Girish Jha - What Yoga is

Series AYT-6 What Yoga is-6 Multiple meanings

The challenge with the definition of yoga

The definition may mean many things – description, explanation, classification, designation, and much more. The real challenge comes when something is to explain beyond the mind. When something needs to be explained by the mind which is not the domain of mind and intellect. It is like the ear wants to see and the eye wants to hear, the same way yoga is defined by the mind. But if no definition is given of yoga, then, it is difficult to know the subject matter of yoga. Many great masters became totally silent when they reached awakening, or realization or transformation. They realized that yoga which is a state could not be explained by the mind. While others made many attempts to point out in words what yoga actually is? These pointers became or known to the definition of yoga in the current age.

Meaning of the word ‘yoga’

It may be a literary debate if the word ‘yoga’ is to speak like ‘you’ or ‘yoga’ but it is better to know the root and meaning of the word yoga. There are two meanings – one of which is very common, with lesser pointing to the essence of what yoga is and the second with deeper, clear, and correct understanding is not popular in the modern age. The common and most famous meaning of the word ‘yoga’ is ‘union’, ‘yoking’, or ‘joining’. This ‘union’ is further explained as a union between individual and transcendental consciousness. While the other definition means ‘the highest state of consciousness’ beyond the mind. Both definitions have been variously and differently explained by many masters over a period of 6000 years. None of the definition actually convey the essence of yoga in its entirety but every definition conveys the message from different points of view. It is always good to know all these definitions and allow the mind to comprehend to merge the opposites to allow awakening to take place within. That is the way to realize the true meaning and essence of yoga.

Yoga as a union

The word ‘union’ defines automatically the presence of two, while yoga declares that ‘there is one and only one reality, commonly termed as SatChitAnanda (absolute existence consciousness bliss)’. There is neither had been two ever, will never have two. Yes, yoga says that whatever contradictions seen at the mental and intellectual level drops and dissolves when one is awakened and goes beyond ignorance that causes duality and divisions. Many teachers, students, and aspirants on the path are confused finding the contradictions, either accept blindly in a hope to awaken or reject the very concept of yoga altogether. Perhaps, that is one of many reasons, many practitioners in the east and west have not touched the very essence of yoga and are happy only with the physical practices of yoga. Whereas physical practices are known as preparations alone and not the practice of yoga as such. You prepare for a vacation by keeping clothes, essential items in the bag but until you come outside your home and begin driving to the destination, it cannot be said that you have started towards the destination of your vacation. That is why physical practices of yoga have been twisted to present as stretching, twisting the body, sweating, etc. but all these practices may not help you in moving to the real practice of yoga.

However, master’s defined yoga as ‘union’ had also clarified that is the union between

  • Individual and transcendental consciousness
  • Prana ( one form of energy) and Apana ( another form of energy)
  • Shiva( center of existence present within all of us ) and Shakti ( dynamic existence present within all of us)
  • Surya Swara ( male principle as energy) and Chandra Swara ( female principle as energy)


If we understand the physical practices in the light of the above philosophy, we understand that physical practices in yoga aims to awakening to physical consciousness and harmonizing the energy present in the body. It had not been practiced as a physical culture but done to awaken to inner consciousness present in the body.

The most beautiful description is found in Upanishad where the master says, the actual meaning of yoga is to drop, dissolve, destroy the very duality and division that has been veiling the mind since birth.


The meaning of yoga as ‘the state of consciousness”

Consciousness is the largest and deepest subject covered in the yoga for over 6000 years by many masters. Yoga clearly understands three states – waking, dreaming, and sleep while inspires to awaken to the fourth or Turiya state of consciousness which is the goal and definition of yoga. Further, many masters have clearly set forth the philosophy that mind, brain, and consciousness are different entities, interact with one another at all the time in the life of the human race. At present, brain and mind govern the consciousness whereas yoga says to do any or any practice to awaken within so that the highest consciousness begins governing the brain, mind, body, life, and the mind. That is why Swami Vivekananda defined yoga as ‘a method by which human evolution is compressed in few years or few months or few hours of earthly existence.’ that is why Sri Aurobindo defines yoga as ‘self-conscious finding’. He further said that all life is either consciously or unconsciously yoga. Any practice that awakens one to higher states of consciousness, where one experiences liberation from the limitations of the body, life, mind, intellect, and ego.

But when great masters like Krishna who is also the originator of yoga defines yoga as ‘equanimity in the mind (as if higher consciousness pours down its essence into the mind’. Another master says, ‘yoga is done when senses are absorbed into the mind, mind into the intellect, and the intellect into the ego and ego merges into higher consciousness. I have read almost all the literature of yoga written before 100AD and found that only three texts refer yoga as ‘union’ while more than 300 texts refer yoga as an awakening to, merging with the highest state of consciousness beyond the mind.


Union and state are essentially one

I personally have no liking either for union or state of consciousness but yoga in essence is nearer to ‘the state of consciousness than ‘union’. If it is union, it is the beginning of yoga where the mind begins its journey from its own standpoint of view of the world as full of duality and division. When we begin yoga with awakening to higher states of consciousness, we begin dropping consciously all the dualities and divisions that come from the mind so that the mind can be transcended.


(The next blog series will cover be entitled “Basis of Authentic Yoga Tradition”)


Contact Acharya Girish Jha at

Acharya Girish Jha, a master teacher, mentor, guide, and blogger and life coach holds MS, BS, Dip. Yoga, nature cure, Cert. in Research methodology, and Board Certified Professional Counselor (APA). A deep urge for self-discovery inspired me to spend yrs. in the Himalayas and with many yoga and spiritual traditions. He learned from more than 100 Himalayan masters, teachers, and saints. He has the credit of teaching over 100000 people during the last over 33 years, conducting over 1000 workshops, seminars, and talks, actively conducting res. projects in Asthma, Diabetes, Stress Management, High Altitude Sickness research, meditation, and stress management, offered life coaching (integral wisdom with customized practices) to more than   500 couples, conducted over 300 Radio talk shows, anchored over 30 TV serials on Yoga. He has experience of over 28000 hours of teaching (6000 hrs. of life coaching and spiritual counseling), contributed over 200 articles/papers on yoga and yoga research, and developed specialized practices based on conscious evolution and transformation.

He came to the USA in 2007 on a high priority visa, now a permanent resident has already trained more than 5000 people, life coached & spiritual counseled more than 200 people; Conducted specialized programs for medical doctors of Columbia University, NYC; stress mgmt. program for doctors & prof. in PA; intensive customized program for inmates in Trenton, NJ; Healthy Aging Program for seniors in a senior center, new Brunswick, NJ.  

He’s designed and developed programs like Turiya Rest Relaxation Program, Shanti meditation, Personal Transformation Program., Stress Mgmt. Program. ( customized as Personal Stress, Youth Stress, Healthy Aging for seniors, and Corporate Stress mgmt. programs) and Life Coaching ( integral wisdom of east and west delivered includes simple, easy, and effective tools and practices for conscious evolution and transformation)

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