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This is not simple question and has not a simple answer, but it is an important and an interesting topic to investigate, especially to those who practice or feel that yoga is a large part of their lives or how they live their lives, maybe yoga has even changed their entire lives. How ever you feel connected to the word, it is certainly helpful to revisit it and re-investigate it so that we can continuously be reborn with it. Our understanding can always grow and expand from how it currently is. Yoga comes from Sanskrit, an ancient, classical language of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language. It is the sacred language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhist texts. It is the language that helped transmit the culture of Hinduism and Buddhism from South Asia to the East, Central and South East Asia. The word Yoga can be found in the ancient Vedic text dating back to about 3500 years ago and also in the epic text of the Bhagavad Gita – the Lord’s Song. The word yoga as it was used back then is very different to how we perceive yoga now, which is, again, why it is so important and enriching to look back at the earliest source of the word that we know of and this is something that like our asana practice is lifetime research, a lifetime project which evolves and changes as we ourselves evolve and change. 

The word yoga is related to the word “yuj” which is commonly translated as “to yoke” or “to unite” or “to put together.” Yoga is indeed most often translated as union. This “union” is of course up to the practitioner to decided, “What it is that we are trying to unite, what is that we have been separated from? Is this separation real? And how does yoga create union?

Yoga is essential a system of understanding ourselves to a degree where there is a complete knowledge of the Self through a system. There is a complete understanding and knowing of the Self until the knowing comes to a height wherein there is also complete compassion of the Self. The inner knowing becomes so complete that everything outside is mirrored in the inside, is matched so the one who knows the Self, knows all. 

Yoga is a practice which begin and ends with the Self. We begin the yoga practice by looking at what we know to be truly us, our bodies and the things that we can see (Annamayakosha) and as we practice more and more into the subtle layers of the self, parts of the Self that are maybe unknown to us and as we practice it becomes more and more known and more and more returning and become united to with awareness.

So, when we see it like this, we can say that yoga offers union with the Self which then is continued and extended inevitably to union with everyone else. This union shatters all ignorance, illusion that we are indeed separated to other lives. In this way yoga returns us to reality. Yoga is a return to what is true, what is real. Yoga gives us light; it gives us tools to know the Self beyond the doubts, beyond hesitations and this knowledge allows us to have complete compassion, understanding and love for all beings. 

In the Yoga Sutras of the Sage Patanjali written about 2000 years ago, he writes, “yoga chitta vritti nirodha” which can be translated to as “yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.” When we practice yoga there is a stillness in the mind – no matter what form or shape the body take the mind stays still. This stillness is yoga. Stillness denotes the ability to listen, to observe, to reflect, to meditate, to contemplate. We need to be still in order to achieve such reflection, contemplation or true observation. When we are able to be still, we notice the stillness that is naturally all around us all the time. Underneath the noise, the happenings that are coming and going, all the distractions, all the things that are going on, the joys, the pains, the triumphs and defeat – below all of those, above all of those, surrounding those, outside of those, inside of those, everywhere is stillness. There is a point that is silent and all we have to do is unveil this stillness, pay attention to it. That ability to connect or unite to inner and outer stillness is yoga. In this context, yoga is a return to stillness, a return to the self, a return to love, a return to acceptance, a return to being. Yoga is a state of being that is natural, that exist in all us already, all we have to do is to lean unveil it to the stilling of the mind. 

So whatever yoga means to you, I think it is important to always be curious about. I think it is important for us – as yoga students – to us always remember where yoga came from and respectful and honor the traditions of each it came from. It is important to recognize the Hindu roots of yoga, it’s important to remember that it comes from India. These are things that will help draw us closer to the mystery of yoga, to the amazing power and light that it holds.

Join me in my upcoming retreat and dive deeper into the Self, return to stillness and return to the Now.