What Is Yoga?


The Divine in Me Sees the Divine in You,

& Honors That…

Both of us, when we are in this place,

We Are One.

Thank You for Being Here Now.

I Honor You, & Your Commitment to Making Your Life the Best It Can Be, & It Is My Hope & Intention That This Course Will Be All That You Want It to Be, & More…


1) Please Take a Few Moments to Sit Quietly & Examine Your Body & Mind

(medium-sized pause — about 3 minutes)

2) Please do the course exercises on your computer.

These Are Required to Complete the Course. You will be asked to send us a good portion of your notes (whatever is not too personal to share) before you can receive certification.

3) Study is a yoga practice, and at the beginning of your practice it is recommended that you set what we call an Intention (the word is Sankalpa in Sanskrit). Please Take a Few Moments to Write Down Your Intention (or Intentions) for Taking This Course. Feel into the things you really feel you WANT/NEED to change in your life, and write them down, possibly using the phrasing “I WILL” (example: “I Will Learn to Eat More Slowly and Consciously.”), or “I AM” (example: “I AM a slow, conscious eater.”) Otherwise or in addition, you could write what you are Releasing from your life, and what you are Replacing in the absence of what you have released. Example: I am releasing guilt, and I am replacing it with a feeling of absolute self-worth.

(medium-sized pause)

4) Please Also Commit To Seeing This Program Through to Completion in a Reasonable Amount of Time. This is for your sake & sanity! Let’s go by the rule of thumb that it takes 21 Days to Change a Habit, or make a major life change (see HERE for why), and let’s just see if this is really true by keeping to the 22-day plan (I chose “22,” btw, because 22 is a “Master Number” in numerology — plus it gives you that one extra day : )

You can use this formula, or something like it:

I, ______________________

(use full name),

am fully committed to completing the Course called “The Great Yoga Quest” to the best of my ability and in a reasonable amount of time. Amen (AUM)

(medium pause)

How ya feelin’?


Okay, ready?

Here we go…

What is The Great Yoga Quest?

The Great Yoga Quest is your life.

It is our Quest for Oneness, Wholeness, Centeredness…

It is our Quest for True Joy, Bliss, Unconditional Love…

It is our Quest for God, Source, LifeForce, The All — or whatever you choose to call IT…

It is Also a Great QUEST-ion, a Riddle wrapped in a Mystery inside an Enigma…

The Great Yoga Quest in a narrower sense is the material you

now have before that will hopefully give you some helpful pointers on how live a more balanced, harmonious existence.


Great teachers show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.

Great teachers are the proverbial finger pointing at the moon — they point the way, and leave it to you to walk the path.

They take you to the waterside, but do not try to make you drink/think.

In other words, no one can do it for you, you have to do the work yourself!

So I’m off the hook, right?

(That’s a yes or no question!)

Actually, I see myself not so much as a teacher (let alone a great one ; ) as a “Sharer” of yoga. I am just sharing with you what I have learned over the years, and hopefully it will be helpful to you.

Please Also Remember:

You are the Master of Your Life, and you do have the power to create your life as you see fit.

Yet, this will only truly be TRUE for you when you take 100% responsibility for your life.

When you do that, you will truly become the Master of Your Domain.

You will be a Yoga Master!

Want to explore how this might happen?

(That’s a yes or no question!)

So… What is this thing called Yoga?

INNERCISE: Please begin by taking a few minutes to write down what Yoga means to you right now.


Ok, now that’s out of the way, let’s begin to answer this question by saying what Yoga isn’t, and that hopefully will give us a better sense of what it is.

First, because this is ostensibly an academic course, let’s be clear:

Yoga is NOT an academic study.

I mean, it can be an academic study, certainly, and if I had no faith in language that it could actually create shifts in consciousness — the kinds that yoga values — then I wouldn’t be here writing this for you in the first place, would I? And yes, there are many yogic paths, and study and learning, as I stated from the outset, is definitely a path.

