What is Yoga?

Most of us (in America) think of yoga as a physical practice; another form of exercise.  To a small degree, it is a physical exercise. 

Before delving into what yoga is, let’s start with the translation of yoga.  Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj” which means to yoke/to join/union.  Taking this into true translation, yoga means joining the spirit of the Individual Soul (Atman) with the Universal Soul (Brahman). 

In everyday American terms, yoga can be looked at as a process of getting to know “who we really are”, how we relate to those around us and how we are connected on and to this earth.  In yogic terms, yoga embraces a wide range of disciplines all aimed towards creating union among an indiviudal’s body, mind and spirit and a connection with the individual’s external world.  The major disciplines/paths of yoga are:

  • Raja Yoga (path of meditation –i.e. 8 limbs as defined by Pantanjali)
  • Karma Yoga (path of service/action –i.e. volunteer work, recycling)
  • Bhakti Yoga (path of devotion – i.e. finding tolerance for everyone)
  • Jnana Yoga (path of wisdom –i.e. study of yoga texts, scriptures)
  • Tantra Yoga (path of ritual –i.e. ceremonies, celebrations, celibacy)
  • Mantra Yoga (path of transformative sound –i.e. chanting)
  • Hatha Yoga (path of physical cultivation –i.e. Iyengar, Kundalini, Bikram, Ashtanga, Power)

One can select to follow just one of the above paths or a combination.  From a yogic veiwpoint, there’s no right or wrong way to find connection with one’s self and the external world.  What is required is consistency in whichever path you opt to pracitce.

When incorporated into our daily lives, even in tiny doses, yoga offers us multiple benefits. In our task-filled, busy days, a simple 10 minutues of yoga can lead to energizing our bodies, calming our minds and awakening our spirits.

So what is yoga?  In the Western world, the most popular form is hatha yoga (and raja yoga) which is a style of yoga that focuses on exploring the physical body and using it as a means to attaining spiritual perfection.  Raja and hatha yoga go hand-in-hand depending on the teacher and style of hatha yoga practiced.  Simply put, in order to reach spiritual and mental benefits, the physical body needs to be unclogged.  This leads into another blog entry.

Yoga is consistency.  It’s a practice.  The more you return to your practice (whichever yoga path you select), the more receptive your body will become to the asanas, the more open your mind will become and the more connected you will start to feel to the universe. 

2 responses to this post.

  1. not only in america honey. over here in asia, yoga has become so commercialized that most of us equate yoga with asanas. many practice yoga to lose weight. they don’t really care about the spiritual part, which ironically is probably the most important aspect of yoga 🙂


  2. […] popular writing because I also blogged on the thought “what is yoga?” back in 2007 too (read it here).  The 3rd time is a charm, […]


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