Yoga as a Physical Practice
My teaching of yoga is that of a physical practice, although I realise that many (if not most) people practice yoga for it's mentally calming nature, which can be interpreted as meditation, mindfulness, or even spiritual in nature. Now don't get me wrong - I fully embrace those qualities in my yoga practice, but it doesn't sideline the fact that the majority of any yoga class is still a physical practice, which can be additionally used as a method to achieving a mental, emotional or spiritual state.
Yoga has eight paths:
YAMA - Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows
NIYAMA - Positive duties or observances
ASANA - Posture
PRANAYAMA - Breathing techniques
PRATYAHARA - Sense withdrawal
DHARANA - Focused concentration
DHYANA - Meditative absorption
SAMADHI - Bliss or enlightenment
As you can see, only one is the actual asana, or the compilation of poses practiced in most classes. Yet within a physical practice of asana, it is quite possible, and something I actively encourage, to practice not only Asana (posture), but also Pranayama (breathing techniques), Dharana (focused concentration), Dhyana (meditative absorption), and even Pratyahara (sense withdrawal). If you are lucky, maybe even Samadhi (enlightenment) might be achieved. Yama & Niyama I will leave up to you to include or exclude in your life or practice!
I see no reason why, if we are engaging in a physical practice, not to maximise the benefits of it's physicality - and for me, physicality is best expressed through movement. As a movement coach I blend the traditional asanas with other beneficial positions, postures & movements - obtained from martial arts, dance, various movement practices... seamlessly woven into each other using flow, to create something as beautiful as it is practical. As Bruce Lee said, "The Art Of Expressing The Human Body".In my own private practice, I readily achieve a zen state of mind, or DHYANA, through a flowing physical practice (ASANA), in the pursuit of SAMADHI (enlightenment).
Maybe my yoga isn't for everybody, and there are those traditionalists who scorn my approach, but I actively encourage my students to seek out and sample many other methods, to gain an all-encompassing understanding, and to find their own best practice. For the traditionalists: Almost all yoga practised today descends from Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who was born in 1888 and lived up until very recently in 1989, and has been altered significantly since then, even by his direct students. Let's not get bogged down in dogma.
It is worth noting that countless people who attend my practice, have found that years of discomfort, and the inability to move well, have left them. Teaching people to move better (not just more!), in a yogic practice that encourages as much mindfulness as it does physicality, certainly goes a long way in having a definite measurable improvement upon people's lives.