Again – yoga means union! The word Yoga means union, and comes from "yuj" which means "to join," to bring together into union the various aspects of yourself that were never divided in the first place. From that comes the direct experience of yourself (Self) that is beyond the false identities stemming from the seemingly countless colorings of attraction and aversion. Another, more contemporary adaptation of this principle is the word holistic, meaning to become whole, or to realize your underlying wholeness.
Patanjali describes this in the Yoga Sutras (1.2) where he defines Yoga as the mastery or control (nirodha) of the modifications of the chitta (“stuff” of the mind or mind field), allowing the true Self to then come shining through (1.3). Patanjali also explains that the purpose of Yoga is discrimination (viveka) among the inner processes (Sutras 2.26-2.29). Similar processes of mastering and/or integrating the mind may be a part of some religions, but that does not mean that regulating your mind in this way is, in itself, a religion.
Yoga and religion both share many common virtues. As with many religions, yoga also recommends meditation on, and cultivation of lovingness, compassion, goodwill and acceptance, as well as non-violence, truthfulness, training the senses, non-possessiveness, and other such virtues (see Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.33, 2.30-2.32). So although, religions and yoga both recommend cultivating such virtues, it is self evident that cultivating these ways of being or living are not themselves religion. When these are practiced in yoga, the subtler, finer, truer aspects of our being are revealed, and this may or may not be seen in the context of religion.
By definition, is yoga a religion?
1. According to Encarta World English Dictionary, religion posits that people's beliefs and opinions concern the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and in human life.
2. Religion adheres to a particular institutionalized or personal system of beliefs and practices relating to the divine.
3. Religions establish a set of strongly-held beliefs, values, and attitudes that somebody lives by.
Fortunately, most people have a working, day-to-day, common language sense of the meaning of a religion, and it simply does not apply to yoga.
Coming next, part 3 of "Yoga – Is It a Religion?"
Rae Indigo is ERYT 500