Throughout my yoga teacher training we returned to the question of defining yoga many times. With different teachers. From the perspective of different teachings. We also compared definitions from different points in history.
The simplest definition of yoga is the origin of the word itself. Yoga derives from the word yuj which means to join. That is, yoga unites the body and the mind through the breath. This is represented by joining the thumb and index finger in meditation. It can also be thought of as the union of the the individual conciousness with the universal consciousness.
World famous yogi Indra Devi once said:
"Yoga is the uniting of the consciousness in the heart".
Humans like to define things. When someone is asked the question "are you a feminist?" the answer (especially when the answer is yes) most often includes a definition of the word itself.
I like the challenge of defining of yoga. The richness of the word. This is no competition for a more correct definition. Only different ways to express an experience. Thanks to yoga being so personal and different for each person, there are endless amounts of yoga poetry out there. I never get tired of discovering new ones. There is such a great variety. Some are especially beautiful.
One of my personal favourites has long been this one by Erich Schiffman:
"Yoga is a way of moving into stillness in order to experience the truth of who you really are."
However, just recently I think I have found my favourite one so far.
Thank you Geeta Iengar.
"Yoga is the union of the soul with the eternal truth, a state of unalloyed bliss, arising from conquest of dualities. The study of Yoga discipline sharpens the power of discernment and leads towards understanding the true nature of the soul which cannot be fully comprehended by the senses or the intellect alone. The study of Yoga enables one to attain the pure state of consciousness and to realize the Inner Self.
Yoga frees one from life's sorrows and from the diseases and fluctuations of the mind. It gives serenity and composure, an inward unity amidst the diverse struggle of life. It is the art of knowing oneself and knowing the eternal truth. Yoga is the study of the functioning of the body, the mind and the intellect in the process of attaining freedom. It is the experience of one's self-acquired knowledge, and not the result of book-learning,of battling with logic, or of theoretical argumentation. Yoga is a philosophy, a way of life, wherein art and science meet."