What is Yoga?

Updated: Nov 22, 2021

Yoga is so much more than poses. Yoga provides practices and guidelines for students to work toward unifying the breath, body, and mind. This unification brings not only peace, but a wealth of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual benefits. In order to fully experience all that yoga has to offer, one must try, try some more, and keep trying. Real yoga is a lifestyle and a path for discovering, cherishing, and nurturing your true self.

The IS and IS NOTs of Yoga...

Yoga IS NOT a religion.

This is a common misconception about yoga. Yoga comes from Ancient India, the Sanskrit language, and was first practiced by individuals who also practiced Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, among other religions. Yoga traditionally involves chanting and meditating, which can be off-putting to those who don't understand the language and meaning behind it.

If this is a concern or caution you have, I encourage you to approach yoga with an open mind and ask questions before deciding that practicing yoga would be going against your religion.

Yoga IS a path to becoming more spiritual.

Yoga is practiced by people of many religions. While yoga doesn't tell you who or how to worship, yoga does guide you to develop a connection to something higher than yourself. Isvara pranidhana (surrender to god, acknowledge there is a higher power) and isvarapujana (worship of a higher power, daily devotion) teach of the importance of holding reverence to a higher power of your choosing.

Whether you do or don't believe in a higher power, yoga can be for you. Rather than a traditional yoga text, you can meditate on your breath, a bible verse, song lyrics, or other teachings that resonate with you. The process of finding what is spiritual within yourself and your creation can open your heart in new and different ways.

Yoga IS NOT just a workout.

Much of Western society focuses mainly on the physical aspect of yoga, or asana. We see vinyasa, power, and workout style yoga classes all over social media and in yoga studios. If this is your style, great! There are so many physical benefits that come from yoga such as increased mobility, muscle toning, and strength building.

Asana, the physical practice of yoga, was originally designed to prepare the body to sit in meditation. Movement in yoga is first about breath, and next about connecting breath and movement. The movement follows the breath. These foundations aren’t taught in most present day yoga classes, though. When focused on move-move-move, stretch-stretch-stretch, students can miss the physical benefits that live within the tiniest of movements. Developing these benefits takes time. In order to feel the breath moving throughout the body in any given pose, it is necessary to find proper alignment. It can take years to find the proper alignment within your own body.

Like many others, I was initially drawn to yoga because of the physical aspect. It was a workout I was able to feel strong doing. Learning of the countless, life-changing benefits has opened my eyes to what yoga truly is and how it is deeply benefiting all parts of my life.

Yoga IS an all encompassing practice.

From the way we treat others to the what and when we eat, yoga offers guidelines and time-tested practices that improve our whole selves. Through practicing yoga, students can experience lower stress, better sleep, greater energy, better quality of breath, deep relaxation, genuine self love, comfortability to cope with life's ups, downs, and all-arounds, and so much more.

To experience more profound benefits from the physical practice, one must also work toward mastering the lifestyle practices of yoga. Meditation, mindfulness, and the way you treat others IS your yoga practice.

Yoga IS NOT one size fits all.

No body is the same, therefore no yoga pose will appear the same between two different people. Many students will hear universal cues such as "hug your elbows to your sides," "straighten your arms/legs," or, "square your hips to the front of the room." While these cues can be helpful to building the foundation of a pose, they can also be detrimental to students if those actions aren't within their practice or body structure.

In a group class setting, unless the teacher makes a point to incorporate props (blocks, straps, blankets, bolsters, etc.), students often won't use them. When I first started yoga, I avoided using props because I thought it meant I "wasn't as good" as other students if I "had to" use a block. Wrongo! Truth is, with my tighter hamstrings and longer arms, blocks improve my alignment and stability. Now, I love props!

Yoga IS available for every body type.

Yoga props and pose modifications are wonderful tools to make poses accessible to all bodies. Yoga teachers who have been trained on the importance of alignment and anatomy will consider each student in their class and notice when adjustments need to be made.

Because movements follow the breath, the pace of any yoga practice is up to the individual doing it. If someone feels yoga is too fast for them, perhaps they need to follow their own breath rather than breath cues they're being given. If someone feels yoga is too slow for them, they can try out some of the faster-paced classes, or perhaps, a little slowing down is just what they’re needing.

The many faces of yoga...

Yoga comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and traditions. It's important to look into the lineage of the yoga you are practicing. Find out: who are the founders? how have they lived their lives? where did this tradition begin? how does this benefit me long term?

If you're already a student of yoga, chances are you haven't been introduced to the rich history of the tradition you've been practicing. Learning more of the different types of yoga can help you discover what's out there in the yoga world and what you might be missing.

A little Yoga History...

Classical Yoga vs. Tantra Yoga

Classical Yoga is outlined by the Yoga Sutra text by Pantanjali. There is an emphasis on self discipline and working to control the body and mind. Classical Yoga guides students to refrain from experiencing actions perceived to be wrong or bad so they can focus their energy on reaching enlightenment.

Tantra is outlined by the Hatha Yoga Pradipika text. While Classical yoga focuses on the mind, Tantra yoga focuses on the breath and energy throughout the body. Tantra Yoga guides students to try things, observe how it affects them, and decide if that action serves their highest self. Tantra is about holistically experiencing, feeling, and expanding one's awareness.

Yoga Has 8 Limbs:

  1. Yama: How You Treat Others

  2. Niyama: How You Treat Yourself

  3. Asana: Posture and Poses

  4. Pranayama: Breath and Energy Control

  5. Pratyahara: Turning Inward

  6. Dharana: Concentration

  7. Dhyana: Meditation

  8. Samadhi: Realization

I will take you deeper into each of these in further posts! For now, note that the physical practice of yoga, asana, is listed as the third limb. The practice of yoga takes the student on a journey toward samadhi, pure realization, and uses all eight limbs to get there. Yoga (mostly asana) is a billion dollar industry. Students spend money on studio memberships, brand name clothes/mats/props, and app subscriptions without being informed of the real, life-changing yoga they can be doing at home and throughout their daily lives. We miss out when we aren't accessing and practicing all eight limbs that yoga offers us.

Yoga has already provided me with a philosophy and framework for how to fully live and experience my life. I invite you to approach yoga with an open mind, an open heart, and a self ready to be examined.

Ready to explore yoga for yourself? Join us in person or online for a class.


Thank you for joining me in this overview of yoga. May your life be full of peace, gratitude, and love for your true nature.

shanti, shanti, shanti | peace, peace, peace

Rachael Schauer, Your guide through growth

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