Most people in the 'West' think that yoga is a bunch of crazy looking poses that a bunch of very flexible people do. Unfortunately; that is one of the many misconceptions which leads many non-westerners and traditionalists to shun the new and modern interpretation of these ancient disciplines. I really hope that we all learn acceptance of each other no matter how challenging it might be.
It is much easier for me to explain yoga as I see it currently. A discussion of the depth and scope that I enjoy of what yoga really is and its origins would take far longer to read than a short blog post. It will take years of study for me to be able to succinctly express what yoga really is; if there is any way it can just be summed up!
To me yoga is very simply a variety of techniques that are designed to work the mind, body and spirit. Within the teachings the seeker will learn about breath control, body control and mental focus. These different aspects are achieved though a variety of means. I like looking at the concept of the eight limbs; Ashtanga means eight limbs. Most modern interpretations of yoga in the west do not really focus on the eight limbs and really just put emphasis on the postures for the well-being of the body.This of course depends on the teacher and the student. If you do not see anything other than the body then you are limited in what your practice will provide for you. If you are just looking for a good workout then just practicing postures will help to strengthen your body and will provide peace and serenity but in my experience the postures are just one small aspect of what yoga can do for those who choose to delve into the depths of their practice.
I found an excellent synopsis of the eight limbs of yoga in a Yoga Journal post and a more thorough explanation can be found at Expressions of Spirit. Both are excellent introductions to the eight limbs and can give you an idea of how deep some aspects of yogic philosophy go.
This is by no means the only way to see yoga. It simply is the way I have been looking at it recently. Again I cannot stress enough how vast the practice of yoga is and how many different interpretations there are of these ancient arts.
In summary yoga is a series of different codes and practices designed to train the mind to surrender to the ultimate source of peace and unconditional love that resides within each and every human being and pervades all consciousness.
By practicing yoga you learn to stop depending on archaic forms of self-limitation and connect to your highest good. It is a tool for evolution of the mind and tranquility of the soul. Through practice and dedication we can all be connected to our highest states of being.
As always thank you for reading and please feel free to comment and share your experiences and thoughts.