Yet, for most of us, we need to practice and experience things directly for ourselves, not merely read about them. Ultimately, only real, lived, direct, experiential, embodied knowledge is truly true for us — it is what we KNOW, not just believe or have faith in.

Yoga, then, is based in Direct Experiential Knowledge.

This knowledge generally requires practice done consistently for a long period of time (an idea that goes at least as far back as the 2000-odd-year-old Yoga Sutras, which we will be looking at in more depth in a later lecture).

One of the most influential yoga teachers of our time and the co-founder of Ashtanga Yoga, Pattabhi Jois, famously said:

“Practice and All is Coming.”

and he said:

“99% Practice, 1% Theory.”

and he also said:

“[Your] Whole Life is Your Practice.”

and he also demanded:

“Practice! Practice! Practice!”

So the lesson here is __________?

(please fill in the blank)


And right now, your practice is learning the theory that for yoga, practice is more important than theory.

Got that?

We’re learning theory here, but not too much, just enough.

Remember that this is only 40 hours of a 200 hour Yoga TT program.

That comes out to be 1/5th, or 20 percent theory.

The rest of the Yoga TT is direct, hands-on learning, guided by a qualified teacher.

So we’re pretty close to what Pattabhi Jois said: 20% theory as opposed to just 1%, which was probably just an exaggeration for effect anyway (the term is “hyperbole” — when you really want to raise some eyebrows, speak hyperbolically!)

Ok, so we’ve established how important practice is in yoga, and how relatively less important theory is, yes?

Sometimes I say:

Yoga is not a spectator sport!

No, and it’s not for the lazy bones either.

In fact, one of the classic texts of Hatha Yoga, a 14th century yoga manual called “The Hatha Yoga Pradipika,” says the following:

“Whether young, old or too old, sick or lean, one who discards laziness gets success if he [or she!] practices Yoga…Success comes to the one who is engaged in the practice. How can one get success without practice; for by merely reading books on Yoga, one can never get success…Success cannot be attained by adopting a particular dress. It cannot be gained by telling tales. Practice alone is the means to success. This is true, there is no doubt.”

[Note: If you would like to explore this seminal text further, one version of it can be found HERE ]

So in other words,

Get off your lazy asana, get with the program, and do some more reading with me!


(Laughing My Asana Off — for future reference)

Ok, so here’s another point to consider for what yoga isn’t:

I just mentioned “getting with the program.”

Well, yoga is not about programming, actually.

Better stated: It’s about getting with “De Program.”

Get it?


In other words, yoga is not so much about adding anything to yourself, like a whole bunch of useless information, a few letters after your name, or even a dumb little online certificate from Yoga University (I didn’t just say that, btw ; ),

it’s about removing from your life everything that is not allowing you to be fully present and accounted for in


“There is a fundamental simplicity to the process of Yoga that is outlined in the Yoga Sutras. While the process might appear very complicated when reading the Yoga Sutras and many commentaries, the central theme is one of removing, transcending or setting aside the obstacles, veils or false identities. The many suggestions in the Yoga Sutras are the details or refinements of how to go about doing this. By being ever mindful of this core simplicity it is much easier to systematically progress on the path of Yoga.”

~ Swami Rama

You heard what the man said.

Put another way: Yoga is not so much about learning anything.

It’s about unlearning.

It’s not a “conditioning” program, it is a “deconditioning program” that will bring you more and more

into a state of unconditonality.

What is unconditionality?

First of all, it’s a real word, I just googled it! (giggle)


is a state

“without conditions or limitations; total unconditional surrender”

according to the Free Online Dictionary.

What is it like to live without limitations in total unconditional surrender?

Well, let’s find out!

And here I must bring in heavy artillery,

the dreaded “D” word.

You know what word I’m talking about?

Yes, you do, but you can’t force yourself to say it, can you? : )

Well, I’ll do it for you.

The word is


You know you want it.

You know you need it.

It’s just so hard to do, isn’t it?

It’s hard to discipline ourselves to do the things we KNOW are good for us.

Yet this is the path, the path to life mastery.

And you do want to be the master of your life, don’t you?

