What is Yoga?

By definition, Yoga is a spiritual philosophy which originated in ancient India. Yoga is not something that you do, but rather a state of being; the pre-existing union of cosmic consciousness and universal consciousness. Yoga is an inherent quality within each and every being. To fully realize this, we can utilize practices of dropping the ego; peeling off the outer layers of our consciousness, to reveal one’s true nature deep within their spirit. Yoga literally translates into “union”, or to “yoke”. It is practice and philosophy toward a realization…no deeper: an awareness, of the inherent interconnectedness of your highest Self as Divinity, and awareness that we are all that, individually and collectively.

As well-stated by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati:

"Yoga is not merely union of body and mind: It has become common to say that this union is merely the union of the physical body and the mind. This allows both teachers and practitioners to dodge the true meaning of Yoga so as to present it as being something other than a spiritual path such as only physical health or fitness.


One thing that can lead to some confusion about Yoga is that most modern "yoga classes" often focus mostly (if not completely) on physical postures. By referring to postures classes as "yoga classes" one is left with the false impression that this, unto itself, is the meaning of "Yoga." It is important to understand that asanas (postures) are a small, though surely useful, part of Yoga. It would be far better that such classes be called "postures classes" though that seems now unlikely to happen. In any case, the seeker of the authentic goals of Yoga will need to discern amongst usages of the word "Yoga" so as to follow the four paths of Yoga."



            The Four Paths of Yoga


Jnana Yoga: Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, wisdom, introspection and contemplation. It involves deep exploration of the nature our being by systematically exploring and setting aside false identities.

Bhakti Yoga: Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, emotion, love, compassion, and service to a Higher Power/Universe/God. All actions are done in the context of remembering the Divine. Although Yoga was/is widely practiced by Hindus, since it originated in India; it is not any specific religious practice, and can be practiced by anyone, including by agnostics and atheists.

Karma Yoga: Karma Yoga is the path of action, service to others, mindfulness, and remembering the levels of our being while fulfilling our actions or karma in the world.

Raja Yoga: Raja Yoga is a comprehensive method that emphasizes meditation, while encompassing the whole of Yoga. It directly deals with the encountering and transcending thoughts of the mind. Hatha Yoga is included as part of Raja Yoga ("the royal path").


Please understand this: The physical aspect of Yoga (asana), is 1 of 8 limbs of Raja Yoga. We use the body as a tool for breaking down physical and mental barriers, for opening to what essence is already there, the Divine spark within, beyond the sense of identity (ego). It is the deep-seated awareness of our interconnectedness, even on a spiritual level. Asana (postures) are only a mere portion of what the pure heart of Yoga is. Yoga is the union of the essence which is immortal within us and the universe. To read more about the 8 Limbs, click here.


Yoga as a religion?

What would that religion be…Union? (with one's Ultimate Self?) Yoga can be practiced by absolutely anyone, regardless of religious beliefs. Even the Hindu-American Society encourages us to share Yoga’s teachings, honor that Yoga came from Hindu roots, but to use Yoga and share Yoga in a way that could possibly enhance any religion, in a way that could bring your closer to faith in whatever God/Higher Power you realize. Religion does not reside within Yoga, but Yoga could reside within ANY religion.

Whether you are practicing Yoga as a means to enhance your religious beliefs, or if you are agnostic or atheist; Yoga is still a spiritual practice toward ultimate oneness and personal faith. There is no praising of any particular God/Savior. Yoga is a practice of cultivating trust in the Universe, and trust in one’s Self, realizing your true nature.