If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you probably have your own definition of what yoga is based on your personal experience. And, that’s a great thing!
Yoga is a different experience for everyone. Ask 10 people what yoga is and you’re likely to get 10 different answers —anything from its literal translation (yoga means union) to a more in-depth answer (yoga is about connecting one’s self to the universal Self). Is there a wrong answer? I don’t believe there is.
As I mentioned, personal experience will drive your definition of what yoga is for you. One of the reasons for the wide range of responses that can be expected is yoga consists of an array of internal and external practices all designed to bring us freedom and closer to enlightenment. Ethical principles (yamas & niyamas), meditation, asana (yoga class for most Americans), breathing practices, chanting, karma yoga (selfless service), bhakti yoga (devotion), etc. are all techniques that comprise yoga. And my list here is just the tip of the iceberg.
Whatever type of yoga you practice and however you define the meaning of yoga, I would like to share the following explanation. I stumbled upon this in Alistair Shearer’s translation of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
“The techniques of yoga are methods of purifying the nervous system so that it can reflect a greater degree of consciousness and our lives can become an increasingly positive force in the world. If these techniques are correctly practiced, the whole nervous system is revitalized – the body enjoys better health and more energy, the rested mind is freed from the burden of past experience, and perception is restored to its primal freshness. Thought and activity become coherent and integrated, life becomes richer and more fulfilling”.
More can be found on pg. 26 & 27 in Shearer’s insightful translation of the Sutras.