Back to Basics: The Roots of Yoga
“If you take a tree and chop off its roots, then you don’t have a tree, do you?”
-Prof. Subhas Tiwari
If “Yoga” can be translated literally as “union”, referring to the connection of body, mind and soul that you can achieve through its practice, is it possible to separate it into parts, working only on asana, and still call it yoga? Can we take away the meditation and spiritual knowledge to focus merely on bending like contortionists and still call it yoga? Is the physical work the way or the goal itself?
If we go back to the basics, to the roots of yoga; what will we find?
Every time I think about this subject, my thoughts inevitably go back to my first yoga teacher, Carlos. He was a tall, middle-aged, Argentinian man. He was a “normal” person to look at, but was a true yogi. I´m not saying this because he could get his body into any sort of crazy position (because he could), but because of his whole being; the way he walked, his voice, his eyes, were those of one who was perfectly comfortable in his own skin, constantly right here, right now. In his own daily life he embraced the deepest and most meaningful aspects of the yoga philosophy; and you could tell.
In modern western culture, where the words “fast”, “fit”, “success”, “results” are the everyday mantras, and on every corner there is a new yoga style (trademarked, of course) focusing mainly on the external part of yoga, the performance of asana, here was a teacher showing us the most minimal, raw, traditional and pure Yoga. He walked us through Patanjali´s ”Eight Limbs of Yoga”; reminding us at every step that it is not about what you do but how you do it, and most of all, who you want to become along the journey.
And I loved it. And thirteen years later, I still do.
Yoga is much more than asana (the physical postures). It begins before you get to the mat and finishes much later after savasana. It begins with the attitude and the intention you have in your life and towards your practice, as described in the yamas and niyamas (ethical and spiritual guidelines which focus on mindfulness of oneself in relation to others and nature). This stillness within oneself is reflected in the awareness of alignment when performing poses, and when practicing breathing techniques (pranayama). The importance of withdrawing the senses and bringing attention to our interior (pratyahara), focusing that attention (dharana), and meditating (dhyana), are key to achieving the supreme goal of yoga practice: samadhi – becoming one, first of all in ourselves and ultimately within everything that exists.
I’m aware of how much these first steps shaped my own approach to yoga. I feel inspired to share this essential knowledge with as many people as I can, as a way to thank and honor this ancient wise tradition.