That’s why you’re here, right?

Well, then we must have discipline in our life, especially if we want to make that change that’s dying to be made.

It’s that saying, “If you do what you’ve always done,

you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

If you keep avoiding the things you KNOW are good for you, then you’re probably never going to get where you truly want to go — having a feeling of true fulfillment in your life,

and being seen/acknowledged as such (though this will not be so important as you will just KNOW that you are!)

There is a piece of advice in yoga that I ask that you take to heart:

Go into your fears — the places that scare you — and directly face them head on.

Work on the things that are hard for you, or that you feel weak in, not the things that are easy for you.

In your asana practice, work more on the poses that are hard for you, not the easy ones that you can show off. Simply put, here’s two more great, related quotes to bring us home:

“The Only Way Out is THROUGH.”


“If you want to get to it,

you gotta go through it!”



(medium pause)



These are for you, not me or anyone else.

Now write down at least 3 things you can do to conquer each of those things.

Please take a few minutes to do this.



Moving on…

So to sum up, don’t be afraid of discipline. Discipline will ultimately be your best friend, it will truly be a “vehicle for joy.”

All beginnings are hard.

Yoga is so hard it’s almost torture for some people at the very beginning (it was for me). But stick with it. Put yourself through the paces. Remember these three very important Power “P” words, and you won’t go wrong:




Now, if you feel turned off by all of this, then perhaps this is not for you.

Yes, it’s true yoga is not for everyone.

Clearly, right?

Because if it were for everybody,

then everyone would be doing it, no?

Did you ever hear this one:

“Yoga is for every body,

but not everybody is for yoga…yet!”

In reality, it is my understanding that all of us ARE doing yoga, whether we know it or not — or perhaps better stated, YOGA is doing us. In other words, we all have our yoga — what is bringing us back to the original Unity, whether we know it or not, whether we are conscious of it or not. And I will also say this:

WHATEVER practice or activity in your life is helping to bring you into a greater place of joy, peace, love, harmony & balance is yoga.

Put another way:

Whatever you most love to do – whatever you most give your attention to — is your yoga.

Sounds like I’m contradicting myself, no?

I am, yet there’s a way to see it differently.

Let me tell you a personal story.

When I was 11 years old, all I wanted to do was to play the electric guitar and be a rock god. My guitar heroes were the great classic rock guitar players: Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, etc. And I was actually a precocious guitar player, yet there were a lot of things working against my actually living my passion, my dream. For one, I was incredibly shy, something which came as a result of my parents’ divorce that year, but also because I was on the verge of puberty and getting to be an awkward teenager with a host of issues for which my happy-go-lucky childhood had not prepared me. Not to mention my perfectionism. So to make a long story short it turned out that I actually stuffed my blessed Gibson Les Paul Custom that my mom got me for my birthday away in my closet for most of my teenage years, in complete denial of the thing in my life that I was most passionate about (besides girls): Music. It took a spontaneous Kundalini awakening experience at the age of 19 to bring me back into my heart enough to recognize that making music was all I really wanted to do with my life. But then I still had all of these issues, and I realized that for me to be a great artist like one of my heroes, I would have to have some sort of discipline. Yoga was that discipline. Of course, I could have just disciplined myself, but I felt I needed a mentor. That’s where my yoga gurus came in. They helped to bring me to the place where I could learn to be myself, conquer my fears, and be my own disciplinarian.

So in other words, discipline helped me to be myself more, and do what I loved to the best of my Spirit-given potential. I’m actually still on this path, but I know that if I were to dedicate myself solely to music at this point, I could do it excellently, because of the tools and transformation that yoga has provided.

So the yoga path essentially tells us:

Be a disciple of discipline.

Yet be a disciple of discipline and ultimately go BEYOND discipline.

Learn the rules first, and once you learn to play by the rules,

then you can break the rules, become your own “Ruler” and create your own rules.

(Any good guitarist/instrumentalist will tell you that first you learn the chords and the changes and all the theory, and then it’s so much a part of you that you can color outside the lines and solo like its 12/21/12 : )

At that point, perhaps there’s a deeper process that takes place where you realize: Wow, I really am the Creator of My Reality!

