Is the purpose of yoga to help improve your health?
Yes it is. WAIT! I mean… no it’s not. Well, it kind of does.
Let’s sort this out:
“Classical yoga” (which is yoga as outlined in ancient philosophical texts) is defined as the “cessation of the movements in the consciousness.” This means that yoga is something that helps to still (quiet) the consciousness.
If we are using the classic definition then can we say that you don’t even have to do poses in order to be doing yoga? That could be argued. I would listen to you that argument any day. In lots of yoga traditions (Iyengar Yoga included) we use the poses as a tool for learning how to achievd yoga. And doing the poses on a regular basis helps remind us how to achieve the yoga.
When I practice regularly I often feel better. I feel healthier. That feeling can certainly diminish the chatter in my head. It can quiet me down. So if I feel better I am doing yoga?
No, no necessarily.
It’s completely possible to go to a yoga class, feel better (healthier) and still yell at another driver for cutting you off on the way home (due to fluctuations). I can be healthy in my body but NOT have cessation of the movements in consciousness.
What’s more… If you practice on a regular basis you are invariably going to go through periods of time when you are just off. Or worse, you are unwell (maybe unhealthy??). What if I continue practicing during these periods and have a calm mind, in spite of being unhealthy? Then, I am doing yoga! Even though my body is not “right”.
What usually happens to most of us is that we do a yoga practice, feel better in our body and mind for awhile but then life interferes and we are back to the normal worries of life. So we practice poses again. Life interferes. Practice. Life. Practice. Life. It’s certainly better than not practicing.
Something else to consider
Practicing poses could make your back ache better which could lessen your anxiety—consequently quiet the fluctuations of consciousness. But if you practice only to heal your back you might be disappointed. Because it might take longer than you expect. Or because it only partially heals it right now (because you keep sleeping on a bad mattress).
I say, if you want to come to yoga class because your back aches that’s no problem. Because it could help. But you should also be taught that yoga is more than just making you healthier. It’s a philosophy which could transform your mind / body / breath if you let it.