You don’t need to practice yoga postures to do yoga. But then... what is yoga?
And if that is the case, why would anyone practice yoga postures?
Yoga is many things, the word itself means 'to unite'. One could also say it is a complete spiritual path originating in India.
Through an eight-limbed system consisting of
1. internal- and
2. external morals and disciplines,
4. breath control,
5. withdrawal of senses,
7. meditation and
the Yogi progressively works to reach higher states of consciousness - and ultimately love and union.
Since the word Yoga, especially in the West, is often immediately linked to the postural practice and not known for anything else, many are unaware that Yoga in fact is something much vaster.
In one of the oldest texts available on Yoga, the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali around 200BCE, out of the 196 verses only 3 (!) speak directly to the practice of poses - and they were simply postures for sitting in meditation.
It was only many hundreds of years later that we find the first mentions of Hatha Yoga in scripture, around 800AD, which was a Tantric system more oriented around cultivating and preserving life force in the body as a means to awakening - and which did include many hundreds, if not thousands of postures.
But no matter which Yoga we speak about, postural practice is merely an element within a much larger system and aim.
Why do we do postures?
When we gain a deeper understanding of why we do the postures (in Sanskrit language: asana), we will see that we don't necessarily need postures.
Postures are meant to make the vital energy flow (prana), bring about presence and wakefulness, strengthen and stretch muscles that support a meditation posture, and enhance discipline, concentration and presence.
And so it would be very possible to practice all of this by doing something else; for example hiking in nature, qi-gong, mindful work-outs in the gym; you name it.
If a practice brings us the qualities mentioned above, and if it doesn't overly stimulate or deplete the body in mind, it can possibly, perfectly even, substitute yoga asana.
Remember the true aim of Yoga
In the end, Yoga is not about doing postures. Yoga is about bringing about wakeful presence and love. As Jiddu Krishnamurti once said, "doing asanas you might be terribly selfish and egocentric and lazy".
It is much more important that you live a life that is non-fragmented, in his words. In other words, a life lived with clarity and heart. So if we again make it about the aim of yoga, and not about its means, then you could say that anything that awakens truth, clarity and love, is Yoga.
And that anyone that embodies truth, clarity and love, regardless of what spiritual system they practice, is a Yogi.