AskDefine | Define yoga

The Collaborative Dictionary

Yoga \Yo"ga\, n. [Skr. y[=o]ga union.] A species of asceticism among the Hindoos, which consists in a complete abstraction from all worldly objects, by which the votary expects to obtain union with the universal spirit, and to acquire superhuman faculties. [1913 Webster]

Word Net



1 Hindu discipline aimed at training the consciousness for a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility that is achieved through the three paths of actions and knowledge and devotion
2 a system of exercises practiced as part of the Hindu discipline to promote control of the body and mind

Moby Thesaurus

anagoge, anagogics, anthroposophy, athletics, breather, cabala, cabalism, calisthenics, constitutional, daily dozen, drill, esotericism, esoterics, esoterism, esotery, exercise, exercising, gymnastic exercises, gymnastics, hocus-pocus, isometrics, mumbo jumbo, mystery, mysticism, mystification, occultism, physical education, physical jerks, practice, setting-up exercises, stretch, symbolics, symbolism, workout, yogeeism, yogism




From etyl sa sc=Deva, from (whence also English yoke).


  1. A Hindu discipline aimed at training the consciousness for a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquillity; especially a system of exercises practiced to promote control of the body and mind.


a Hindu discipline
  • Chinese: 瑜伽 (yú jiā)
  • Czech: jóga
  • Finnish: jooga
  • Hungarian: jóga
  • Italian: yoga
  • Japanese: ヨガ (yoga), ヨーガ (yōga)
  • Russian: йога (yóga)
  • Spanish: yoga



  1. yoga
Yoga (Sanskrit: योग Yog, ) is a group of ancient spiritual practices possibly originating in India Outside India, yoga is mostly associated with the practice of asanas (postures) of Hatha Yoga or as a form of exercise.
Many Hindu texts discuss aspects of yoga, including the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and the Shiva Samhita.
Major branches of yoga include: Hatha Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga, established by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and known simply as yoga in the context of Hindu philosophy, is one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of thought.
The Sanskrit term yoga has many meanings. It is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, "to control", "to yoke", or "to unite". Common meanings include "joining" or "uniting", and related ideas such as "union" and "conjunction". Another conceptual definition is that of "mode, manner, means" or "expedient, means in general".

History of Yoga

Indus Valley seals

Several seals discovered at Indus Valley Civilization (c. 3300–1700 BC) sites depict figures in a yoga- or meditation-like posture, "a form of ritual discipline, suggesting a precursor of yoga." Archaeologist Gregory Possehl points to 16 specific "yogi glyptics" in the corpus of Mature Harappan artifacts as pointing to Harappan devotion to "ritual discipline and concentration." These images show that the yoga pose "may have been used by deities and humans alike."
The most widely known of these images was named the "Pashupati seal" by its discoverer, John Marshall, who believed that it represented a "proto-Shiva" figure. Many modern authorities discount the idea that this "Pashupati" (Lord of Animals, Sanskrit ) represents a Shiva or Rudra figure. Gavin Flood characterizes the Shiva or Rudra view as "speculative", and goes on to say that it is not clear from the 'Pashupati' seal that the figure is seated in a yoga posture, or that the shape is intended to represent a human figure. Authorities who support the idea that the 'Pashupati' figure shows a figure in a yoga or meditation posture include Archaeologist Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, current Co-director of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project in Pakistan and Indologist Heinrich Zimmer.

Literary sources

Ascetic practices (tapas) are referenced in the (900 BCE and 500 BCE), early commentaries on the vedas. In the Upanishads, an early reference to meditation is made in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of the earliest Upanishads (approx. 900 BCE). The main textual sources for the evolving concept of Yoga are the middle Upanishads, (ca. 400 BCE), the Mahabharata (5th c. BCE) including the Bhagavad Gita (ca. 200 BCE), the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (200 BCE-300 CE) and Narada Bhakti Sutra
  • Karma yoga: The yoga of action
  • Bhakti yoga: The yoga of devotion This interpretation has been adopted by some later commentators and rejected by others.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

