The Definition of Yoga, Explained

People come to Yoga for different reasons – some for preserving and promoting health, some for recovering from physical ailments, some for longevity, some for tackling stress and its toll on the mind and body, some to make a career out of it, and many other reasons.

What actually is ‘Yoga’? To answer let’s look at the origin of Yoga, to the primary texts and the ancient traditions.

Yoga can be understood from the perspectives of its history, its philosophy, and its practices.

A Simple definition of yoga

The term ‘Yoga’ comes from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’, which has three different meanings:

1. ‘Yoga’ means ‘union’ or to yolk, to merge, to join

The meaning of ‘Yoga’ as the union of individual consciousness with universal consciousness is the most common understanding of Yoga. Although in the basic philosophy of Yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, or Samkhya philosophy, which forms the philosophical foundations of Yogic practices, the word means something different.

As ‘union’, the term ‘Yoga’ may be better understood as leading to integration of human personality (mind, body and spirit), making the human being wholesome, harmonious and holistic.

2. ‘Yoga’ means ‘concentration’, or to get engrossed, to absorb

This seems to be the most appropriate meaning of Yoga. Yoga is concentration. While ordinarily concentration is activity-oriented or object-oriented, depending upon our interests, concentration in Yoga or Yogic Concentration is second nature of the mind. It’s a quality of the mind irrespective of time, place and activity.

3. ‘Yoga’ means ‘discipline’

Yoga is a discipline; a process of discipline in our lifestyle. Yoga allows us to take charge of our lives.

A philosophical understanding of yoga

As a philosophy, Yoga is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian Philosophy – orthodox because it believes in the authority of the Vedas.

The basic text of this philosophy is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is practice-oriented. These practices are established upon the metaphysical foundations provided by Samkhya philosophy.

The goal of Yoga is to set us free from the sufferings of human life. Patanjali gives the most famous definition of Yoga, “Yogaha Chitta Vritti Nirodah”.  All practices of yoga, whether they are asanas or pranayama or meditation, have this liberation as the final goal.

Health and happiness are by-products of these yoga practices.  The Yoga Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the several Hatha Yoga Texts and the Yoga Vasishtha are some of the other important Yoga texts.

A practical understanding of yoga

Yoga practices may be delineated as: kriyas, yamas, niyamas, asanas, pranayama, mudras and bandhas, pratyahar, meditation practices (dharana, dhyana and samadhi), mantra chanting and relaxation practices.

These practices are hierarchical in nature and cater to all dimensions of the human personality – the social, the personal, the physical, the physiological, the mental, the psychological, the intellectual and the spiritual.

Yoga is holistic. All these practices make concentration leading to awareness as their distinguishing feature.

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Ganesh Rao

Dr. N. Ganesh Rao, a Professor and Ph.D. Guide in Yoga and Philosophy, is one of the most highly learned and experienced teachers and practitioners of Yoga today in India. He is a highly successful Counselor and Therapist. His academic qualifications include M. Com., D.M.S., M.A., Ph. D (Philosophy), Diploma in Naturopathy, Diploma in Yoga Education, Madhyama Yoga Shiksha Certificate and Specialist Instructor in First Aid & Home Nursing. Dr. Rao has conducted till date more than 15000 sessions in Yoga and innumerable Workshops and presented several Papers on Yoga in National & International Conferences.