What is yoga?

Much has been written about yoga and it’s definitely a very hard task to try to summarize the vastness of this ancient tradition that reaches back 5000 years, as some say. I personally experience and understand yoga as a very complex and constantly changing discipline with many different branches and influences that come from the East and in the last two centuries also from the West. There are many ways to interpret and practice yoga and for a western student it is not always easy to understand the root of certain practices, myths, rituals and beliefs. As a base to work with, we can say that the ancient spiritual and ascetic discipline of yoga includes breath control, meditation and specific bodily postures. What for? The sanskrit term yoga derives of yuj, which means yoking, as in a team of oxen. In contemporary practice, this is often translated with the term union. So, yoga is said to be for the purpose of uniting the mind, body and spirit.

Over all the years of my constantly evolving yoga practice, I have noticed that however you want to define it and interpret it, yoga produces some important shifts, at a bodily level but also in the mind. This happens first on the mat, through the daily practice of yoga poses (asanas), but then changes start producing themselves also away from the mat and in daily life. To observe this evolution is simply fascinating and sometimes a little surprising. Often I had to abandon my theories and beliefs and change them for new insights. Also on the energetic level, yoga can have powerful effects. Activating our body out into the extremities can definitely contribute to much more awareness in the body and spirit.

In the end, it does not really matter what type of yoga you practice and how “good” you are at it. The constant work of coming back with perseverance to certain practices and to be awake and present about it creates a deeper awareness and connection. It taught me to be more open and to make efforts in order to see things from a different perspective.

As a surfer you never know exactly what to expect when you paddle in, even if you are at your home spot. The seabed changes, the swells are different, the people around you are not the same and, finally, you change too. When the set of waves comes in, you face it and do your best. Sometimes when it’s big, you have to be 100% in the present moment in order to make the right moves and paddle yourself out of danger or not drop waves that are not meant for you. Yoga and surfing have so many things in common. On a physical level, on a mental and even spiritual level. Being in the present, doing my best with what I am faced with, these are things I wish to do more also when I am not on the mat or surfing a powerful wave.

“Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better you practice, the brighter the flame.”
B.K.S. Iyengar



© Michela Montalbetti, march 2015