The simple meaning of yoga is union. To be with someone or something is union, and this is yoga. For example if you are hungry and want to have food, being united with food is the appeasement of hunger. If you are tired and want to relax, being united with your bed is also yoga.
Ordinarily people think yoga means physical exercise or breathing techniques, but it is a philosophy of life. It is the art of perfect living. You are continuously united. In every breath you are united with cosmic energy. In every thought you are united with the power of thought. If you have good thoughts then you have more joy. If you have bad thoughts you feel unhappy or demoralized. In daily life we are united with both people and material objects.
The first union begins with the soul and body. If you understand your existence, you realize that you exist because of this union. Your total being is nothing but the union of body and soul; the union of soul with the mind and the union of soul with thought. This union is continuously with you.
The second level of union is the union with breath. You feel union through the
breath when you are united with the outer world, whether it is with family members, friends or colleagues, in the work place in the environment, with different objects, or with material things you have accumulated in your life.
When one observes this union in daily life, one does not feel incomplete, "I do not want to be a limited person, I want to be united with an unlimited source of life and energy." The ultimate state of yoga is to be united with divinity, with God. That is why it is said that the real union between the individual soul and the universal self, or God, is the ultimate end of yoga. Hence, this is the first meaning of yoga as union.
The second meaning of yoga is to discipline your life, discipline your lifestyle, discipline your desires, discipline your day to day activities and discipline your thoughts. Through discipline you can develop a higher state of living and a higher state of consciousness. This art of union, starting with the body, then the outer world and with people, and ultimately God, can be easily experienced and realized if one lives a life of discipline.
The third meaning of yoga is realization. It is said that yoga is the state of realization. Through this union you realize. First you realize that you are the soul living in the body, not the body itself. The body is changing but you are the changeless soul. You are united with the soul. You are also united with family and friends, but that is only temporary. Realize the temporariness of outer relationships and the outer world. To realize the one's essential divinity and to be united with God is the eternal union and the ultimate state of yoga. Yoga is a philosophy of life, and its practical aspect is to do special exercises, special breathing techniques and the special art of meditation. Thus yoga has different levels of understanding.
- Paramhansa Hariharananda of Kriya Yoga
Source: Stitha Prajna Vol 8, Issue 3, April 2010