What is Yoga?

Yoga is more than a fitness or stretching modality. Saying that, if health + fitness is what interests you about yoga, it is a very effective way to improve posture, flexibility + mobility.

Yoga is for everyone – not just the bendy! Yoga also helps to align us with the dual experience of life. Our experience with the manifest world around us in contrast to our experience with our inner world of intangible subtleties (thoughts, feelings, behaviours, emotions, life force + potential energy).

I often get asked if yoga is a religion. Probably because of the spiritual concepts + practices that align us to being part of a universal or devine consciousness ~ or higher self. Or perhaps because of the Hindu mythology ~ stories of gods + godesses which offer archetypes to help us to easily relate to concepts or guidance that are not easily articulated or understood or messages that withstand the passage of time.

Yoga is not a religion. Religion defines what a person should believe.

Yoga is a science or maybe even an art – a means for self discovery that we can test, experiment with, be creative with + discover ourself for our self through our own experiences.

Born in Indian culture nearly 2500 yeas ago. Yoga has ancient roots which is why the language of yoga is Sanskrit – an ancient language of India + Hindu mythology with its deities + creative stories are woven through the yoga practice. Teachings were passed down from teacher to student + various styles developed over time.

Read on to know more about this ancient system of wellness + wellbeing that promotes health, reduces stress + guides us to live purposefully for the benefit of the individual, the collective + the environment.

the PURPOSE of ‘yoga’

The word ‘Yoga’ derives from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’ meaning ‘unity’, ‘yoke’ or ‘combine’. It reflects the concept of balance + wellbeing + inter-connectedness. Yoga seeks to balance the dual nature of being human ~ balancing our outer experiences + inner experiences so as to remain healthy physically, mentally + energetically. Yoga teaching deliver a clear + simple directive:

  • Manage + regulate yourself AS A WHOLE (body, mind + spirit);
  • Check-in daily + explore how we really feel each day (physically, mentally + energetically);
  • Develop that 3-way connection for the ultimate experience of wellbeing, balance + wholeness (samadhi) ~ the altered state of profound freedom that comes from feeling united as part of a universal consciousness instead of perceiving ourselves as an individual separate from the whole.

To expect a life of enlightenment is a big ask in todays world + perhaps a little impractical. Nevertheless, a regular yoga practice can help us:

  • to better know ourselves;
  • to be better at being ourselves in our healthiest state;
  • to feel more attuned to the subtleties of life;
  • to be aware of what matters most to us in both our inner + outer worlds;
  • to balance our egos;
  • to hear + trust our intuition;
  • to receive flashes of inspiration;
  • to feel a profound sense of purpose + understanding;
  • to feel empowered by our physical, mental + energetic resilience.

Yoga Today

Today you will find many different representations of Yoga each with their own approach to balancing our health + awareness.

There are many “styles” + categories to learn + practice to manage our physical, mental + energetic health. And there are many methods to do so from in-person classes, workshops + retreats to online courses + classes to do from home.

The majority of yoga styles being taught today are derived from ‘Hatha’ Yoga + Patanjali’s Fundamentals of yoga – the ‘8 Limbs’ of Yoga. Only one of these 8 categories of yoga practices relates to exercising the body through posture, stretching + movement (Asana). The other 7 support us in improving the health of our physical + energy body, mastering our senses + balancing our ego-self + becoming more aware of the subtleties of life.

Yoga Sutra 1.2 gives a description – yogash chitta vritti nirodhah – which means Yoga is the cessation of the whirling fluctuations of the mind.


There are many many tools for the practice of yoga. These tools are not limited to movement + breath but are easier to experience + practice in tandem with movement + breath. These include:

  • Morals, Ethical practices, Life style choices, Attitudes + Self Care (Yamas + Niyamas)
  • Breathwork (Pranayama)
  • Movement + Physical postures (Asana)
  • Focus (Dristi) + Concentration tools (Dharana) e.g. Mantra, Yantra, Visualisation
  • Introspection + Sense withdrawal (Pratyahara)
  • Mindfulness + Relaxation tools eg. Intentions, Meditations, Yoga Nidra to organise, steady + understand the mind through self enquiry
  • Energy (Prana) management + awareness tools e.g. energy channels (Nadis) seals + locks (Mudras + Bandhas), movement + balancing practices (Kriyas, Pranayama + Kundalini)

Yoga today is a systematic collection of ancient concepts, theories, techniques + guidance many of which have been validated by modern day Science + Medical understandings.

