There are many ways to define Yoga by modern standards.
In essence, however, Yoga is a lifestyle choice marked by striving to be the best human being that one is capable of being in this lifetime.
The aim of the lifestyle/practice is to move from simply existing as a basic conditioned animal in the world, to truly living as an enlightened human being while embodied here on Earth. And, there are many routes for achieving this goal. The most clearly laid out pathway, however, is called the Eightfold Path.
In his/her lifetime, a person can strive to perfect one, or several, of the different areas that are possible in their overall self-development as laid out by the Eightfold Path, but it is only when all eight possible areas of development are perfected, according to Raja (or Royal) Yoga, that one truly graduates to reach their highest potential.
So, What, According To These Eight Areas On The Eightfold Path, is “Yoga?”
- Yoga Is Yamas (Restraints/Self-Control): This is the practice of being a morally sound individual who is non-violent, truthful, self-controlled, non-stealing, non-greedy/non-attached to things, people, places, or to his or her own ego.
- Yoga Is Niyamas (Duties): This is the practice of having habits that include self-purification (which goes beyond cleanliness of the body and the mind to mean not being contaminated by false senses of self/ego and remaining connected with the ultimate Truth of the Self and our collective oneness), contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and devotion to a higher purpose/practice.
- Yoga Is Asanas (Posture/Developed Through Poses): This is the practice of maintaining good physical health and optimal posture through proper self-care, physical activity, and stretching.
- Yoga Is Pranayamas (Breath/Life-Force Energy Control): This is the practice of optimal, proper, and “elevated” breathing for the maintenance of a healthy body and mind, and the effective flow of one’s life-force energy.
- Yoga is Pratyahara (Withdrawal Of The Senses): This is the practice of being in full control of all of one’s five senses and desires and learning to withdraw ones attention from the outside world to focus inward.
- Yoga is Dharana (Single-Pointed Focus/Concentration): This is the practice of being self-aware and cultivating concentration and a focused mind.
- Yoga is Dhyana (Meditation/Total Absorption): This is the practice of immersive contemplation (marked by deep concentration on spiritual things). Meditation is creating a completely concentrated/focused and clear mind so that only higher states of consciousness can be experinced.
- Yoga is Samadhi (Total Self-Collectedness/Merging With The True Self): This is, through being devoted/committed to connecting with one’s Divine aspects/expressions, obtaining a state of complete absorption on the object/subject of one’s focus. This is the destination of the Eightfold Path, marked by the beauty of becoming prepared for the Self to transcend its Earthly states of consciousness to obtain union with the Divine aspect/expression.
The Eightfold Path teaches us that all of these aims are individually possible in one lifetime and within one person.
It is only when one manages to have all of the limbs on the path mastered (and not just one or a few), however, by remaining mindful and practicing consistently each day, that he/she will then obtain the ultimate goal of being a fully Self-Realized human being who has achieved their highest potential in their lifetime.
This Self-Realization is the aim of Yoga (a word that means Union). No matter what your path may look like, the aim of Yoga/Union is always the same.