When you think about the word “yoga,” what crosses your mind? Most likely, you imagine today’s modern yogi decked out in fancy leggings and performing convoluted shapes on an expensive yoga mat. Truthfully, our idea of yoga today is far from its true and original meaning. So what does the word “yoga” actually mean?
Yoga Means “To Yoke.”
The word yoga means “union.” More specifically, this union refers to the connection between the body and the mind. And on a more spiritual and theistic level, this union can also be applied to the self and the divine.
Yoga also means “to yoke.” Exploring this more closely, the word yoga is actually derived from the Sanskrit word of yoke, which is “yuj.” According to yoga teacher and writer Kate Saal, the yuj was a physical device to join cattle.
“What they were yoking long ago, were war horses,” Saal explains. Yoga was then the device and technique to pacify these horses so that they could focus and perform their task efficiently and effectively.
The Mind Must Be Tamed.
When you think about this, the mind behaves much like a war horse or wild animal. When left unchecked, the mind can become distracted, wander, and run off. One thought jumps to the next, and this is oftentimes an unpleasant experience.
Thoughts become negative and unpleasant when we begin to resist, judge, or attach our identity to them. Let’s say you’ve just ended a relationship. If you’ve attached your entire self and identity to that relationship, then the experience of this breakup would leave you in absolute devastation.
Grieving and pain are normal, but negative thoughts can morph into anxiety and depression when we become too attached to our thoughts—when we think we are our thoughts.
When we acknowledge that the negative thoughts in our mind are simply ego, then it will be easier to come into that place of observation. Why am I obsessing over this relationship? Why have I attached myself to this relationship? These are now questions that the conscious mind can now ask, once you’ve removed yourself from these attachments.
Just like a war horse must be tamed from wild and unbridled behavior, the mind must be tamed from these negative thought patterns that can leave us spiraling.
To truly practice yoga is to tame the wild horse that is the unconscious, unaware mind!
Live With Awareness.
How then, do we truly practice yoga? First, practicing asana (the physical yoga that we do on the mat) can help build body awareness and strengthen the mind-body connection.
Asana is actually a textile, malleable way to practice this union of the mind and the body. We strengthen and create space in our bodies, and this also helps us internalize how the muscles, bones, nerves, and the hidden realm of your mind are all connected.
But asana can only take you so far. We practice on the mat in order to become better individuals off the mat. Apart from practicing asana with awareness, try living with awareness too.
Living with awareness simply means being mindful across each moment of your day. When you wake up, refrain from looking from your phone and try to spend a few minutes meditating or doing pranayama. When you eat, try to savor and enjoy the flavors and textures that you feel in your mouth instead of just shoveling food into your mouth.
In the context of career and relationships, try clocking in your hours or spending time with your loved ones with a sense of awareness too. This can mean taking short breaks across your work hours, or interacting with your colleagues more peacefully. This can also mean speaking more patiently to your children or spouse.
To truly practice yoga is to unite the body with the mind, and eventually the self with the divine. When we acknowledge that we are not just bodies purposelessly moving through space, we wake up into consciousness.
When we acknowledge that the true essence of our mind is consciousness and ego, we can come into a better appreciation of our life.