Yoga tools techniques + guidance are capable of being studied, tested, sampled, verified + experienced individually. It’s called a ‘Yoga practice’. The results + feedback amongst ‘yoga practitioners’ today are extremely persuasive.

Yoga + Nature

Ancient yogis looked to Nature (on earth + in space) and observed synchronicities, meta physics + patterns of self-regulation. We find many of these lessons + laws of Nature, synchronicities applied through the tools of yoga.

The word ‘Hatha’ in itself translates to Sun (‘Ha’) + Moon (‘tha’) the two dominant luminaries in our skies. The concept of Hatha represents the dual experience of our world + balancing the 2 opposing types of energy (eg. male/female or shiva/shakti or left brain/right brain or logic/intuition or analytics/creativity).

Many of the postures + shapes mirror nature (like cow pose, cat pose, tree pose, crescent moon lunge, upward + downward dog). If you attend regular classes you will begin to recognise poses by their sanskrit names like ‘Chataranga dandasana’ (4 limbed staff pose – or low plank) ‘Tadasana’ (Mountain pose) ‘Badokonasana’ (butterfly or cobblers pose) etc.

Breathwork will relate to Nature or encourage connection to your energetic self by controlling + adapting parts of the nervous system which are usually automatic (the autonomic nervous system ‘ANS’). For example – Simhasana (Lions breath), Ujjayi (oceanic breath) or Bhramari breath (Bee breath).

Meditations will often guide us through a relatable story to help us monitor our current state of mind, feelings or presence or focus our concentration to a relatable phrase, mantra, or object like your breath pattern, or sounds or sensations or a visual object.

The marriage of yoga + nature is woven into our practice which is why teaching yoga seasonally with reference to 5 element theory, lunar cycles + other planetary influences resonates strongly with me. Equally, rolling out the mat in the great outdoors can be an extra-ordinary experience particularly here in the French Alps.

Practical Yoga

Despite the passage of time, I find yoga to be 100% relevant today offering a means to improve health, clarity of mind + inner calm. It enables a physical, emotional + energetic stability + resilience despite the daily stresses, responsibilities + challenges.

Medical practitioners, physical therapists, mental health + social welfare workers, schools + prisons, trainers in movement, sports, athletes, dance etc all promote + apply Yoga or the tools of yoga to enhance performance or to treat + prevent injury + ill health in their fields.

For example sufferers of back pain, arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, hormone imbalances, infertility, insomnia, mental health problems such as depression, anxiety + OCD, Neuro divergence are all scientifically proven to benefit from the tools yoga.

The concept of ‘Practice’ is the magic sauce within which these tools are used.

Sri Pattabhi Jois coined the phrase ‘Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory’. I think of it as – Yoga Practice is 99% doing + 1% theory – in other words it’s the discipline or dedication to DO yoga that improves our nervous system health, physical health, mental health + emotional health more than the proficiency or standard of the practice of the tools itself.

It’s so important to me in my practice + teaching to try to find a balance between sharing the ancient tools of yoga but to keep it practical + relevant for application to our modern day lives.

Look for a class or discipline that helps you to feel better in body + mind. Look for a teacher that helps you take a look at yourself as a whole + helps you to develop your physical goals as well your emotional + spiritual health or discover an appetite for inner knowledge – to better know yourself + make the best of yourself. Look for a class that helps you understand your resilience + your ability to regulate your own health ,manage your stress, regulate your emotions, your hormones, weigh up our options daily, make balanced choices + live a more pain-free, purposeful + fulfilling life.

Who doesn’t want that?

Seasonal Yoga in Bourg Saint Maurice

So where does one start doing yoga? Look for a local teacher that you relate to – Go to Class – Do yoga – Breathe deeply – Meditate.

Come to class with me in the French Alps – check out Class schedule to see what’s going on when and where

Do yoga at home – click here to get involved

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