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What is Yoga? The Original Meaning of Yoga

Confused by all the noise around Yoga? Sadhguru gives five points on what Yoga really is and busts three myths about Yoga that are commonly believed.
Table of Content
1. Yoga Means Union
2. Yoga Signifies a Complete Path by Itself
3. Yoga Means to Break the Cycle of Life
4. Yoga Means Liberating Yourself from Memory
5. Yoga is a Technology for Transformation
6. Misconceptions About Yoga
6.1- Yoga Is a Philosophy
6.2- Yoga Is All About Postures
6.3- Yoga Is an Exercise to Stay Healthy

#1 Yoga Means Union

Sadhguru: In the western part of the world, if you utter the word “Yoga,” people think of impossible physical postures. This is a very distorted idea of what Yoga is. Yoga is not about bending and twisting your body or holding your breath. It is a mechanism and a technology to get you to that state of experience where you see reality just the way it is.

The word “Yoga” literally means “union.”

As you sit here, your idea and your sense and experience of who you are is very strong. You are here as an individual. But what the trees are exhaling right now, you are inhaling; what you are exhaling, the trees are inhaling. In other words, one half of your lung is hanging out there. This is not just in terms of breath. Today, modern physics is proving to you that as you sit here, every subatomic particle in your body is in constant transaction with everything else in the existence. If this transaction stops, you will cease to exist. So, Yoga means to know the union of existence by experience.

Modern science is proving to you that the whole existence is just one energy. The religions of the world have been saying for a long time that God is everywhere. Whether you say, “God is everywhere,” or you say, “Everything is one energy,” we are talking about the same reality. It is just that a scientist has never experienced this – he has arrived at it through mathematical deductions; a religious person has not experienced it – he believes it because it is written somewhere or has been said by someone.

If you are such a hard nut that you are not willing to settle for deductions or belief systems, then you become a Yogi. When you know the oneness of existence like you experience the five fingers of your hand, then we say you are in Yoga.

#2 Yoga Signifies a Complete Path by Itself

What Yoga means is to move towards an experiential reality where one knows the ultimate nature of the existence, the way it is made. Essentially, in the tradition, once we attach the word “Yoga” to anything, it indicates that it is a complete path by itself. We say “Hatha Yoga,” but we will not say “Asana Yoga.”

If it was just a simple practice or an exercise, you could approach it one way. If it was an art form or just entertainment, it could be approached another way. Today, people say “Recreational Yoga,” “Health Yoga,” or people refer to it as an art form. They think they are doing a service to Yoga by saying it is an art form. No. The moment you attach the word “Yoga,” it indicates it is a complete path by itself.

#3 Yoga Means to Break the Cycle of Life

All aspects of physicality in the universe are cyclical. Planets are going around the sun, the solar system is moving, and everything in the galaxy and the cosmos is cyclical. The more you are identified with your physical system, the more cyclical you are. Your experiences and the process of life is cyclical. If you watch carefully enough, even the situations that you face in your life come in cycles.

If you are going in circles, it just gives you an impression that you are going somewhere but you are not really going anywhere; you are going through the same thing again and again. Yoga means to open up the circle and stretch it out like a straight line, so that if you follow the line you will go somewhere – you are not going round and round. Many of you may have already experimented and noticed. Let’s say you might have been doing sadhana for a few years. If you just stop your sadhana for three months, you will see so many compulsions that you never imagined were a part of you, which were have been gone for a long time, suddenly all become a part of you.

These compulsions will suddenly come back if you just break the sadhana, because nature is not going to release you so easily. You have to work at it and work at it and work at it; otherwise you must be happy doing the circle. If you are not conscious, if your vision is too limited and can only see three feet in front of you, then it is all real. If you open up and see the whole circle and the way you are going, it looks like a circus. Definitely you will not want it to continue forever and will want to do something about it.

#4 Yoga Means Liberating Yourself from Memory

Repetitive cycles of compulsiveness are happening because there are various types of memories in the system. There is a huge volume of memory – genetic memory, evolutionary memory, elemental memory, atomic memory, karmic memory, inarticulate memory, and articulate memory. If this memory was not there, your body would not even take a form. There are so many billions of people on the planet, but everyone took this form – two legs, two hands, two eyes. When you were in your mother’s womb, your body knew it has to take on this form. If the memory was not there, we do not know what form it would have taken.

You have retained your physical form this way only because of memory. Memory always means that which is past. If you go and watch a cinema, what happens so big and so real, more real than the real. It becomes a bigger reality than reality because it is so exaggerated. But all this is just memory being played out. It is recorded in a film or a digital format or whichever way, but it is just memory, it is already over. If the information that you carry, which is memory, is the only thing which determines the nature of who you are right now, that means you are past. There is no real life; it is just a play of memory.

