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What is Yoga?

         Often the way that yoga is portrayed in the West is through an emphasis on physicality by the execution of various postures. To think of yoga as being purely about physical movement is missing the core purpose of yoga. In the tradition of yoga the main goal is to alleviate personal suffering.  

         Yoga describes several paths to obtain this goal. (More on the different paths of yoga in the next blog.) Yoga is often defined by the root word “yuj” which in Sanskrit means “to join”. This is ultimately the union of the impermanent individual self with the permanent “beingness”. In the words of BKS Iyengar, “Yoga is the union of the body with the mind and of the mind with the soul.” [1] This union elevates the person from the torrents of the mundane existence.

         On the path of Raja yoga the focus is to maintain a steadiness of mind. The physical practice is to support the stability of the mind. As the mind develops strength in concentration a deeper Self-realization emerges. This realization liberates the individual from bondage to one’s self-identity in the natural world into a universal oneness. Thus, yoga is a process of self-transformation. On the vary rare occasion this experience of union can arise spontaneously but most of us need the methodology provided by yoga.

         So how do the postures that are so commonly referred to as “yoga” play into self-transformation? Yoga recognizes that the mind and the body are interpenetrating. What impacts one also impacts the other. To access peace and stability of the mind there needs to also be stability and peace in the body and breath. Again in the words of BKS Iyengar, “Yogic practices develop the body to the level of the vibrant mind so that the body and mind, having both become vibrant are drawn toward the light of the soul.” [2] Through the steadiness of postures and breathing practices, the body and the breath become portals for the mind to access higher states of consciousness. A steady body without distractions such as pain makes the ability to sit in meditation easier. Meditation is the ultimate means to experience the true essence of yourself. To do postures without the intention of seeking one’s true essence is not reaping the full benefit of yoga.

            Self-realization becomes an expanded consciousness that sees union between self and the invisible force that connect all life. No separation. “Yoga practices constitute an inner technology of consciousness, the main purpose of which is evolutionary. They show us how to systematically develop the higher potentials latent within our deeper minds and hearts.” [3]

            Yoga is a moving inward to more fully understand the outer world. Yoga is to shine in our true essence. Yoga is about relationship. Yoga is developing a balanced relationship of the material existence to survive to the larger subtle reality of nourishment and fulfillment. Yoga is about developing a healthy relationship between egoic self which holds persistent desires, to one’s true essence which exist in unperturbed bliss.

         Yoga is about life. Yoga is the stillness of being. Yoga is still life in a moving dynamic world. Yoga allows the coexistence of movement and stillness. Stillness in meditation captures the essence of timelessness. Timelessness brings in the primordial experience to the present and a cosmic consciousness emerges. This cosmic consciousness unites all into the vast Oneness. Yoga is that state of Oneness.


  1. Iyengar, B.K.S., The Tree of Yoga(Boston, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1988), pg. 3.
  2. pg.
  3. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda (Integral Yoga Publications, Buckingham, VA. 1990.





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