Yoga defined: Not just postures

Yoga is not in the postures taught in classes but in the principles that form the roots on which this mighty tree stands


Creating a new form of yoga seems so easy today. Just prefix the word yoga with another word that you fancy, like power, sufi or hot. You may like to believe you’ve created something patent-worthy, but it’s definitely not a form of true yoga.

Yogic science is said to be thousands of years old. In fact, it is not just a science but also one of the six systems of Indian philosophy. Originally taught in ashrams or monasteries through a Guru-disciple medium, it later got popularised through mass teachings as traditions and lineages slowly started to fade into the background of a fast-developing modern world.

Yoga defined not just by postures

In the ancient times, it was a common practice for those suffering physically or mentally to retreat to the ashrams of the yogis, and build their strength through practices advised within the system of yoga. When I say mental suffering, what I am referring to is disturbances caused by the ‘adhis’ such as anger, jealousy or insecurity that often lead to diseases or illnesses. The ancient yogis, it seems, were well-versed with the effects of the mind over the body, what we commonly term as psychosomatic today. These yogis knew that in order for a human being to live happily and successfully, he didn’t just require a series of exercises that would strengthen his limbs but also a systematic and healthy way of ‘being’ through mental and spiritual vows.

It is saddening to see how this holistic and well-rounded science has been reduced to a ‘series of postures’ today. I often encounter practitioners who boast of a 10 – 15 year ‘practice’, and upon my further inquiry into the nature of these ‘practices’, I am shocked to discover that it simply is an asana practice twice a day! I am almost always tempted to ask these great practitioners whether they have managed to incorporate the principles of yoga into their daily lives in order to refine their personalities. But I have to bite my tongue and hold back.

It teaches you how to ‘be’

The practice of yoga was shared with mankind by the great sages as a roadmap to liberation and freedom from suffering. They seemed to understand the conflict that human beings struggled with, to live both in the internal and the external world; hence they created practical methods to resolve these conflicts. Their main teaching to mankind, through the philosophy of yoga, was that man’s true nature is divine, but he remains unaware of this and believes his body to be the final reality. With the body being subject to death and decay, he lives in constant fear of losing ‘himself’ at what he perceives to be the end. The practice of yoga leads man to discover his true inner self, allowing him to rest in its infinite nature while performing his duties in the external world bringing harmony to his existence. One can define yoga in the words of a Himalayan sage as, “Religion tells you what to do and what not to do but yoga teaches you how to be.”

Yoga and the Gita

In the Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna mentions the word ‘yoga’ on numerous occasions, presenting to Arjuna, the different paths of yoga that an aspirant could choose from to find liberation. These main paths are Karma yoga [the path of action], Bhakti yoga [the path of devotion], Jnana yoga [the path of knowledge] and Raja Yoga [a combination of all the other paths] also known as the royal path. The differences in these paths are only in the preliminary stages, the end goal being perfection and realisation.

It is said that for those of us who live in the material world, Raja yoga is ideal as it combines the teachings of Karma [action], Bhakti [devotion] and Jnana [knowledge] into a practical path that leads one to the development and mastery of the physical, mental and spiritual. Hence, it is recommended for householders and non-renunciates. Its origin can be traced back to thousands of years and the wisdom contained therein is said to be of a ‘revealed’ nature and not created by man. Around 200 B.C., these teachings were collated and systematised by a great sage called Patanjali, who felt there was a need to present the teachings in an organised, easy to follow way. Patanjali wrote the well known Raja yoga treatise called The Yoga Sutras, a classical text that guides an aspirant to realisation of his true Self.


Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

Aditi Gaur
Aditi Gaur teaches a traditional Hatha Yoga practice. She has earned her RYT 200 certification from the Sivananda Yoga & Vedanta Centre and is currently studying for her RYT 500 certification with the Himalayan Yoga Tradition. For her, practice is about worshipping the divine within and this is what she offers to her students as well — the ability to switch off and discover who they really are.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here