Yog, or Yoga as it is commonly known, is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’. Sanskrit is a language with an extensive vocabulary and strict rules for word usage. Each word is a powerhouse of energy derived from its letters. Interestingly, there is no terminology for “Yoga” in Sanskrit. Over time, Yog became associated with the label of Yoga.
Achieving a conscious connection is key to accessing the true essence of yoga. Through this mindful awareness, we are able to fully immerse ourselves in the present moment and experience the people, things, and experiences around us in a more profound way. This state of connection is a joyful and fulfilling experience that adds a new level of depth and richness to our lives.
Yoga is not limited to a single definition but rather encompasses various paths to connect with our true selves. Understanding the classical definitions of yoga and exploring our own understanding of it can unlock the doors to our intuition and creativity.
The diverse definitions of yoga reveal a broad range of knowledge and experiences that can guide us along the yogic path toward self-realization.
Here, let’s know the different meaning and definitions of yoga, from the perspective of Bhagavad Gita, Katha Upanishad, Patanjali, Mahabharata, and more.
1. Definition of Yoga According to Kathopanishad (6.10–11)
According to the Kaṭha Upaniṣad 6.10–11, it is the “firm restraint of the senses.”
When the mind and senses (jñānāni), are still and the intellect is not active, one can reach the highest state. This state allows for complete focus and undistracted awareness. The practice of yoga enables us to achieve this state by allowing us to transcend our thoughts and senses, revealing our true selves.
2. Definition of Yoga According to Bhagavad Gita
According to the Bhagavad Gītā, the ancient Hindu scripture, yoga is a path to equanimity and skill in action. In Chapter 2, verse 48, states that performing actions while established in yoga means abandoning attachment and being equanimous in success and failure. ]
Chapter 2, verse 50, states that yoga is a skill in action, while Chapter 6, verse 23, stresses the importance of practicing yoga as a separation from suffering. To fully benefit from yoga, one must practice with a non-dejected mind.
According to the Mahābhārata 12.304.2ab, there is no power that can match yoga. This ancient Hindu text recognizes yoga as the ultimate force of control and empowerment. It also acknowledges the importance of Sāṃkhya as a knowledge system.
Samkhya-Yoga is a spiritual discipline that aims to deepen practitioners’ understanding of the fundamental distinction between Puruṣa (spirit) and Prakṛti (matter).
4. Yogācārabhūmi Śrāvakabhūmi
The Yogācārabhūmi Śrāvakabhūmi 2.152 highlights that yoga is comprised of four primary components – faith, aspiration, perseverance, and means.
By incorporating all four elements, individuals can develop an elevated level of mindfulness, awareness, and self-discipline.
5. Definition of Yoga by Patanjali
In the Pātañjalayogaśāstra1.1.5,1.1–1.2, 3.6 yoga is defined as the suppression of the activities of the mind. Yoga is samādhi, a quality of the mind present in all states, including distracted (kṣipta), confused (mūḍha), agitated (vikṣipta), focused (ekāgra), and restrained (niruddha).
Here is the definition of yoga by Patanjali in Sanskrit:
In English, it can be translated as:
“Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.”
According to the Pañcārthabhāṣya 1.1.43, which explores the Pāśupatasūtra 1.1, yoga is defined as the union between oneself and the divine.
The 1.1.7 Vaiśeṣikasūtra 28 5.2.15–16 reveals that pleasure and suffering in yoga stem from the union of the senses, mind, and objects.
However, when the mind is focused on the self, there is no experience of either pleasure or suffering. This is the essence of yoga. The goal is to detach from external stimuli and focus on inner peace to achieve a state of liberation from worldly desires.
The Liṅgapurāṇa 1.8.5a describes yoga as the state of nirvāṇa, which refers to the condition of Śiva. In essence, the term ‘yoga’ represents the ultimate goal of achieving spiritual liberation, where one reaches a state of Supreme Consciousness and enters into a state of profound unity with the divine.
9. Śivapurāṇa Vāyavīyasaṃhitā
Yoga is the art of creating a tranquil mind, and in the Śivapurāṇa Vāyavīyasaṃhitā29 29.6, it is mentioned that yoga involves focusing one’s mind completely on Śiva. This involves reining in other mental states and avoiding distraction.
In 1.1.10 Parākhyatantra30 14.95–7. Yoga is often described as a form of contact.
