by Constance Bourg
In the modern world, yoga is often nothing more than a way to keep stress at bay and to keep fit, hence the spelling of the word without a capital letter Y. Nevertheless, the rich philosophy that inspires this discipline is clearly reflected in its name. Yoga. Yoga with a capital Y. What does it mean?
The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word yoga is yoke. Yoga stems from the root yuj, which means to unite or to attach. In Hindu philosophy this concept of uniting is especially mentioned in reference to something that is called Atman and Paratman. Here yoga becomes Yoga.
What is Paratman?
Paratman is the ultimate source of energy, or Prana, which means a vital energy force that sustains life. Many different life philosophies contain similar concepts of vital energy, and they all have their own names for the force. In Chinese philosophy it is called Chi or Qi. In religious philosophies it is called God. Prana is used according to Hindu traditions.
What is Atman?
Atman means self. It is the essence of an individual outside of the body. Atman is spiritual existence. When Atman leaves the body, the body will die. In other words Atman could be seen as the soul of an individual.
The ultimate goal of Yoga is to unite Atman and Paratman.
To achieve this ultimate goal we need a body that is perfectly healthy, a mind that is perfectly pure, and an intellect that is perfectly trained. The practice of Yoga is designed to help purify the body and mind and to develop the necessary intellect.
Even in the modern world, Yoga can be seen as a philosophy of personal development. Regular practice enhances the physical condition, contributes to emotional balance, and strengthens the intellectual development.