When you hear the word yoga, you may immediately think of physical postures called asanas that you do as part of hatha yoga. Hatha yoga is indeed great stuff and we do these postures in our classes and personal practices but yoga encompasses a larger scope than simply asanas and we will discuss the full range of practices included in yoga but first let’s talk about what the word yoga means.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word from the same root word as yoke such as the yoke used on oxen to “unify” them. The word yoga refers to a kind of unified state. Pantanjali defines yoga by saying “Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah” which means Yoga is the cessation of the disturbances of the mind. These disturbances of the mind (citta vrttis) include hatred, greed, lust but also include hope and love. There are fifty vrttis. They are attachments. They are the thoughts and feelings that crowd your consciousness and obscure your authentic nature. When these thoughts and feelings quiet down and leave some space in between (through meditation or spontaneously), then the mind becomes like a mirror and your authentic nature is reflected back to you. This is the state of yoga according to Pantanjali. Yoga is a state of mind.
Others call yoga “union with God or union with Supreme consciousness.” The word yoga itself means union. Pantanjali refers to this state of quiet mind of no thoughts as yoga. Putting both of these ideas together we are left with the conclusion that the authentic nature of each individual is none other than a manifestation of the Divine.
Based on all this you might conclude that yoga is a religion. Although some see it this way, most view yoga as a set of practices that you do that lead to spiritual development and these practices may be done by people of any religion and the practices will support your development in your own religion. My classes have included Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Baha’is, Jains, Jews and people without religious affiliation and all found something of value in yoga.
So yoga is a state of union. Each yoga practice that you do will have this state of “citta vrtti nirodhah” or Samadhi as the goal or eventual result. Experience of this state is transformative. Enjoy!