- 1: a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation
- 2: a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being
Yoga (Sanskrit, Pāli: योग, yoga) is commonly known as a generic term for a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline originating in ancient India and found in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Specifically, Yoga is one of the six orthodox schools in Hindu philosophy. It is based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and aims to use meditation to attain spiritual insight and tranquility.
The Sanskrit word yoga has the literal meaning of "yoke", from a root yuj meaning 'to join', 'to unite', or 'to attach'. As a term for a system of abstract meditation or mental abstraction it was introduced by Patañjali in the 2nd century BC. Someone who practices yoga or follows the yoga philosophy with a high level of commitment is called a yogi or yogini.
Within Hindu philosophy, the word yoga is used to refer to one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Hindu philosophy. Yoga in this sense is based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and is also known as Rāja Yoga to distinguish it from later schools. Patanjali's system is discussed and elaborated upon in many classical Hindu texts, and has also been influential in Buddhism and Jainism. The Bhagavad Gita introduces distinctions such as Jnana Yoga ("yoga based on knowledge") vs. Karma Yoga ("yoga based on action").
In Vedic Sanskrit, the term "yoga" besides its literal meaning, the yoking or harnessing of oxen or horses, already has a figurative sense, where it takes the general meaning of "employment, use, application, performance" (compare the figurative uses of "to harness" as in "to put something to some use"). All further developments of the sense of this word are post-Vedic. A sense of "exertion, endeavour, zeal, diligence" is found in Epic Sanskrit.
There are a great many compounds containing yog in Sanskrit. Yoga in these words takes meanings such as "union, connection, contact", or "method, application, performance", etc. For example, guṇá-yoga means "contact with a cord"; cakrá-yoga has a medical sense of "applying a splint or similar instrument by means of pulleys (in case of dislocation of the thigh)"; candrá-yoga has the astronomical sense of "conjunction of the moon with a constellation"; puṃ-yoga is a grammatical term expressing "connection or relation with a man", etc.
Many such compounds are also found in the wider field of religion. Thus, bhakti-yoga means "devoted attachment" in the monotheistic Bhakti movement. The term kriyā-yoga has a grammatical sense, meaning "connection with a verb". But the same compound is also given a technical meaning in the Yoga Sutras (2.1), designating the "practical" aspects of the philosophy, i.e. the "union with the Supreme" due to performance of duties in everyday life.
The aim of yoga is varied and range from improving health to achieving moksha. Within the Hindu monist schools of Advaita Vedanta, Shaivism and Jainism, the aim of yoga takes the form of moksha, which is liberation from all worldly identification and the cycle of birth and death (samsara), at which point there is a realization of identity with the Supreme Brahman. In the Mahabharata, the aim of yoga is variously described as entering the world of Brahma, as Brahman, or as perceiving the Brahman or Ātman that pervades all things. For the bhakti schools of Vaishnavism, bhakti or service to Svayam Bhagavan itself may be the ultimate aim of the yoga process, where the aim is to enjoy an eternal relationship with Vishnu. The aim of yoga, or of the person practicing yoga, is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility through meditating on the Hindu concept of divinity or Brahman.
A serious practitioner of Yoga (someone pursuing the higher spiritual and religious aims of Yoga) takes upon themselves a life of austere self-discipline common to nearly all forms of mystical and religious life. The practices at the foundation of this self-disciplined life are called in yoga yama and niyama. This self-discipline is the 'yoke' that one puts upon oneself for the purpose of attaining moksha. An alternative definition is that Yoga is the method of yoking, or unifying, the "lower" (egoistic) personality (those inclinations that in Hellenistic philosophy and Christianity are called passions) to the "higher" via a process of sublimation.