Union with the Divine
What Is Yoga?
Attuning to the Seer Within
A Tool to Reveal the Self
The Sanskrit root yuj means to “yoke,” “bind,” or “join together.” It also indicates “union” or “Oneness.” At the deepest spiritual level, yoga allows us to reveal the Self, the True Essence of our Being. Ultimately, it is the means by which we realize that there is no separation between anyone or anything. Everything is One. According to the Yoga Shikha Upanishad: “Verily, there is no virtue greater than Yoga, no good greater than Yoga, and no subtlety greater than Yoga. There is nothing that is greater than Yoga.”
Defining yoga in an all-encompassing way can be challenging. There are so many distinct and overlapping aspects, layers, branches, and nuances within the vastness of yoga that a single definition inherently creates a limitation.
And yet, the real essence of yoga is about transcending all limitations. Yoga is an empirical science and philosophy aimed at understanding life’s most important questions.
An Art, Science, and Philosophy
The modern yogi B.K.S. Iyengar describes yoga in this way:
“Yoga is an art, a science and a philosophy. It touches the life of man at every level, physical, mental, and spiritual. It is a practical method for making one’s life purposeful, useful and noble.
As honey is sweet from any part of the honeycomb, so is yoga.
It enables every part of the human system to become attuned to its essence, the conscious seer within.
Yoga alone enables the practitioner to perceive and experience the world within and around himself, to touch the divine joy of all creation, and then to share that nectar of divine wealth and happiness with his fellow beings.”
Four Categories of Yoga
Stephen Cope, the author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, divides yoga into four categories:
- Yoga as mystical union. From this perspective, yoga applies broadly to any tradition or person seeking to go beyond personal consciousness in order to unite with the Absolute. Thus, it is not limited to saints or yogis in India, but applies just as aptly to other contemplative traditions—be they Buddhist, Jain, Taoist, Sufi, Christian, or Jewish mystics—and anyone seeking to merge with the Divine. From this perspective, St. John of the Cross would be just as much a yogi as Swami Sivananda. Here, yoga is about the realization of mystical union, the Consciousness of Oneness.
- Yoga as a broad term for an Indian spiritual discipline. Here, yoga refers to a particular spiritual technology, with its origins in India as early as 1800 B.C. Recent archaeological excavations in the Indus River Valley have uncovered depictions of people in positions that can be recognized as yoga asanas (postures) even today. These practitioners approached yoga in a highly experiential and experimental way, often involving renunciation and strict discipline.
- Particular branches of yoga.
- Classical Yoga. When many practitioners talk about yoga, they are specifically referring to the comprehensive system of yoga laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.