What Is Yoga, Really?


What is Yoga, really? While there is no one right answer, its most cited translation is to yoke or to be in union, though this translation does little to uncover and reveal its profound depths.

Yoga has been written about at great length, and has innumerable associations, including physical techniques, heightened spiritual states and philosophical systems, though much of its modern day usage has often erred on rather descriptive rhetoric.

While English can be partly to blame, as the language is more descriptive and expository in comparison to Sanskrit that has more depth, pointing more to the inherent nature of a thing. Similarly, the growth of the number of Yoga teachers has created more interpretations of what Yoga is.

“Don’t think, feel! It is like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory. Do you understand?” ~ Bruce Lee

When delving into the mystical depths of Yoga, such positive associations do little, rather they can often thwart or even misguide our understanding. If we continue to assign positive definitions and ascribe all sorts of associated meanings, do we not limit its depth and restrict its understanding, and in effect do we run the danger of then missing the essence of Yoga?

Instead of inquiring about what Yoga is, is it not rather far more appropriate to describe (if we must) what it is not? Thereby, we give the experience or essence of Yoga more space, freed from the limiting constructs of association that is taken in by the mind.

Patanjali recognized this inherent limitation. In his often quoted and sourced Yoga Sutras, he states in one of the opening verses that Yoga is chitta vritti nirodha, roughly translating to the restraining or end of all fluctuations of the mind.

Here he recognizes the danger of using positive statements to describe something inherently beyond words, and affirms it as something beyond all mind-identified thought, leaving the experience of Yoga open to be what it is — beyond thought.

However, Yoga should not be mistaken as the absence of thought or a thoughtless state, as it is thought itself that creates experiences, but rather a shift away from a thought-dominated experience of Self. So it is not that one needs to annihilate the mind in order for Yoga to be experienced, but instead see the mind as it is.

Gautama, the Buddha, also taught through negation, which is not negative or nihilistic, yet one of profound understanding. Enlightenment, or nirvana, he said, is the end of suffering.

Knowing the complexity of experience and all its associated labels and imagery, the Buddha saw through the intricacies of the mind, and without elaborating on what enlightenment is, he only pointed to what it is not, making it unfathomable by the associated confines of mind, as it is the polarity of existence seen through the divisive mind that creates separation — a product of its inherent ignorance.

Both systems use negation as a way to bring us closer to understanding our essential nature. By leaving the core teachings as open as the sky, this freedom from labeling and association reveals a hidden truth that lies veiled behind the idea-ridden mind.


JessicaVilchesJessica Vilches is a student, teacher and lover of all the world’s mystic traditions, but has found depth through Tantra Yoga and Ayurveda, which she discovered some years ago. Delving into the ancient traditions, she spent years living in India, studying and learning from teachers across the country. Jessica now seeks to share her inspiration through retreats and trainings in Bali and across the world. You can connect with her via her website or Facebook.


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