In Indian philosophy, Yoga is the name of one of the six orthodox philosophical schools. The Yoga philosophical system is closely allied with the Samkhya school. The Yoga school as expounded by Patanjali accepts the Samkhya psychology and metaphysics, but is more theistic than the Samkhya, as evidenced by the addition of a divine entity to the Samkhya's twenty-five elements of reality. The parallels between Yoga and Samkhya were so close that Max Müller says that "the two philosophies were in popular parlance distinguished from each other as Samkhya with and Samkhya without a Lord...." The intimate relationship between Samkhya and Yoga is explained by Heinrich Zimmer:
These two are regarded in India as twins, the two aspects of a single discipline. provides a basic theoretical exposition of human nature, enumerating and defining its elements, analyzing their manner of co-operation in a state of bondage (bandha), and describing their state of disentanglement or separation in release (), while Yoga treats specifically of the dynamics of the process for the disentanglement, and outlines practical techniques for the gaining of release, or 'isolation-integration' (kaivalya).
The sage Patanjali is regarded as the founder of the formal Yoga philosophy. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are ascribed to Patanjali, who, as Max Müller explains, may have been "the author or representative of the Yoga-philosophy without being necessarily the author of the Sutras." Indologist Axel Michaels is dismissive of claims that the work was written by Patanjali, characterizing it instead as a collection of fragments and traditions of texts stemming from the second or third century. Gavin Flood cites a wider period of uncertainty for the composition, between 100 BCE and 500 CE.
Patanjali's yoga is known as Raja yoga, which is a system for control of the mind. Patanjali defines the word "yoga" in his second sutra, which is the definitional sutra for his entire work:
- Yoga Sutras 1.2
This terse definition hinges on the meaning of three Sanskrit terms. I. K. Taimni translates it as "Yoga is the inhibition () of the modifications () of the mind ()". Swami Vivekananda translates the sutra as "Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Citta) from taking various forms (Vrittis)." Gavin Flood translates the sutra as "yoga is the cessation of mental fluctuations".
Patanjali's writing also became the basis for a system referred to it as "Ashtanga Yoga" ("Eight-Limbed Yoga"). This eight-limbed concept derived from the 29th Sutra of the 2nd book became a feature of Raja yoga, and is a core characteristic of practically every Raja yoga variation taught today. Eight Limbs of yoga practice are:
(1) Yama (The five "abstentions"): nonviolence, truth, non-covetousness, chastity, and abstain from attachment to possessions.
(2) Niyama (The five "observances"): purity, contentment, austerities, study, and surrender to god
(3) Asana: Literally means "seat", and in Patanjali's Sutras refers to seated positions used for meditation. Later, with the rise of Hatha yoga, asana came to refer to all the "postures"
(4) Pranayama ("Lengthening Prāna"): Prāna, life force, or vital energy, particularly, the breath, "āyāma", to lengthen or extend
(5) Pratyahara ("Abstraction"): Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects.
(6) Dharana ("Concentration"): Fixing the attention on a single object
(7) Dhyana ("Meditation"): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation
(8) Samadhi ("Liberation"): merging consciousness with the object of meditation
They are sometimes divided into the lower and the upper four limbs, the lower ones being parallel to the lower limbs of Hatha Yoga, while the upper ones being specific for the Raja yoga. The upper three limbs practiced simultaneously constitute the Samyama.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Hatha Yoga is a particular system of Yoga described by Yogi Swatmarama, a yogic sage of the 15th century in India, and compiler of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Hatha Yoga is a development of — but also differs substantially from — the Raja Yoga of Patanjali, in that it focuses on shatkarma, the purification of the physical as leading to the purification of the mind (ha), and prana, or vital energy (tha). In contrast, the Raja Yoga posited by Patanjali begins with a purification of the mind (yamas) and spirit (niyamas), then comes to the body via asana (body postures) and pranayama (breath). Hatha yoga contains substantial tantric influence, and marks the first point at which chakras and kundalini were introduced into the yogic canon. Compared to the seated asanas of Patanjali's Raja yoga which were seen largely as a means of preparing for meditation, it also marks the development of asanas as full body 'postures' in the modern sense.
Hatha Yoga in its many modern variations is the style that most people actually associate with the word "Yoga" today. Because its emphasis is on the body through asana and pranayama practice, many western students are satisfied with the physical health and vitality it develops and are not interested in the other six limbs of the complete Hatha yoga teaching, or with the even older Raja Yoga tradition it is based on.

