When Does Movement Become Yoga?

One of the (many) things I love about leading yoga teacher trainings is the interesting conversations that come up.

For example, this weekend gone, we talked about the difference between movement and yoga, and at what point can you call yourself a yoga teacher.

Is it when you teach a certain set of positions or movements? Is it when you can perform a certain set of poses? Maybe when you’ve mastered the ancient philosophy?

It’s very hard to be purist about yoga given that it, like anything that’s in use, is constantly changing.

Languages change all the time as people use them. The only ones that don’t are the ‘dead’ ones like Latin. Bodies change all the time as we use them too - it’s called adaptive change. 

Yoga is no different.

Yoga has, in fact a rather twisted history (pun intended) and what we call yoga these days bears a great resemblance to what people called street contortionism a hundred years ago.

And a WHOLE bunch of poses that are in common rotation now didn’t exist, to the best of my knowledge, when I started practicing yoga. Because it’s constantly changing.

Knowing this broadens the scope somewhat for what could be called yoga.

Here’s my take:

Is it mindful movement?

Is there breath awareness?

Yes? Then it’s yoga.

So running can be yoga, as can walking, as can movement and biomechanical explorations. Surfing. Cycling.

As a teacher of yoga, if you are teaching body and breath awareness, then you are doing a great job.

Of course, when people come to a yoga class they aren’t expecting to go for a run, but rather to do stretchy things and breathe, but that doesn’t stop you from enjoying your run in a yoga-like way. The calm in the brain that keeps me coming back to my practice.

I have been known, quite regularly, to teach entire classes without ever teaching a ‘classical’ yoga pose. Guess I’m part of the living tradition then…