Even your thoughts, emotions, compulsions as to what you like, dislike, whom you love, whom you do not love, is all by memory. It is already past. You loved someone yesterday and are living with that memory today. You disliked someone yesterday and are living with that memory. If you are trying to live that which is over, that which is will bypass you.

Yoga means to liberate yourself from that information which determines who you are right now. That information which determines the color of your skin and the shape of your body should not determine how you think, feel, and experience your life. If that information does not determine how you are right now, then you are moving into Yoga.

The daily morning sadhana is just to gradually create distance from that information. You do not have to lose it. If you forget it, you will once again do the same idiotic things all over again. The more unpleasant your life has been, the more you should never forget. This is not about forgetfulness, but about being able to carry it.

Today you have memory sticks. If it is plugged in all the time and all of it is playing, you will go crazy. But if you stick it in your computer when you want or put it in your pocket – this is good, no problem. Memory is still there but not compulsively working through you. When you want, you can consciously activate it; otherwise you can keep it aside and it lies there. Once that freedom comes, memory is not a problem. But memory is a problem right now because it is playing up all the time. Yesterday’s likes and dislikes are determining who you are today. It will not allow you to experience what is today, it will not allow you any perception of life.

#5 Yoga is a Technology for Transformation

Everything that human beings can do is essentially an expression of who they are. Someone sings a song, someone dances, someone writes a book, someone paints a picture. You may be conscious of it or not, but everything that you say and do is essentially an expression of who you are.

Yoga is diametrically opposite to this because it is not an expression of who you are; it is about determining who you are; it is about changing the very fundamentals of one’s existence. Today there is substantial medical and scientific evidence to show that the very fundamentals of the activity of your brain, your chemistry, and even your genetic content can be changed by practicing different systems of Yoga. This needs no confirmation because we have always witnessed this, but today there is scientific data to prove this.

If you find full expression through any particular activity, it may also leave you somewhat transformed. If you cook, sing, or dance with all your heart, some transformation may happen. That is only a certain impact that is happening because of absolute involvement in a particular activity, but essentially that activity by its nature is an expression of who you are, not determining the nature of who you are. But Yoga is not an expression, it is a technology through which you can change the shape of who you are – both literally and otherwise.

3 Misconceptions About Yoga

#1 Yoga Is a Philosophy

Today, everyone is propounding their own concepts, philosophies, and ideologies all the time. No one is willing to look at life the way it is because somewhere human beings are too enamored with their own logic and intellect. You are having concepts about the universe because somewhere you think the whole universe spilled out of your brains. You and me are so small here; we are like specks of dust. If we evaporate right now, nothing is going to change. A few people around us will cry and forget about us in three days. Everything is going to be fine.

We need to understand the context of who we are is not a concept. Who the hell are you to even think up a concept about this universe? You are a micro, minuscule speck. If you can perceive something of this, it is fantastic.

In the whole system of Yoga – there are no concepts, philosophies, ideologies, or belief systems – only methods to enhance your perception because only what you perceive is real, the rest is all made up in your head.

#2 Yoga Is All About Postures

Generally, for most people in the world today, Yoga means asanas. Asanas are just a small preparatory aspect of Yoga. Yoga is not a practice, a particular action, or a posture – it is a way of being. When a person begins to experience everything as a part of themselves, they are in Yoga. Intellectually, whatever we say about it, at the most it will make you curious to know more about it or inspire you to walk the path of Yoga. We can never say what Yoga is in words, but if a person is willing, experiencing Yoga is very much possible.

#3 Yoga Is an Exercise to Stay Healthy

People may initially come to Yoga because it offers a variety of health benefits and a way to become free from stress. There are definitely physical and mental benefits. One can experience remarkable changes in terms of being peaceful, joyful, and healthy. And there are many people who have come out of their chronic ailments quite miraculously. But that is not the essential nature of what Yoga is. The fundamental objective of Yoga is to make your experience of life so large and all-inclusive that instead of being an individual, you become a universal process. You will see it will yield phenomenal results.

When the physical dimensions of Yoga were first taught, it was expounded as to how to align this human system to the cosmic geometry. If you get it perfectly aligned, all the friction is taken off. Internal friction means you are working against yourself; you are an issue by yourself. When you are an issue by yourself, what other issue can you handle? Everything is stressful. As you take on more activity in the world, the challenges will multiply endlessly. That is why your own body, mind, emotions and energy should work for you, and not be stumbling blocks in your life.

If these four are properly aligned, suddenly this body and this mind can do things that you have not thought possible in your wildest dreams. People will think you are superhuman. Whether it is business, home, love or war, you will do it with a certain level of efficiency and competence. This is because in a most essential way, somehow, either consciously or unconsciously, you found the geometry of existence. Read More

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