is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, to direct
and concentrate one's attention on, to use and apply. It also means union or communion. It
is the true union of our will with the will of God. 'It thus means,' says Mahadev Desai in
his introduction to the Gita according to Gandhi, 'the yoking of all the powers of body,
mind and soul to God; it means the disciplining of the intellect, the mind, the emotions,
the will, which that Yoga presupposes; it means a poise of the soul which enables one to
look at life in all its aspects evenly.'
Yoga is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy. It was collated, co-ordinate
and systematized by Patanjali in his classical work, the Yoga Sutras, which consists of
185 terse aphorisms. In Indian thought, everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal
Spirit (Paramatma or God) of which the individual human spirit (jivatma) is a part. The
system of yoga is so called because it teaches the means by which the jivatma can be
united to, or be in communion with the Paramatma, and so secure liberation (moksa). One who follows the path of Yoga is a yogi or yogini.
In the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, which is the most important authority on Yoga
philosophy, Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna the meaning of Yoga as a deliverance from
contact with pain and sorrow. It is said:
'When his mind, intellect and self (ahamkara) are under control, freed from restless
desire, so that they rest in the spirit within, a man becomes a Yukta -- one in communion
with God. A lamp does not flicker in a place where no winds blow; so it is with a yogi,
who controls his mind, intellect and self, being absorbed in the spirit within him. When
the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of Yoga,
the yogi by the grace of the Spirit within himself finds fulfillment. Then he knows the
joy eternal which is beyond the pale of the senses which his reason cannot grasp. He
abides in this reality and moves not therefrom. He has found the treasure above all
others. There is nothing higher than this. He who has achieved it, shall not be moved by
the greatest sorrow. This is the real meaning of Yoga -- a deliverance from contact with
pain and sorrow.'
As a well cut diamond has many facets, each reflecting a different colour of light, so
does the word yoga, each facet reflecting a different shade of meaning and revealing
different aspects of the entire range of human endeavor to win inner peace and happiness.
The Bhagavad Gita also gives other explanations of the term yoga and lays stress upon
Karma Yoga (Yoga by action). It is said: 'Work alone is your privilege, never the fruits
thereof. Never let the fruits of action be your motive; and never cease to work. Work in
the name of the Lord, abandoning selfish desires. Be not affected by success or failure.
This equipoise is called Yoga.'
Yoga has also been described as wisdom in work or skillful living amongst activities,
harmony and moderation. 'Yoga is not for him who gorges too much, nor for him who starves
himself. It is not for him who sleeps too much, nor for him who stays awake. By moderation
in eating and in resting, by regulation in working and by concordance in sleeping and
waking, Yoga destroys all pain and sorrow.'
The Kathopanishad describes Yoga thus: 'When the senses are stilled, when the mind is at
rest, when the intellect wavers not-then, say the wise, is reached the highest stage. This
steady control of the senses and mind has been defined as Yoga. He who attains it is free
In the second aphorism of the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes Yoga
as 'chitta vrtti nirodhah'. This may be translated as the restraint (nirodhah) of mental
(chitta) modifications (vrtti) or as suppression (nirodhah) of the fluctuations (vrtti) of
consciousness (chitta). The word chitta denotes the mind in its total or collective sense
as being composed of three categories: (a) mind (manas, that is, the individual mind
having the power and faculty of attention, selection and rejection; it is the oscillating
indecisive faculty of the mind); (b) intelligence or reason (buddhi, that is, the decisive
state which determines the distinction between things) and (c) ego (ahamkara, literally
the I-maker, the state which ascertains that 'I know').
The word vrtti is derived from the Sanskrit root vrt meaning to turn, to revolve, to roll
on. It thus means course of action, behavior, mode of being, condition or mental state.
Yoga is the method by which the restless mind is calmed and the energy directed into
constructive channels. As a mighty river which when properly harnessed by dams and canals,
creates a vast reservoir of water, prevents famine and provides abundant power for
industry; so also the mind, when controlled, provides a reservoir of peace and generates
abundant energy for human uplift.
The problem of controlling the mind is not capable of easy solution, as borne out by the
following dialogue in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna asks Sri Krishna:
'Krishna, you have told me of Yoga as a communion with Brahman (the Universal Spirit),
which is ever one. But how can this be permanent, since the mind is so restless and
inconsistent? The mind is impetuous and stubborn, strong and willful, as difficult to
harness as the wind.' Sri Krishna replies: 'Undoubtedly, the mind is restless and hard to
control. But it can be trained by constant practice (abhyasa) and by freedom from desire
(vairagya). A man who cannot control his mind will find it difficult to attain this divine
communion; but the self-controlled man can attain it if he tries hard and directs his
energy by the right means.'