We’ll Never Stop Trying to Define Yoga. All We Can ever Do is Add on to the Ever-Growing definition.
Instagram would have you believe that definition of yoga is a thin, fit woman doing a handstand on a beach in a bikini, of course. Handstand, along with all of the inversions can offer a myriad of health benefits, depending on the practitioner. But fancy yoga poses such as inversions and arm balances are taking up way too much of center stage. There is so much to explore and there is no most important posture. The way we see yoga has morphed and changed so very much over the years. And we can count on it continuing to do this. But there will always be foundational tenants steeped in the philosophy and ethics that will prevail and continue to be studied and revered.
Idaho-based yoga instructor Ryan Redman explains that he likes “to teach beginners about what the ancient yogis called vairagya or detachment, as a means for creating space in our minds and bodies to be as we truly are.” Along with his wife, Paige, who’s also a yoga teacher, Redman lived in India, where they studied yoga and Ayurvedic healing for several years. Now, as the executive director of The Flourish Foundation, a social non-profit dedicated to making positive changes and having a lasting impact on the lives of others, Redman teaches that detachment also means letting go of defining yourself exclusively by your thoughts, identity, and/or connection to material possessions.
When you try to define yoga, it’s like trying to describe love. It’s too vast and often there are not available words to put into concrete meanings. Detaching from the need for a straight-up definition can free us and alleviate this prevailing need to box things into a neat, tidy package.Detachment actually promotes reunion with your true self – and with your prana, or life force. “My body will never be the same,” an athletic 50-something student of Redman’s explained. “But I can use my breathing to relax my mind and help my body move in new ways. This approach to yoga is helping me explore my body and build strength.”
Redman stresses that yoga is as much a journey of inner healing and self-discovery as it is one of breathing and moving the body into physical postures. Redman says, “Yoga can help you breathe deeply, turn off the noise in your brain and body, and focus on how good it feels to simply exist in space and time.”
Simple breathing techniques, known in yoga as pranayama, were taught before any physical postures (asanas) were practiced. This is because, contrary to how most American yoga teachers lead classes, “Ancient yogic teachings hold that the movement of the breath always initiates the physical movement,” Redman explains.
Kundalini is a Sanskrit word meaning “the coiled one,” or the cosmic energy that lies dormant in a coiled form in the Muladhara (root) chakra located at the base of the spine. This subtle power, sometimes described as the supreme goddess can be awakened through pranayama and yoga practice to purify the entire being. As Kundalini energy travels upward through the spine, it activates the various chakras, finally reaching the Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head. There, it is believed, the individual soul merges into the supreme Self and attains the state of self-realization. So, if you’re really desperately needing to define yoga, here you go. Self-realization may appear to be a very lofty goal, but like any other seemingly impossible to reach apex, we have to start somewhere.
The bottom line is you define yoga. You define you. And that can and absolutely will change as we inevitably do. Enjoy that knowledge.