Why have I placed all of these limitations on myself? Why I have imposed all of these narrowminded beliefs on myself and others? Why have I accepted either/or as an answer and not embraced the both/and Path of Paradox?

Paradox à A Greek word. Para = Beyond; Dox = Belief. Paradox = Beyond Belief. Again, we are going beyond mere belief to DIRECT, EXPERIENTIAL KNOWING.

People often ask or wonder: Do you have to have a flexible mind to have a flexible body. To this I would say: Yes! But it’s more the case that a flexible body is the sign of a flexible mind. And a flexible mind is one that can fully accept that a thing can both be true and not true, that can hold a variety of seemingly opposing viewpoints in mind at once. It’s also a mind that can let go of assumptions/prejudices/preconceived ideas/conditions/agendas/categorical thinking, etc., at any moment and just go with the flow of WHAT IS — and even love and embrace WHAT IS.

Yoga is embracing and loving everything as it is right now, AS IS.

Yoga is Loving What Is.

You might be thinking things like: Wow, is that even possible? Do you mean even loving something ugly/evil/immoral, etc.?

Possibly. I’m bringing this up as a possibility, yes.

Here’s a story from the Zen tradition that expresses this:

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“May be,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

“May be,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

“May be,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“May be,” said the farmer.

(In other versions of this story, the farmer says something other than “maybe” – for instance “we’ll see” – or he simply smiles without saying anything.)

And here’s a similar one from the Indian tradition:

A king and his minister

Once upon a time, there was a king in India. He had a minister who had great faith in God and would always say that whatever happens, happens for the good. The king never believed this.

Once the king cut his finger and as usual, the minister said that all happens for good. Hearing this, the king got quite angry and put the minister into prison. Even then the minister said that everything happens for the good!

A few days later, the king went hunting in the jungle, by himself, since his minister was in prison. As the king was hunting, some tribesmen trapped him and took him to their chieftain. But when the chieftain saw the cut on the king’s finger, he ordered the king to be released, saying that a person with a cut finger would not make a good offering to the tribe’s deity.

Happy, due to the narrow escape from death, the king returned to his kingdom remembering his wise minister’s words that even the finger getting cut was for the good. Upon his return, he immediately ordered the minister’s release and welcomed him back in his position as the royal minister.

The king said to the minister, “I now believe that everything happens for our good, as my life was saved because of the cut finger. But, what about you? How can you explain that it was good for you?”

The minister replied, “As you had put me in prison, I was not able to accompany you on your hunting trip. If I had been there with you, the tribesmen would have taken me along with you and would have definitely sacrificed me to their deity, as I do not have a cut finger!” The king was pleased with the minister’s reply, and from then on, always consulted the wise minister while making any decisions for his subjects.

So wisdom says to learn to accept each and every unfolding moment as being for our highest good, and not to judge it as “good” or “bad,” with the feeling that all is happening as it should, that there is some Greater plan at work than we

can conceive in the, and if we could just let go of our “plan”s,

we would be so much happier!

And what if we were always living in this state?

We would have moved from merely

DOING yoga


BEING yoga.

We would be EMBODYING yoga moment to moment.

That’s the direction we’re headed, too, though in

this world, there seems to ever be room for growth, for BECOMING, and the Being/Becoming duality is yet another paradox to embrace. In our BEING, we are already perfect, enlightened, “there.” Yet there is also a sense in which, at least on the external level, we do long to grow, change, evolve – we are BECOMING…That’s the paradox.

This “state” of yoga of which we speak, then, is not really a state at all, but rather more of DYNAMIC PROCESS that seems to be never-ending. In Yoga we say it’s “about the Journey” not the destination. If we are “trying to get somewhere,” we’re not living in the moment and appreciating what is right here, right now.

How do we do this? One way is to return to the state of wonder that we had as a child, when we asked innocent questions like, “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why does my daddy have hair all over his face?” or “Where did granddad go?”

