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But what is yoga, really?

I met somebody this week who, on learning that I teach yoga, said “I’ve never actually done it before, but isn’t it about being peaceful?” I was pleased by this perception, because more often the response is something like “Isn’t that about being really flexible?” In fact, yoga leads us to peace of mind (sattva = state of peace, balance, clarity). In the first chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga-sutra, we are told what yoga is: yogah citta vrtti nirodhah (yoga is the restraint of the fluctuations of the mind). So how does this relate to yoga as we perceive it today?

A.G. Mohan expands:

“All the practices of yoga are oriented towards this state of sattva. Asana practice [the physical poses], for example, should reduce the rajasic, or hyperactive, tendencies of the body and the mind and lead to a state of sattva. It’s also true of the pranayama and other practices. Nowadays, yoga has become asana, and asana can be rajasic. Any exercise program can reduce the inertia component in the body and mind and make us feel lighter and well, but that is not the practice of asana. The practice of asana should contain the component of vrtti-nirodhah [restraint of the fluctuations - referring to our thoughts] through breath as well as mind."

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