In my neighbourhood, there are quite a few yoga studios. Only most of them don’t actually teach yoga. Some teach a form of asana or posture, but in many cases it’s about fitness. In fact, it has often degraded into a competitive sport. A good flag is that many yoga teachers don’t meditate. It typically has little if anything to do with actual yoga.
What then is Yoga?
Yoga means union. The practice of yoga comes from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali.
Yoga is the complete settling of the activity of the mind
Then the observer is established in the Self [in his own nature]
However, the Yoga Sutra does not offer instruction in practice but rather an understanding of the reasons for and results of. Practices were always taught directly, not through books.
Patanjali does describe 8 limbs (ashtanga) or forms of practice. These are not rungs of a ladder but limbs, to be done together. He does list what samyama is and formulae for specific results in book 3, but again this is about practice, not the practice itself. A guidebook for practitioners.
Through regular practise and non-attachment, these activities [of the mind] are stilled.
What is a Yogic practice? One that brings samadhi, the 8th limb, the still mind, the Self. He also describes the stages of samadhi. Thus it is a practice that transcends itself ergo an effortless meditation.
Patanjali does describe yoga in activity:
Tapas [warming], study of the Self and devotion to God constitute the yoga of activity [kriya yoga]
The purpose of the yoga of activity is to cultivate samadhi and to weaken afflictions, the causes of suffering.
Note that these are 3 of the 5 Niyamas from that limb of ashtanga.
I’ll be exploring what he says about suffering in another post.