What is Yoga

The art of finding unity, to grow in awareness and compassion, free from one’s own limitations, this is yoga
– Yogi Om Mokshananda

 

 

The science of yoga, yields happiness both here and hereafter..practice.. without fail, and our minds will flood towards the Self. 
– Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

 

 

Yoga means union.  The union of the individual soul with the Universal Spirit is yoga.
– Iyengar, 2005

…like keys on a keyboard; there are many but the music is one –all paths lead towards the source.
– Iyengar, 2005

Yoga chitta vrtti nirodhah. Yoga is the control of the whirls of the mind ‘citta’ i.e. the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.
– The Yoga Sutras 1:2, quoted by Sweeney, 2005

Etymological definition of Yoga

Etymologically, yoga derives from the root ‘yuj’ (to bind together, yoke). However, the ‘bond’ in which the action of binding is to result presupposes breaking the bonds, i.e. detachment of the spirit to the world. The emphasis of ‘union’ describes the effort to ‘yoke’ towards self-discipline, in order to :achieve concentration of spirit, by unifying the spirit, away from the dispersion that characterise consciousness.The ‘Devotional/Mystic’ Schools of yoga refer to the unification as preceding the true union, that of the human soul with the universe.
Eliade, 1990:5

Karma, Maya, Nirvana & Yoga

Unification’ in Indian philosophy encompasses the interdependent concepts of Karma, Maya, Nirvana and Yoga. Karma: ‘connects humans to the cosmos’ and links to transmigration. Maya: ‘cosmic illusion’ interpreted whilst deluded by ‘avidya’ (ignorance). Nirvana: ‘absolute reality’ beyond cosmic illusion created by Maya and
beyond human experience conditioned by Karma. Yoga: ‘the means of attaining to Being, the effectual techniques for gaining liberation. This corpus of means constitutes Yoga.’
Eliade, 1990:3

The Term Yoga

The term ‘yoga’ was not utilised until the Upanishads (c.800-600 BCE).
Feurtstein, 2003

Historically the term ‘yoga’ refers to ‘ascetic and meditative technique’. The techniques reflect the sociological movements of the time, including: ‘Classic/Yoga-Darsana’, ‘Non-Systematic’, Non-Brahmanic Yoga (Buddhist, Jainist), ‘Mystical’
It is the term yoga that has created the confusion of meaning and interpretation.
Eliade, 1990

Yoga and asana connection

The antiquity of the practice of yoga appears certain. However, the technical term ‘asana’ does not occur in the earliest Upanishads. It is first mentioned in Svetasvatara Upanisad II:10. Later it occurs in the Bhagavad Gita, where it has the same meaning as in the Ksurika Upanisad. The Vedic texts often refer to the yogic posture of the practice and there is speculation regarding a number of seals found at Mohenjo-Daro, that may represent divinities in the asana position.
Eliade 1990:382

Harappa and Mohenjo-daro

Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Culture; The Indus Civilisation; (discuss the statue that represents a yogin in meditation; the author believes it to be the effigy of a priest; due to the influence of the statuary art of earlier Asia. Refer to the synthesis by Stuart Piggott, Prehistoric India (Harappa and Mohenjo-daro 152-213). Wilhelm von Hevesy ‘The Easter Island and the Indus Valley Scripts’ is one of the innumerable attempts to decipher the Indus inscriptions.
Eliade, 1990:430

Asanas are discussed at length in mainly Hatha yoga texts:Trisikhibrahmana Upanisad, The Hatha-yogic Gheranda Samhita - 32 asanas, The Hathayogapradipika - 15 asanas, Siva Samhita – 84 asanas.
Eliade, 1990:382