Another way of putting this is to be able to be a beginner again,

and adopt what’s called “Beginner’s Mind.”

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s, there is only one.”

INNERCISE: What does this quote mean for you? What was yoga for you when you first started practicing? And what has it become for you now? What has changed for you? Can you put yourself back into the mindset that you were in when you first began? Can you become a beginner again?

What yoga ultimately helps us with is to live in a constant state of Wonder, like a child, where we can see things anew again with an unjaded eye. The best teachers, too, are able to teach each student where they are at, at their level, being able to put themselves back in their shoes and see things again as if for the first time, as this great quote from TS Eliot reminds us:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…

Some More Quotes for the Quest:

“Cultivate Beginner’s Mind.” (Zen)

“Asana (Posture) will be steady & comfortable.” (Yoga Sutras)

“Spell GURU… Gee You Are You!”

(“God, Guru, and Self are One.”)

“The mouth is made for eating, the nose is made for breathing.”

“Yoga is skill in action” (Bhagavad Gita)

“Yoga is as Yoga does.” (Elvis : )

“Yoga is the harmonization of thought, word, and deed.” (Gandhi)

“Go within, or do without.”

“Seek first the kingdom of God.” “The Kingdom of God is within you.” — There is nothing outside which is not inside… (Gospels)

“As Above, So Below…We are the microcosm of the macrocosm…Everything is within you.”

“‘Always’ is always wrong, and ‘Never’ is never right.”

“Hatha Yoga without meditation is blind; meditation without Hatha Yoga is lame.” (Swami Rama)

Mind Your P’s and Q’s: Practice, Perserverance, Patience — Quest, Quest-ion, Quality

“Practice Makes Permanent…Progress…Improvement”

“Through repetition the magic is forced to reveal itself.”

“The harder I work, the luckier I seem to get.”

“This thing we seek cannot be found by seeking…and yet, only seekers find It.”

“Yoga helps you to become comfortable in uncomfortable positions.” (Daniel Pinchbeck)

“If you wanna get to It, ya gotta go through it.” — Directly face your fears, don’t avoid.

“Faith –> No Fear…
Fear –> No Faith!” (Yoga Proverb)

“Trust in God and fear do not go together.”

“If it’s happening to you, it’s happening for you.”

“An attitude of gratitude leads to beatitude.”

“Less is More” — “Keep it Simple!” — “Enough is Enough!” — “Easy Does It!”

“Haste Makes Waste,

Waste Makes Worry,

Do Not Be

In a Hurry!”
 (Sai Baba)

“If life were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” (Yogi Berra)

“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” (Gandhi)

“Love is all you need.” (John Lennon)

“The love you take is equal to the love you make.” (Beatles)


Main Points of This Session

Yoga Is…

~ Not an academic study, though some theory can be very helpful

~ Based in Direct Experience, not secondhand reports or logical reasoning

~ Slowly, slowly, little by little brings us to a life of harmony & balance, ease and grace

~ Not a religion or belief system, but a tool for spiritual growth and transformation

~ A Discipline (“yoking”) – some assembly required!

~ A Deprogramming/Deconditioning/Deconstructing Program. It is not so much about learning as unlearning so that you become who you truly are

~ Union of Body-Mind-Spirit, Oneness with All Life

~ About Letting Go of Fear and Loving What Is

~ A movement from “doing” to “being” – embodying yoga moment to moment

~ Embracing of Paradox

~ Yoga Begins and Ends in the Wonder, and the best teachers are those who are able to have “Beginner’s Mind”

~ All of the above.

~ None of the above.

Yoga is Beyond Words. Beyond Belief.

No Quest-ion.

Recommended Sources & Resources


The Heart of Yoga, by Desikachar


Yoga Unveiled, a film by Gita Desai

Y Yoga, a film by Arthur Klein


Frequently Asked Questions About Yoga ,

by Georg Feuerstein

What is Yoga?, by Georg Feuerstein

Yoga (Wikipedia)

Iyengar Yoga Short Introduction to Yoga

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