind,” and is often interpreted as “union of mind, body and spirit.”

In ancient times, Yoga was referred to as a tree with a living trunk, roots, flowers and fruit, and while most of us practice the most well-known branch of this tree – Hatha yoga, there are six main branches of yoga, and none of these are a religion:

Hatha – yoga of physical processes, incorporating asana (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques) and meditation.
Bhakti
– yoga of devotion
Raja
– “royal” yoga of self-control or mind (includes Astanga, the eight-limbed path)
Jnana
– yoga of knowledge
Karma
– yoga of selfless service
Tantra
– yoga of ritual

At Montecito Yoga, we teach mostly from the path of traditional Hatha Yoga, exploring the physical postures, or ASANA, designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for Meditation. This path also includes the practice of Pranayama (breath control), and can be informed by any of the three fundamental currents of yoga philosophy: Classical, Advaita Vedanta, and Tantra (see below for more info).

Within the Hatha Yoga path, there are many styles of asana practice: Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa, Anusara, Jivamukti, Power, Integral, and Yin to name just a few.

While there are many styles of Hatha Yoga, it is essentially a state of being, rather than something you do. On our mats, we get to explore, inquire and meet ourselves exactly where we are, and this relationship is where the practice lives. Whether or not you can touch your toes is irrelevant to your ability to practice Yoga. Even if you are a regular golfer, tennis player, surfer, cyclist, or couch potato, Yoga compliments and enhances any lifestyle, and at any age or physical ability.

Why yoga

There are many valuable reasons to practice yoga, and some of the health benefits can be found at WebMD. The consistent and regular practice of yoga can have profound and practical benefits to your life.

We teach yoga because we have experienced first-hand, how the practice transforms and enriches our lives. We want to share the practice because we KNOW it works, but the ultimate selling point is your personal experience, and how you FEEL after class.

some benefits of yoga
builds strength, flexibility and balance
improves immune, circulatory, digestive, nervous and respiratory systems
increases physical and mental energy
reduces stress and enhances ability to relax
focuses and calms the mind
promotes weight loss from mindful choices

some history of yoga
An estimated 2,000 years ago, the Indian sage, Patanjali, is believed to have collated the practice of yoga into the Yoga Sutra.  The Sutra is a collection of 195 statements or words of wisdom, that serves as a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today.

It also outlines EIGHT LIMBS of YOGA or Ashtanga Yoga:

1. the Yamas (restraints)
Ahimsa – nonviolence
Satya
– truthfulness
Asteya
– non-stealing
Brahmacharya
– self-discipline
Aparigraha
- non-possessiveness
2. the Niyamas (personal observances)
Saucha
– purity
Santosha
– contentment
Tapas
– disciplined use of energy
Svadhyaya
– self study
Ishwara pranidhana
- celebration of the spiritual
3. Asana
(physical postures)
4. Pranayama(breath control)
5. Pratyahara
(control of the senses)
6. Dharana
(concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness)
7. Dhyana(meditation)
8. Samadhi
(bliss, union with the Divine)

Today most people practicing yoga are engaged in the third limb, asana, which are the physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.

The “doing” is what we experience in the physical practice, so we get confused about “doing” versus “being.”  We are often pushed to our edge (whether it be physical, emotional or mental) in order to lean into this state of beingness.

There are three fundamental currents of yoga philosophy: Classical, Advaita Vendanta and Tantra.

Classical yoga’s basic belief is that matter (prakriti) and spirit (parusha) are separate. The goal of classical yoga is to join with the divine spirit by transcending matter. This spiritual perfection can only be achieved by overcoming the inferiority of the body and its inherent desires.

Vedanta teaches that matter and spirit are one, and the fundamental problem of the human condition is that we assume them to be separate, in other words we live in a deluded state. The goal of Vedantic yoga is to transcend the illusion, maya in Sanskrit, which blinds us to our essential unity with the universe.

Tantra is also non-dualistic but sees this quest differently. Tantra states that both spirit and matter are real phenomena, but not separate. In Tantra, matter is not inferior to the divine, but an aspect of it. One does not seek freedom from the body; one seeks freedom in the body. In the history of yogic thought, this is a revolutionary viewpoint.

As a living dynamic system, the tree of Yoga is ripe for continual growth and evolution, with deep roots and sturdy branches to give every seeker exactly the nourishment they need to find their way back home.