There are numerous translations of the term “yoga”. In the introduction to her book Yogāvatāraṇam, Zoë Slatoff (my Sanskrit teacher) mentions that one of the most common Sanskrit dictionaries (Apte) shows 80 different translations, starting with “unite” ( the most frequently used one today) to “traitor” and “secret agent”.

What is yoga in real life?

Beyond the translation of the term, there are also numerous definitions of yoga – from “unity of body, mind and soul” to “system of exercises for a mastery of body and soul” to „separation of all material manifestation (“prakṛti”) from the eternal, everlasting  (“puruṣa”)“.

David Swenson, an American yoga teacher, has a very down to earth and practical definition: “A yogi is someone who leaves a space just a little nicer than when they arrived.”

I like this definition very much, as it is very vivid. We are not talking about practicing a lot of physical yoga, getting both feet behind the head – no, we are talking about contributing so that the world becomes a little more beautiful.

The words “a little” are important. When we start applying pressure on ourselves, because we want to get it right UNDER ALL CIRCUMSTANCES, we want to help everyone, if we feel personally responsible for the entire world, we are doomed to fail. A little – that is at least imaginable.

And again we are talking about the space.

I believe that  David also uses the term  broadly.

How can we make the physical space a little nicer?

Starting with the physical space: do we carry a sense of order, aesthetics – or do we not care, do we not even register it? I had to learn it over the years – as a young adult, I was more of a messy person.It was more important to me to shorten my to do list than to make sure that I did not leave a trail of chaos of used clothing, ripped-open envelopes, and dirty dishes behind me. Maybe this was also the wild child’s unconscious resistance against mummy’s attempts at education – I don’t know. I only know that today, I feel it in my body, when a room is  a mess. I also feel that order on the outside  helps me to give my mind and spirit a clearer direction.

How is it with you? Are you aware of the way that you change the spaces which you enter? Do you try to perceive it? Or are you too busy with getting things done?

Those of you who have practiced in my shala for a long time, remember it: the changing rooms are small, and in the old days, everyone put their belongings on the benches – with the result that those who came later had no place to sit down or had to move the belongings to the side. Now that we have these little containers from IKEA, the room looks much more inviting, even when there are more practitioners. It is also more considerate to those who come later – with only taking  about 2 minutes more time.

What about the inner space?

The same is true for the inner spaces of our fellow humans. Are we contributing to make them a little more beautiful through our presence? Or do we just not care?

Of course, it is very easy to forget. A problem with some equipment, 15 minutes on hold, and then a voice which is hard to understand and gets on one’s nerves. Why should I contribute to make this space a little more beautiful?

OK, nobody said that it is easy to do yoga ?.

Nevertheless, it is astonishing how good it feels when it happens; if we remember that each and every one of us in every moment, in every meeting, in every interaction can make the world just a little bit nicer.

That does not mean that one should bear all suffering with a smile on one’s lips – on the contrary, the world will not get more beautiful, if we tolerate transgressions, if we hide in front of hate speech, sexual abuse, racism. Of course, it is much more difficult to practice yoga in David’s sense in turmoil – for all of us. And also here, I believe that practice will make us skillful.

And some spaces cannot be changed – the will is not able to go beyond what a space is prepared to carry. Then it is best to retire from that space, and not waste our energy.

Can we make our own inner space a little nicer? Day by day?

The last thought for today is the hint that we can also make our own inner spaces a little bit more beautiful: a short break from work, looking at the sky drinking a cup of tea, the 15 minute walk, sport, meeting with those whom we love – if we manage to make our own space more beautiful, life becomes easier, and we can also contribute to making the spaces around us nicer, just a little nicer.