What is yoga? (Hint: It’s more than just exercise!)

Higher Self Yoga Editors
February 20, 2024
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When most people in the West use the word "yoga", they are most likely referring to Hatha yoga, a yoga practice focused on physical poses that has been heavily influenced by western fitness culture. Now, Hatha yoga is yoga, but it’s more of a niche subgenre of yoga, one that is notably different due to its focus on movement and postures.

The original meaning of yoga is much more all-encompassing. It is a school of teachings that aims to improve the mind and the spirit, though physical practices and postures can be incorporated as well. Broadly speaking, traditional yoga goes beyond the confines of a dedicated workout and expands to every aspect of an individual’s lifestyle, from small decisions made in everyday life to long-term personal and spiritual goals.

The precise definition of yoga is going to depend on who you ask, but there are enough similarities between the many schools of yoga to find plenty of common ground.

A Basic Definition

Let’s start with the most common definition of yoga you’re likely to come across. According to the yogic scriptures, the practice of Yoga aims to unify the individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness, also known as “the source.” If the wording of this definition does not resonate with you, don’t you worry. While the phrasing may be unique to the Sanskrit scriptures that first sought to define Yoga, the meaning of the definition is not far from what we experience in our culture as a quest to be united with the world around us in an energy of love, compassion, and understanding. It speaks to the basic longing we feel as humans as we seek to be united with the mysteries of the world around us.

This definition may still leave us feeling a bit vague on specifics, and it may not be all that helpful for beginners. Let’s take a slightly different approach and start with where the word yoga comes from.

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Different Interpretations

At its most basic level, the word "Yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root "Yuj," meaning "to join" or "to unite". It can also mean, core or center, or, like our own English word, "yoke". This center refers to the core of our being: who we are, our true selves, our true essence.

What else can yoga mean? Well, one Sanskrit dictionary defines yoga as "protection, method, meditation, harmony, and technique," while another calls it "achieving the unachieved, a technique to keep the body young and steady, and medicine."

The Upanisads, Epics, Puranas, and Yoga Sutra used the word "yoga" to mean "controlling the body, senses, mind, and intellect", and the Veda used the word "yoga" with the meaning of "yoking," "joining," "coming together," and "connection."

To add a few more definitions to the mix, Sage Patanjali defines yoga as a method to stop thought waves and disturbances, and according to Linga Purana, yoga is a method to stop the changes of the mind.

The 3 Common Themes

Considering that yoga has existed in some form for nearly 5,000 years, it shouldn’t be too surprising that there isn’t one clear, authoritative definition. But going back to the many definitions we just listed, you can see three common themes start to emerge.

  1. Practice, Method, and Technique: All forms of yoga are based around systems of practices and techniques. Think of it like physical fitness… there are tons of different workouts you can do with their own philosophy and style (e.g. crossfit, pilates, spin classes, etc.), but at their center, they all emphasize the systematic and disciplined repetition of a prescribed set of exercises in order to achieve a certain result. Note that all of those systems have slightly different goals as well… some try to build strength, others endurance, and others are for losing weight. Just like yoga, choosing the practice that matches your personality and your goals is essential!
  2. Harmony, Alignment, and Connection: Yoga always strives to improve the mind, the spirit, and in some cases, the body of the practitioner. This begs the question, why are we unhealthy to begin with? Well, Yogic teachings often focus on how we are disconnected and disassociated from our true selves and the world. The goal of yoga is to realign ourselves in such a way that our minds and spirits are working in harmony.
  3. Meditation and Controlling the Mind: Yoga teaches us that one of the most common culprits of mental suffering and distraction is excessive thought. While thinking is not inherently bad, an overactive, hyper mind that cannot stop thinking (also known as the “monkey mind”) is a recipe for self-torment that leads to anxiety and suffering. In order to achieve the desired goal of balance, harmony, and alignment, students of yoga must learn to understand and control their minds, emotions, and impulses. To do this, yoga relies heavily on various forms of meditation and self-reflection.

A Loose Definition

Every school of yoga will have its own unique interpretation, but for our purposes, we can start with this definition:

Yoga is a collection of spiritual disciplines, practices, and techniques that strive to bring harmony and alignment, particularly among the mind, the body, and the spirit. It is an art and science of healthy living, one that aims to improve both our mental and physical well-being. In order to achieve this well-being, the central teachings and practices of yoga often focus on mental discernment, self-reflection, and self-awareness.

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What is “Higher Self” Yoga?

Higher Self Yoga is a form of yoga that emphasizes psychological growth and self-discovery. Through the use of meditation, self-reflection, and practical applications, it aims to heal psychological wounds and emotional attachments while putting us in touch with our true inner nature and wisdom.

The goal of Higher Self Yoga always comes back to understanding… understanding our own lives and the inner workings of our mind, why we think and act as we do, and how we can improve that dynamic through continued practice and action.

How can Higher Self Yoga improve my life?

Though Higher Self Yoga is a spiritual discipline, we see the spiritual realm and everyday life as two sides of the same coin. We cannot progress on our spiritual journeys if we are mired down by negative habits, misaligned career choices, and relationships that we struggle to navigate. Likewise, spiritual practices can be used to improve our daily lives, and help us create a meaningful life filled with purpose, joy, and love.

Working with the Higher Self can help you in your daily life, whether it’s in your work or in your relationships. It keeps you focused and calm during times of adversity, and keeps you open to change. It frees you from emotions that can keep you from moving forward, and it can even aid you in making important life decisions.

Where to Start

Once we begin to connect with our Higher Selves, the changes we see in ourselves and in our lives can be breathtaking. From improvements in our physical bodies and mental outlook to the ways we treat and interact with others, the benefits of connecting with our Higher Selves are endless.

If you're looking to take the first steps towards connecting with your Higher Self, our free online introductory course will teach you to activate the invaluable, untapped resource at the core of your being — your Higher Self. The course is designed to help you adopt a thoughtful, intentional way of life as you escape harmful behavioral patterns with the life-changing guidance of your Higher Self.

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