The word yoga shares it’s root with the word yoke, meaning to become joined in union. Generally, yoke is used in the context of pack animals being used to pull a cart. In yoga, it’s the body, mind and spirit joined together to pull you through life. How do we define the body, mind and spirit and what does it mean for them to be in union?
The body is the most obvious aspect of the three. This is the abode in which the other two reside. It is also the vehicle in which they move through life. Though it is the interface through which we experience our lives, often it is ignored or neglected, until something goes wrong. When we become ill or injured, then our bodies command our full attention. The physical practices of yoga such as asana and pranayama develop health and wellness in our bodies.
The mind is much more subtle. Here is where thoughts, emotions and memories are produced. This is where your executive function lies, the controlling element of your actions. But our minds are also subject to afflictions and distress leading to profound and real distress in our lives. The practices of dharana and dhyana strengthens and stabilizes the mind.
The spirit is the most subtle of the three aspects of yoga union. It is a very difficult term to define. Much has been written about the spirit and spirituality and there is no end to the discussions and arguments over whether and what it is. My own personal definition is that the spirit is the animating force behind our actions. I see it as the reasoning that guides and directs our behaviors. With this definition in mind, the yamas and niyamas help point one’s spirit in a healthy and generally beneficial direction.
Yoga practice brings union to these three aspects of ourselves. Your body is always in the present moment, it cannot be anywhere else. Your mind is constantly jumping from memories of the past to thoughts of the future surrounded by a swarm of emotions. When you are doing the poses, your mind is brought to focus on the actions your body is performing. In this way, your body focusses your mind on the present, even as your mind is directing your body to perform the asana for physical health. Your mind and body are acting together for your benefit. The act of beginning such a yoga practice and then continuing when you feel the benefits contributes to a benevolence of spirit. Doing the thing which is beneficial to you cultivates a positive spiritual direction. This is my interpretation of the concept of how yoga brings union to our body, mind and spirit.
From a sporting perspective, I like to call it yoga practice because we are practicing skills to use in a game situation. The game we are practicing for is life. The asanas put us into difficult positions where we practice keeping our mind focused and calm. When our mind is calm, we can act in a in a conscious manner rather than simply reacting. Then, when we find ourselves in difficult positions off the mat, we have the skills to remain calm, focused and non-reactive because we have practiced them. Motivating all this is the strength of spirit which brings us to the mat each time and keeps us moving forward each day.
As I have said here and in past posts, these are my personal reflections born from my own practice. I encourage any practitioner to seek out and study how these yoga concepts are embodied in their own practice. Books such as the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali can provide insight and inspiration. There are many different approaches to the subject, ask around and find one that may suit you. Comment below if you have any questions or recommendations.