That’s it. There’s your answer. Of course there’s s hundred other definitions, right down to the literal translation (yoke, or union), but in essence it really is just mindfulness.
This question, ‘what is yoga?’ was put to me and my fellow yogi teacher trainers right at the beginning of our course. And although we had a hundred combined years of yoga experience, none of us hit the nail on the head with our answers.
Before you read on, have a think about what YOU think yoga is. Stretching? Flexibility? Meditation? Breathing? If you answered any of these, you are correct! But not wholly so. Yoga is all of these things and a million more.
The ancient sage, Patanjali, who recorded the yoga sutras thousands of years ago, defined the purpose of yoga as ‘stilling the constant fluctuations of the mind’. How one does that is entirely up to the individual.
The 8 limbs of yoga have been set out for us as a useful way of reaching that destination (read about the 8 limbs here). But how one interprets each of these limbs varies widely. Not only do our social and cultural influences play a part (particularly in our interpretation of the yamas and niyamas), but our individual mind, body and spirit do also.
One person’s body may be entirely incapable of certain asana poses that another person finds works wonderfullyl to still the mind and focus. One person may find pounding the pavement and listening to their footsteps as they run a meditative experience, whereas someone else may not have an able body that allows them to run.
Further to this, one person’s mind may be a lot more inclined to switch off than another’s (due to a massive range of factors). Take my husband, for example, who I often ask ‘what are you thinking about?’ to which I get the response of ‘nothing’ (and he means it; his mind is literally blank at that moment). I, on the other hand, find it difficult to have any less than about three simultaneous thoughts as well as a song running through my head at any given moment (it’s truly exhausting). So his practice to still the mind would be entirely different to mine.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Everyone is different. Being mindful and present to the moment is where you will reach yoga. You can be mindful of each and every step you take, and that focus is the very essence of yoga. You can be completely lost in listening to a song, or in beholding the beauty of nature all around you, or in stirring a pot on the stove, or in colouring a picture, or in laughing uncontrollably, or in a defined and designated yoga practice. All of these and every other activity in the world can be yoga. It’s the job of the individual to figure out what’s the best practice for them.