What is Yoga…really? While there is no one right answer, its most cited translation is, ‘to yoke’ or to be in ‘union’ –though this translation does little to uncover and reveal its profound depths.
Yoga has been written about at great length and has innumerable associations ranging from physical techniques, heightened spiritual states and philosophical systems, but much of its modern-day usage has often erred on rather descriptive rhetoric.
English can be partly to blame, as the language is more descriptive and expository in comparison to Sanskrit's depth, which points more to the inherent nature of a thing. Similarly, the growth of the number of yoga teachers has created more interpretations of what yoga is.
Like a finger pointing at the moon, if we remain fixated upon the pointing finger we miss the experience of the moon entirely.
When delving into the mystical depths of yoga, such positive associations do little, rather they can often thwart or even misguide our understanding. If we continue to assign positive definitions, aren't we limiting what we comprehend to be yoga? In doing so, aren't we running the danger of missing the essence of yoga?
Instead of inquiring about what yoga is, is it not more appropriate to describe what it is not? Thereby we give the experience or essence of yoga more space, free from the limiting constructs and associations taken in by the mind.
Patanjali recognized this inherent limitation. In his often quoted and sourced Yoga Sutras, he states in one of the opening verses that yoga is citta vritta nirodha, roughly translating to the restraint or end of all fluctuations of the mind. Here he recognizes the danger of using positive statements to describe something inherently beyond words, but rather says it is beyond all mind (or beyond all thought) leaving the experience of yoga open to a far greater depth –that is everything beyond thought.
Yoga should not be mistaken to be the absence of thought or a thoughtless state, rather a shift away from a thought dominated experience of Self. So it is not that one needs to annihilate the mind in order for yoga to be experienced, but to see the mind as it is.
Gautama the Buddha also taught through negation, which is not negative or nihilistic, but rather one of profound understanding. Enlightenment or nirvana, he said, is the end of suffering. Knowing the complexity of experience and all its associated labels and imagery, the Buddha saw through the intricacies of the mind and without stating what enlightenment is, he pointed to what it is not, making it ungraspable by the confines of mind. The polarity of existence, seen through the divisive mind that creates separation, is a product of its inherent ignorance.
Both systems use negation as a way to bring us closer to understanding our essential nature. By leaving the core teachings as open as the sky, the freedom from labelling and association reveals a hidden truth that lies veiled behind the idea ridden mind.