There are never any ‘you’ and ‘I’. The discrimination of family and race is false. […] There is no imagined division of bodies. There is no imagined division of worlds. I am indeed the Absolute and supreme Truth. ~ Avadhuta Gita
Although these activities certainly qualify as ‘doing yoga’, avid practitioners understand that yoga isn’t something that gets done exclusively on a yoga mat or meditation cushion. It’s a lived philosophy that also just happens to feature certain practical ‘technologies of the self’ like asana and pranayama.
As a lived philosophy, yoga includes all the components you’d typically find in any classical philosophy including ontologies (theories of being), epistemologies (theories of knowledge), and ethics (rules for living). In the yoga tradition, these components are plural because yoga philosophy encompasses many different (and sometimes contradictory) ideas about the nature of existence and what means to live a yogic life.
In certain Tantric yoga traditions, for example, we are told that reality is nondual or homogeneous. In other words, things and people may appear to be separate and autonomous but they are really not. Yogic practices like meditation, which are designed to break down the divisions our minds like to create to help us navigate and understand the world, help us realise this underlying truth.
The realisation of a nondual reality also has certain ethical consequences. For instance, if we accept there is no meaningful difference between ‘you’ and ‘I’, the way we treat others should match the way we treat ourselves. In the Tantric tradition, this treatment is always reverent and respectful – akin to the way you’d treat a beloved teacher or even a god – because everything in the Tantric universe is understood as essentially divine (Shakti).
This is also why Tantric texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika advise yogins to do cleansing rituals, postures, and other physical practices before committing to a yogic code of ethics. As we purify and strengthen our bodies, our divine essence starts to shine through. Seeing and experiencing ourselves as a divine being also makes us more likely to act in a ‘yogic’ way. Practicing sauca (the yogic vow of cleanliness) is a ‘no-brainer’, for example, if you already view your body as a temple!
In short, the Tantric belief is that if we ‘do’ enough yoga, eventually the yoga ‘does’ us. A regular yoga practice will remake our bodies, rewire our brains, and reframe our understanding of reality and ourselves. We become ethical beings – non-harming, truthful, content, non-grasping individuals – because we’ve learned to experience ourselves and the world as intricately interwoven and, perhaps more importantly, as essentially divine. We naturally begin to act in accordance with the Golden Rule (treat others as you’d like to be treated) because there is no longer any significant difference between ‘I’ and ‘you’.
So next time you’re rolling up your mat after a satisfying class, ask yourself: How will I do yoga now? Because to a committed yogin, stepping off the mat is simply a change of venue for a practice that is not only life-long but boundless in its day-to-day manifestations.
‘Doing yoga’ is, therefore, simply what we do regardless of whether we’re on or off the mat.