Meaning of the word “YOGA”

The word “Yoga” is not found in any other Holy Scriptures or theological texts of the world except Veda. The first recorded evidence of the word “yoga” is found in the Vedas: “The vast illumined Seer control their mind and intelligence through Yoga.” Rig Veda V.81.

The word ‘yoga’ is derived from Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ is used in three ways – yujir yoge’{10}, ‘yuj sayamne’{11} and ‘yuj samadho’{12}. Sayaman or control and Samadhi or higher states of consciousness. The control refers to Chitta or mind and the higher states of consciousness refer to a state beyond mind or a state of spiritual consciousness.  The control indicates a discipline or method by which mind should be controlled. All the schools of Yoga use the different aspects of the Human frame and existence – mind, reason, emotion, body, energy or Prana in order to realize the ultimate consciousness. When yoga is used with reference to the higher states of consciousness, it awakens to higher realities beyond body, life and mind. This awakening is done while keeping the mind and its activities in abeyance. It is also a creative pursuit for the entire life that brings total transformation in life.

Therefore, Yoga is the science and art of living. It is science as it follows a systematic approach towards self-realization and also an art of living as it is a creative pursuit for the unlimited growth and development of personality, life and mind.

Definition of Yoga from World Dictionaries

The famous dictionaries define the meaning of the word Yoga in the following ways

  • Yoga: the oneness of Atman and Brahman. [From A Dictionary of Sanskrit Names] This is the true definition of the Sanskrit word “yoga.”
  • Yoga (yoga) (Skt.=union) a general term for spiritual disciplines in Hinduism … [From Columbia Encyclopedia Sixth Edition 2000]
  • Yoga: a Hindu system … [The Oxford American Dictionary]
  • Yoga: a system of Hindu religious philosophy … [Thorndike Barnhardt Comprehensive Desk Dictionary]
  • Yoga: a Hindu discipline … [The American Heritage Dictionary]
  • The Yoga System: One of the Six Acceptable Systems of Hindu Philosophy [From a secular book on comparative religions: Religions of Man Macmillan Co., 1969, 202-203.]

Roughly, many definitions written above directly or indirectly convey the same meaning. But the very important point must be taken into consideration that there was no work like “Hindu” or “Hinduism” found when yoga was discovered, practised as a system for conscious evolution and transformation. Therefore, Yoga was never associated with any religion in the past and any attempt to relate with Yoga and spiritual practices will not help understand deeply the essence of Yoga. Yoga is one of the six organs of Vedic philosophies that explain the true nature of an individual, world and transcendental consciousness {13} by which all sufferings come to an end. The state away from sufferings is known to man by many names as such as Liberation, Self-realization, Kavailya, and Mukti {14}. Yoga includes many types of practices i.e. physical, breathing, emotional, mental, concentration, Yantra{15}, mantra{16}, Japa(17), contemplation, reasoning, reflection, Yajna{18} etc. But famous dictionaries while mentioning Yoga as Hindu discipline did not take into an account the important fact that there was no religion called Hinduism present, in the time period when yoga was discovered.

Traditional definitions

There are many ways in which yoga has been defined in the scriptures i.e. Vedas {19}, Upanishads, Purana (20), Bhagavad Gita (21), Patanjali Yoga Sutra (22), Ramayana (23) etc. A close examination of all scriptures reveals that all the texts of the ancient wisdom of India inspire one to enter into a yogic lifestyle. But every definition talks about a unique path, process, tools and awakening to a Reality within that is known as the different schools of Yoga. When a particular path and process have been adopted by a Sadhaka (practitioner) become perfected, and begin to be followed by groups of disciples, it becomes a tradition. There is a continuity of many traditional schools of yoga in the present era, which was started several centuries ago by yoga masters.

Following definitions from different scriptures will reveal how Yoga has been practised since ancient times.