According to Pratoda, it can’t be the union of the soul with a tattva because the soul is all-pervading. Prakāśa suggests it’s more about connecting with supernatural abilities or the power of Śiva.
Prakāśa explains that yoga leads to the attainment of supernatural abilities, including the ability to become as small as an atom. It arises from a union with Śiva’s power, attainment of samādhi, or the practice of yoga itself. Alternatively, yoga is an immersion into the divine arising from the contemplation of its nature.
Yoga is more than just stretching and breathing exercises. As defined in the Mālinīvijayottara, it is the union of one thing with another – specifically, the union of the individual self with the universal consciousness.
This “thing” that must be known is essential in order to discern what needs to be rejected in order to achieve enlightenment. To truly understand this concept, one must have the right knowledge (jñāna).
The Brahmasūtrabhāṣya of Śaṅkara stresses that practicing yoga is the key to perceiving reality. Through yoga, one can develop greater self-awareness and an enhanced ability to observe the world around them.
Yogaśataka32 2.4 define yoga as the concurrence of three components: correct knowledge, doctrine, and conduct. This leads to conjunction with liberation. The term “yoga” can also refer to the soul’s contact with the causes of these components. The importance of having correct knowledge, doctrine, and conduct is paramount to achieving liberation through yoga.
In the ancient Hindu text Vimānārcanākalpa 96, it is explained that yoga represents the merging of the individual self with the supreme self. This union is at the core of the practice and helps individuals achieve a state of peace and unity within themselves and with the world around them.
15. Kṣemarāja’s Uddyota
In Kṣemarāja’s Uddyota commentary on Svacchandatanta 6.45, it explains the concept of yoga as the attainment of union with one of the elements (tattvas) to be known. Knowledge, on the other hand, is the experience of one of these elements. This provides a deeper understanding of the true essence of yoga as a means for achieving union with a specific element.
16. Definition of Yoga According to Yoga Vasistha
In the Yoga Vasistha, yoga is portrayed as a means to achieve liberation (moksha) by transcending the illusions of the material world and realizing the ultimate truth. It describes yoga as a practice that involves disciplining the mind, controlling the senses, and cultivating self-awareness.
The scripture emphasizes that true yoga goes beyond mere physical postures and exercises. It delves into the techniques of meditation, concentration, and self-inquiry to help individuals understand the nature of consciousness and realize their inherent divinity. The Yoga Vasistha also highlights the importance of a guru or spiritual guide in the yogic journey.
17. Definition of Yoga According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a classical text on Hatha Yoga, provides detailed instructions on various yogic practices and techniques. It offers insights into the physical, energetic, and meditative aspects of yoga.
According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, yoga is described as a means to achieve the union of the sun (Ha) and the moon (Tha), representing the masculine and feminine energies, respectively. This union leads to the harmonization of the individual’s physical, mental, and energetic aspects.
The text highlights the importance of purifying and balancing the body and mind through various practices such as asanas (physical postures), pranayama (breath control), mudras (energetic gestures), and bandhas (energy locks). These practices aim to awaken and direct the flow of vital energy (prana) within the body, leading to increased vitality, health, and spiritual awakening.
In conclusion, exploring the different definitions of yoga as presented in various scriptures provides us with a rich tapestry of perspectives and insights into this ancient practice. From Patanjali’s definition of yoga as the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika’s emphasis on the union of opposites, each scripture offers a unique perspective on the purpose and essence of yoga.
Tracing the origins of yoga back to ancient India, we discover its deep roots in the Indus Valley Civilization and its philosophical underpinnings in the Vedas and Upanishads. The codification of yoga by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras further laid the foundation for the systematic study and practice of yoga.
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Throughout history, yoga has evolved and diversified, giving rise to different schools and lineages, each emphasizing different aspects of the practice. From physical postures to breath control, meditation, and self-inquiry, yoga encompasses a wide range of practices that aim to cultivate physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
As we delve into the multitude of scriptures and ancient texts, we find that yoga is not limited to a single definition or approach. It is a multifaceted and ever-evolving practice that offers something for everyone, regardless of their individual inclinations or spiritual beliefs.
In today’s world, yoga continues to captivate and inspire people from all walks of life. Its benefits extend beyond the physical realm, fostering mental clarity, emotional balance, and spiritual growth. By incorporating the wisdom and teachings from these scriptures into our understanding of yoga, we can deepen our practice and appreciation for this ancient discipline.