Yoga in other traditions

Yoga and Buddhism

Yoga is intimately connected to the religious beliefs and practices of the Indian religions. The influence of Yoga is also visible in Buddhism, which is distinguished by its austerities, spiritual exercises, and trance states.

Yogacara Buddhism

Yogacara (Sanskrit: "Practice of Yoga [Union]" ), also spelled yogāchāra, is a school of philosophy and psychology that developed in India during the 4th to 5th centuries.
Yogacara received the name as it provided a yoga, a framework for engaging in the practices that lead to the path of the bodhisattva. The Yogacara sect teaches yoga in order to reach enlightenment.

Ch`an (Zen) Buddhism

Zen (the name of which derives from the Sanskrit "dhyana" via the Chinese "ch'an") is a form of Mahayana Buddhism. The Mahayana school of Buddhism is noted for its proximity with Yoga. This phenomenon merits special attention since the Zen Buddhist school of meditation has some of its roots in yogic practices. Certain essential elements of Yoga are important both for Buddhism in general and for Zen in particular.
This particular path to salvation among the several offered by Hinduism, links Tantrism to those practices of Indian religions, such as yoga, meditation, and social renunciation, which are based on temporary or permanent withdrawal from social relationships and modes.

Goal of Yoga

There are numerous opinions on what the goal of Yoga may be. Goals can range from improving health and fitness, to reaching Moksha.
Within the monist schools of Advaita Vedanta and Shaivism this perfection takes the form of Moksha, which is liberation from all worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death (Samsara) at which point there is a realisation of identity with the Supreme Brahman. For the bhakti schools of Vaishnavism, bhakti or service to Svayam bhagavan itself is the ultimate goal of the yoga process, wherein perfection culminates in an eternal relationship with Vishnu, Rama or Krsna, depending on the affiliation.

Restorative Yoga

Its practitioners believe that restorative yoga positions, or asanas, help relieve the effects of illness and chronic stress in several ways. Firstly, such asanas provide a supportive environment for relaxation. Secondly, each restorative sequence is designed to move the spine in all directions. Thirdly, a well-sequenced restorative practice also includes an inverted pose, which reverses the effects of gravity on blood and lymph fluid, improving heart function. Fourth, restorative yoga alternately stimulates and soothes the organs, improving the exchange of oxygen and waste products across cell membranes.
Its practitioners believe the body is permeated with energy, including prana, the masculine energy, which resides above the diaphragm, moves upward, and controls respiration and heart rate; and apana, the feminine energy, which resides below the diaphragm, moves downward, and controls the function of the abdominal organs. Its practitioners believe restorative yoga balances these two aspects of energy so that the practitioner is neither overstimulated nor depleted.



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  • Chang, G.C.C. (1993). Tibetan Yoga. New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8065-1453-1
  • An Introduction to Indian Philosophy
    • Donatelle, Rebecca J. Health: The Basics. 6th ed. San Francisco: Pearson Education, Inc. 2005.
  • Feuerstein, Georg. The Shambhala Guide to Yoga. 1st ed. Boston & London: Shambhala Publications 1996.
  • An Introduction to Hinduism
  • Madhusudana Sarasvati Bhagavad_Gita: With the annotation Gūḍhārtha Dīpikā
  • Yoga and The Portal
  • Theory And Practice of Yoga: Essays in Honour of Gerald James Larson (Studies in the History of Religions, 110)
  • India: A History
  • Hinduism: Past and Present
  • Mittra, Dharma Sri. Asanas: 608 Yoga Poses. 1st ed. California: New World Library 2003.
  • Six Systems of Indian Philosophy; Samkhya and Yoga, Naya and Vaiseshika Reprint edition; Originally published under the title of The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy.
  • The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective
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  • Saraswati, swami satyananda. November 2002 (12th edition). "Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha" ISBN 81-86336-14-1
  • The Science of Yoga
  • Usharabudh, Arya Pandit. Philosophy of Hatha Yoga. 2nd ed. Pennsylvania: Himalayan Institute Press 1977, 1985.
  • Raja Yoga 21st reprint edition.
  • Philosophies of India Bollingen Series XXVI; Edited by Joseph Cambell.

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