Yoga means union. Etymologically, it is connected to the English word, yoke. Yoga means union with God, or, union of the little, ego-self with the divine Self, the infinite Spirit. Most people in the West, and also many in India, confuse yoga with Hatha Yoga, the system of bodily postures. But yoga is primarily a spiritual discipline. Not that there’s anything wrong with practicing Hatha Yoga. The body is a part of our human nature, and must be kept fit so it doesn’t obstruct our spiritual efforts. However, those who are focused on self-realization do not necessarily have to practice it as much or at all.
Hatha Yoga is the physical branch of Raja Yoga, the true science of yoga. Raja Yoga is a system of meditation techniques that help to harmonize human consciousness with the divine consciousness.
Yoga is an art as well as a science. It is a science, because it offers practical methods for controlling body and mind, thereby making deep meditation possible. And it is an art, for unless it is practiced intuitively and sensitively it will yield only superficial results.
Yoga is not a system of beliefs. It takes into account the influence on each other of body and mind, and brings them into mutual harmony. So often, for instance, the mind cannot concentrate simply because of tension or illness in the body, which prevent the energy from flowing to the brain. So often, too, the energy in the body is weakened because the will is dispirited, or paralyzed by harmful emotions.
Yoga works primarily with the energy in the body, through the science of pranayama, or energy-control. Prana means also ‘breath.’ Yoga teaches how, through breath-control, to still the mind and attain higher states of awareness. The higher teachings of yoga take one beyond techniques, and show the yogi, or yoga practitioner, how to direct his energy in such a way as not only to harmonize human with divine consciousness, but to merge his consciousness in the Infinite.
The ordinary person’s energy is locked in his body. The lack of availability of that energy to his will prevents him from loving the Lord one-pointedly with any of the three other aspects of his nature: heart, mind, or soul. Only when the energy can be withdrawn from the body and directed upward in deep meditation is true inner communion possible.
Yoga is a very ancient science; it is thousands of years old. The perceptions derived from its practice form the backbone of the greatness of India, which for centuries has been legendary. The truths espoused in the yoga teachings, however, are not limited to India, nor to those who consciously practice yoga techniques. Many saints of other religions also, including many Christian saints, have discovered aspects of the spiritual path that are intrinsic to the teachings of yoga.
What is“Y” reminds us that the word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yogah,” which means “to yoke or to unite.” Indeed, the goal of yoga is to uncouple oneself from the material world and to unite oneself with the God of Hinduism, commonly understood to be Brahman, the impersonal cosmic consciousness of the universe. Put another way, yoga is the means by which the user’s mind is merged into the universal mind.
“O” represents the Hindu mantra “Om”—a sacred Sanskrit syllable cherished by Hindu yogis as the spoken quintessence of the universe. Repeating such mantras as Om over and over is a principal means by which yoga practitioners work their way into altered states of consciousness. The objective of achieving an altered state of consciousness is always the same: to dull the critical thinking process because the mind is seen to be the obstacle to enlightenment. As noted by the late Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, “the goal is to create a new man, one who is happily mindless.” Shockingly, what was once relegated to the kingdom of the cults is now being replicated in churches. In the ashrams of the cults there is no pretense. Despite such dangers as possession or insanity, Hindu gurus openly encourage trance states through which devotees tap into realms of the demonic and discover their “higher selves.” Whether experiencing involuntary movements or encountering illusory monsters, all is written off as progress on the road to enlightenment.
“G” is reminiscent of the gurus who developed and disseminated yoga for the express purpose of achieving oneness with the impersonal God of Hinduism. Most noteworthy among the Guru’s is Patanjali—the Hindu sage who founded Yoga around the second century B.C. Of particular significance in the West is the aforementioned guru, Swami Vivekananda, a disciple of the self-proclaimed “god-man” Sri Ramakrishna. In 1893 Vivekananda used the Parliament of World Religions to skillfully sow the seeds for a new global spirituality. Second only to Vivekananda in the Westernization of yoga was Yogananda—proudly hailed as “Father of Yoga in the West.” In 1920 he founded the L.A. based Self-Realization Fellowship, a principal means of disseminating Yoga to multiplied millions of Americans. Finally, of special note is Swami Muktananda, popularizer of kundalini yoga, a method by which divine energy thought to reside as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine is aroused; ascends through six chakras; and aims for union with the Hindu deity Shiva in a seventh center allegedly located in the crown of the head. Such Hindu gurus have been so successful in exporting yoga to the West that today it is common fare in classrooms, corporations, and even churches.
Finally, the “A” in Y-O-G-A will serve to remind you of the Hindu word asana. As repetition of the word “Om” is used to work devotees into altered states of consciousness, so too a regiment of asanas—or body postures—are used to achieve a feeling of oneness with the cosmic energy flow of the universe. Coupled with breathing exercises and meditation practices, asana positions are the pathway to serenity and spirituality. According to Yoga Journal, “asanas are their own type of meditation; to perform difficult postures you have to focus on your body and breath and relax into the pose.” While multitudes are being seduced into believing that asanas are spiritually neutral, nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, as pointed out by Swami Param of the Dharma Yoga Ashram in New Jersey, to think of asanas as mere body positions or stretching exercises is analogous to believing “baptism is just an underwater exercise.”
yoga, exactly? Is it just an exercise form? Is it a religion, a philosophy, an ideology? Or is it something else entirely? The word “yoga” lirs the following yoga definition; essentially, “that which brings you to reality.”
What is yoga, exactly? Is it just an exercise form? Is it a religion, a philosophy, an ideology? Or is it something else entirely? The word “yoga” literally means “union”. In this artoffers the following yoga definition; essentially, “that which brings you to reality.”