I used to think yoga was stretching. But I also used to think mayonnaise was animal fat in a jar. I had much to learn.
Merriam-Webster defines Yoga with a capitol Y as “a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation.” And yoga with a little y: “a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being.” These definitions are both appropriate, correct even, yet seem lacking. Maybe it’s because they’re filled with words that most of us would be hard-pressed to truly define for ourselves. What is well-being exactly? What is liberation anyway? What is the self? These are some of life’s big questions, the answers to which can only be found by continuing to live and experience. The only way to get to know oneself is to be oneself, and perhaps to be oneself in a community of others. As for well-being and liberation, I think these are feelings that we know only in the experience. I sure didn’t know what love was until it bit me real hard, and it’s through events and small, deeply experienced moments, that I remember and re-learn the definition. I suppose the feelings of liberation and well-being are similar.
If I have to just keep living and feeling to understand the meanings of the words used to describe yoga, I suppose I have to keep practicing yoga in order to truly feel its definition. Further, it would seem if liberation and well-being are products of yoga, and words I strive to understand each day, there should be an element of yoga in the everyday. It’s true yoga is not simply stretching, no more than mayo is fat in a jar. It’s a blending of ingredients that adds flavor to life. It’s a way of life, a yoga lifestyle. “Attaining bodily and mental control” doesn’t happen in a classroom. A yoga teacher gives you necessary tools, but a yoga class is yoga practice. Life outside the classroom is the performance.
Okay, so maybe mayonnaise wasn’t the best metaphor. I can sense yogis cringing at laptops everywhere. But really, I’ve been amazed by what you can do with a few basic ingredients in my food processor and on my yoga mat.