One of my main duties is to share knowledge of Yoga.
From time-to-time, I need to interview Yoga Instructors for teaching positions. During this interview process, soon after customary introductions are over, I will get around to asking an important question: “What is Yoga?”
Here are the top 3 answers I get:
- Yoga is stretching
- Yoga is exercise
- Yoga is union (of what?)
At the risk of starting a ‘holy war’, I want to share the definitions of Yoga that I have come across from my many teachers and from the main texts I use for Yoga theory.
Some Definitions of Yoga
- Yoga comes from Yugir – a Sanskrit word that translates to yoke
- Yoga comes from Yug – from yug samādhau
- Patanjali‘s Astanga (8 limbed) Yoga system asserts Yoga Citta Vittri Nirohdaha - Yoga is controlling the fluctuations of the mind
- Hatha Yoga is a state where the left/moon and right/sun energies (Ida and Pingala nadis are balanced) in one’s subtle body allows one’s main prana channel to open. This creates a union of the3 main energy channels at the eyebrow center (ajna chakra aka third eye).
- Raja Yoga is the ultimate union of our energy flowing up our main prana (life force) channel and connecting with our highest centre of consciousness.
- Yoga is a complete science for living a life free from suffering i.e. leading healthy life that may lead us to a state of ultimate release (moksa – liberation)
The modern-day or commercialized definition often reduces Yoga to a form of exercise. Yoga asanas (postures) are a fundamental part of a Yoga “practice”. However, Yoga asanas alone do not equate to the entire science of Yoga. Furthermore, some Yoga practices do not include or require any form of Yoga asanas perse. For example, Bhakti Yoga (devotion) and Jnana Yoga (knowledge) does not require the practice Yoga asana.
“In Yoga, the mind and the body are considered the same. “
Lastly, a majority of contemporary Yoga practitioners are taught that Yoga is the Union of mind and body. This is close but not completely accurate. In Yoga, the mind and the body are considered the same. In other words, the mind and the body are already one. Hence, mind and body are already in Union. The more accurate Union/Yoga is when our “individual self” or ego is in Union/Yoga with the “higher self” or supreme consciousness inside us all.
Sources: Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and my Yoga teachers based in Bali, USA, and India.