What Yoga Really Is

Ahimsa, Satya and Asteya

By Julie Watson

We often think of yoga as a practice to escape the real world. A time to leave our worries behind and find peace on the mat for an hour or so, without repercussions. In fact what yoga, the physical practice, teaches us is how to use the body and breath to sustain ourselves in the chaos of the world we live in. With a closer look, the lessons of yoga philosophy go a step further, offering resources because we MUST take action in our lives, not just sit back on the sidelines in a state of blissed out savasana. 

In most yoga teacher training you will learn about the 8 Limbs of yoga and how one can move through each limb in order to find samadhi, or enlightenment. If we take a closer look at the true meaning behind some of the Limbs as taught by Shyam Ranganathan PHD in Philosophy at York University (and founder of yogaphilosophy.com), we see that taking action is the path to healing ourselves and the world that surrounds us.

  1. A common English translation of AHIMSA  is “non-harming”. Another way we can look at the true meaning of Ahimsa or “absence of violence” is actually by disrupting harm. We are not able to achieve nonviolence without looking at ourselves first. We all want to prosper, and want others to prosper, but we cannot if we allow systemic harm. Therefore it is our duty to disrupt harm when we see it, and this is yoga.  In our modern world, this looks like activism.
  1. SATYA is translated as “truth.” We often think about truth in terms of what we believe. But SATYA comes after AHIMSA because the only truths or facts we should accept are those that follow from the disruption of harm. Instead of thinking about truth in the abstract, it has to be lived as something safe for people.  Again, turning inwards and asking yourself, in what ways are you perpetuating injustice, inequality, or harm. There is a bridge between disrupting harm and the truth but requires contemplation on what are the facts. We are supposed to question things, and build a greater knowledge of the world. If we are simply set in our ways, that is not SATYA, as the world is constantly changing and so should we. Therefore you should not be a quiet observer of your life, but an active participant in truth. 
  1. “Non-stealing” is often the English translation of ASTEYA but the deeper meaning goes beyond taking from someone else. It is about not depriving yourself or others of what you need. When we deprive others of what is valuable to them, be it talents, qualities or beliefs, we create an impoverished environment. Asteya celebrates prosperity. To implement Asteya we find gratitude and appreciation and then through action, we can be of service. 

These are just 3 of the main practices that traditional yoga teaches. It’s difficult to integrate when our Western yoga model is that of connecting more with our mat than with the community. As we begin to return to studios and group practice, let these lessons influence how yoga can really impact you. Yoga in essence is the action towards liberation for ourselves and others. 

Julie Watson co-owns Afterglow Studio in the Beaches, Toronto. While juggling 3 kids, a dog and her business, she strives to keep herself sane through yoga and meditation. Most days she succeeds.You can check out the schedule for Julie’s energetic Vinyasa Flow classes at www.afterglowstudio.ca