Is There Really a True Definition of Yoga?
Yoga is incredibly multi-faceted and means different things to different people. It can be difficult to come up with a clear and concise definition of yoga. What all the different schools of yoga have in common is the idea that yoga is a state of being. Many of us “do yoga” at a studio in a group setting, moving through poses while focused on the breath. This association barely scratches the surface of the vast and extraordinary history, philosophy and psychology of yoga. Most people are introduced through a physically centered practice. What happens next for many is a strong or subtle realization that there is more. While the ultimate goal of yoga can be difficult to grasp intellectually, the journey along the way is perhaps even more important and can have a profound impact on the life we live.
If we look at history, the definition of yoga becomes more illuminated. The Sanskrit word yoga can be translated as union. There are differing theories on the ultimate goal of yoga. The roots lie in Vedanta and defines it as the union between the individual self (jiva-atman) with the supreme Self (parama-atman). There are other viewpoints on the purpose of yoga that don’t emphasize this role of union. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras focus on the “cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” In other words, we practice the eight-fold path in order to move beyond the verbal mind, transcend the senses and exist in a place you might call a Superconsciousness. No matter which way you slice it, practicing yoga has the potential to reveal that we are not just our body, mind and ego.
One of the greatest books written on this subject is “The Yoga Tradition” by Georg Feuerstein. He inquires into the definition of yoga and has this to say about it:
“In a technical sense, yoga refers to that enormous body of spiritual values, attitudes, precepts, and techniques that have been developed in India over at least five millennia…Yoga is thus the generic name for the various Indian paths of ecstatic self-transcendence, or the methodical transmutation of consciousness to the point of liberation from the spell of the ego-personality. It is the psycho-spiritual technology specific to the great civilization of India.”
Yoga is Worldwide and Growing at a Rapid Pace
Yoga has permeated far more of the globe than just India. Most of what people know yoga to be is far removed from it’s deeper roots. It is typical in the West to commercialize anything that is gaining popularity. Thus we have “Yoga Butts” and “Yogi Toes” and “yoga this” and “yoga that.” It is getting more and more common for people to express opinions such as “that’s not yoga” or “my yoga is better than yours.” When studying, practicing and teaching yoga, people find a diverse landscape that is open to interpretation. While it may be concerning to some that the name yoga has been appropriated for financial gain, most people are just curious about it’s benefits, looking to relieve stress, and interested in exploring their own consciousness.
In America, the body and the breath are the doorway in. Once this door is open, there are many roads we may walk down on this journey of self-discovery. Yoga could be explored for many lifetimes and there would still be more to experience and learn. Embrace the old saying “focus on the journey, not the destination” and enjoy the ride. Practice, practice, practice and all is coming.