Yoga homework: What is yoga?

Teacher Training (or, TT as I’ll refer to it) starts tomorrow!  My anatomy book came from Amazon yesterday, and today I discovered that a friend of a friend (hi, Amy!) just finished Jenny’s August intensive and really loved it.  I actually spoke with this friend, Shoshanna, at Jenny’s recommendation as part of my own decision making process about whether to do TT, but I hadn’t made the connection until I spoke with Amy and we discovered the coincidence.  Cool, huh?

Our pre-homework assignment was to answer the question, what is yoga?  I’ll share part of my response here, in case you’re interested:

I think of yoga as union, and primarily as the union between mind and body, breath and movement.  The physical asana postures are the most obvious and also what most people think of when they hear the word “yoga,” but the meditation, pranayama and philosophy are perhaps more important and subtle aspects of the practice.  There are different disciplines within yoga (ashtanga, iyengar, bikram and so on) but I think that the overarching goal of any yoga practice is to be still and clear the mind of thoughts.
This is not to minimize the importance of a safe and mindful physical practice.  There are a number of different types of poses, which can be categorized loosely as standing, seated, backbends, twists, arm balances and inversions.  Though there is what could be considered a “correct” or “full” way to do a pose, conscious yogis can modify poses by using props or practicing a slight variation on the full pose as they build strength, flexibility and confidence.  Poses that are routinely practiced improperly can be unsafe and ultimately cause injury.  In yoga, the process is as important (arguably, more important) as the result.
Yoga philosophy, as explained through the sutras, guides practitioners away from suffering.  These short aphorisms can be combined with asana, meditation and breathing techniques to form a well-rounded practice that seeks to balance mind and body.  For me, the most intense and satisfying moments in class come when I surprise myself by my ability to hold a pose longer than I expected or get into a pose that I thought was impossible for me.  These experiences on the mat remind me over and over that all moments of intensity eventually end, and that it is possible to sit with that intensity and be fully present in it until the moment passes, however long it may be.  I have found this mantra immeasurably valuable in my personal and professional life.