Is Yoga a class?

Is Yoga a class?

It is very common to hear people talk about attending a yoga class once or twice a week. So the question arises, ‘Is the practice of yoga limited to a...

It is very common to hear people talk about attending a yoga class once or twice a week. So the question arises, ‘Is the practice of yoga limited to a class?’ While ‘yoga class' is just a general term commonly used for convenience, it is important to know that yoga is not limited to a class. Different scriptures have different definitions of yoga.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali prescribes ‘Ashtanga yoga’, the eight-step path with the culmination being the state of samadhi or absorption. Another famous commentator of the sutras, Sage Vyasa, too says yoga is 'samadhi’.

In the Bhagavad Gita, one very popular definition is ‘Yoga karmasu kaasltalam’, i.e., yoga is skillful action. Another popular line from a verse in the Gita is, ‘Samatvam yoga uchyate’, the evenness of the mind is yoga.

According to Manoj Kairnal, yoga is for ‘darshanam’—clear, insightful seeing. Initially as we begin the practice with our limited vision, we connect to the body at a superficial level—as muscle, tissues and bone. But as our vision improves, we begin to connect to the more subtle layers of the body—as energy, lightness, spaciousness and vibration. Similarly as beginners we get caught up in the grossness of the movement of the body as shapes etc.

But again, as our vision improves, as our ability to see becomes clearer, we begin to explore the questions, ‘Who is orchestrating the movement of our arms?’, ‘Who is moving our leg back into lunge position?’, or 'Who is doing the down dog position? And we begin to connect not just to the seen—the shapes, the words, the form etc, but also to the intangible intelligent presence that enlivens the body. Thus the practice of asana becomes an experiential 'darshanam’, of not just seeing the body but of experiencing our greater self.

Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar, in his book ‘Light on the Targa Satras of Patanjali’, says:
“Darsarra means ‘vision of the soul’ also ‘mirror’. The practice of yoga is to reflect the thoughts and actions of the aspirants as in a mirror. The practitioner observes the reflections of his thoughts, mind, consciousness and actions, and corrects himself. The process guides him towards observation of his inner self.”

Thus while our mat practice may end with class, our yoga practice, as awareness practice, continues throughout the day.

1. Be aware of your body, your feet and other sensations for the first few minutes after waking up. Be aware of the sensation of solidity when your feet touch the floor as you get out of bed and take a few steps.
2. Try and sense energy as you walk, do your asana practice or engage in any other form of movement.
3. Like the way you watch a movie on a screen, practice witnessing your mind, seeing your thoughts, as well as the different characters and drama that accompany it. This helps you connect to your witnessing capacity—the seer, and, with time, become less identified and enmeshed with the seen.

Extracted with permission

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