According to Paramahansa Yogananda, “an Indian yogi and guru”:
“Yoga means union. Etymologically, it is connected to the English word, yoke. Yoga means union with God, or, union of the little, ego-self with the divine Self, the infinite Spirit. Most people in the West, and also many in India, confuse Yoga with Hatha Yoga, the system of bodily postures.
But Yoga is primarily a spiritual discipline . I don’t mean to belittle the Yoga postures. Hatha Yoga is a wonderful system. The body, moreover, is a part of our human nature, and must be kept fit lest it obstruct our spiritual efforts. Devotees, however, who are bent on finding God give less importance to the Yoga postures. Nor is it strictly necessary that they practice them. Hatha Yoga is the physical branch of Raja Yoga, the true science of Yoga. Raja Yoga is a system of meditation techniques that help to harmonize human consciousness with the divine consciousness.
I never quite understood the philosophical or spiritual aspects of a Yoga practice, as my initial motivation was to explore Yoga Asanas for health benefits – the Hatha and Vinyasa style, tools to take care of your body – the vessel that brings you through this life.
However, thanks to Yoga Teacher Training, students/ practitioners like myself have gotten a little glimpse into the profound traditional practice that is “Yoga”.
To be a miner of diamonds,
take care of your picks and shovels.
To be a miner of your spiritual Self,
take care of your body, breath, and mind.
But don’t confuse the tools and the goals.
The goal of Yoga (union) is Yoga (union), period.
– Hatha Yoga Pradpika
I’ve learned that there are 4 Paths of Yoga – that is, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga.
Confused yet? Don’t be.
You may be surprised that the “Asana” of Yoga – which are the poses that we practice in modern Yoga studios actually fall under “Raja Yoga” – under the 8 Limbs of Patanjali, namely “Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi”.
Well if you’re interested in traditional Yoga and it’s philosophy – there are lots of books out there – I myself am still slowly discovering them. Really detailed and interesting read on the topic here:Swamij