Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word yug, which means “to yoke.” This is a term we’re familiar with from the Bible (Phil. 4:2; Matt. 11:9). A yoke is a crossbar that joins two draft animals at the neck so they can work together; the term, therefore, is applied metaphorically to people being joined together or united in a cause. In Hinduism, as in many religions, union is desired with nothing less than God or the Absolute, and yoga is the system that Hindus have developed to achieve that end.
The historic purpose behind yoga, therefore, is to achieve union with the Hindu concept of God. This is the purpose behind virtually all of the Eastern varieties of yoga, including those we encounter in the West. This does not mean it is the purpose of every practitioner of yoga, for many people clearly are not practicing it for spiritual reasons but merely to enhance their physical appearance, ability, or health. The thesis I will be arguing in this three-part series, however, is that when someone participates in a practice that was developed with a specific purpose in mind by someone else, it is possible and even probable that on subtle levels the participant who does not have the original purpose in mind nonetheless will be moved along in the direction of fulfilling that purpose.