Updated: Aug 6
For my first real blog post here, I can't imagine writing about anything other than the idea of "union". This is because yoga originally means "union" in Sanskrit.
Yoga is excellent as a physical activity or activity for general well-being, however, it is sometimes forgotten that yoga essentially is a way of life if embraced beyond the mat.
Yoga isn't a religion, but rather a philosophy or pursuit which is expressed in various ways. Yoga isn't just what we know on the mat in the form of asana (poses).
Pranayama (breathwork) and meditation is a part of yoga - but more than that, most things in life can be considered a part of a yoga lifestyle depending on the underlying intent. Yoga is thus, in my opinion, a way of life. There are 4 different paths and 8 limbs which all are various ways to practice yoga (more about this here).
As mentioned, the original meaning of "yoga" is that of union... union specifically with Divinity or Supreme Consciousness. This doesn't mean that it has to be what you seek union with - it's fine to use yoga in a religious or spiritual way, but it's also fine to use it for personal growth without attaching a religious or spiritual meaning to it.
To one person, Divinity might be literal and take the form of a deity or personified primordial power or consciousness. To someone else, it might mean their own inner Best Self or their own inner power - physical, mental or both. To yet another, they might seek union to 'calm', the present moment, or just the idea of healing. The beauty of language, introspection and growth is that the word "Divinity" or the words "Supreme Consciousness" can mean many things and there isn't necessarily one right answer.
Yoga philosophy and philosophy of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) operate within the same 'system'. You don't have to consider yourself Hindu to practice yoga, but I think it might help to understand what "Hinduism" is to understand the practice of yoga which was born from the same area and world view. I'll use the word "Hinduism" here as it is more commonly known, at least in the west.
Hinduism doesn't present itself as a religion - more than anything, it is a philosophy or a pursuit for truth. You can be an atheist Hindu, or you can be a Hindu that believes in one, or several, deities. "There are many paths up the mountain" is an excellent example of Hindu belief. The beautiful meaning is, of course, that we can all relate to reality and the human condition in many different ways, but as long as we're on a journey, we will make our way up the mountain. There is no value attributed to the different approaches up. You can believe in actual humanized deities, or concepts of power and physical laws, or nothing beyond science as we know it. To use a goddess, Parvati, as an example: she can be a literal female deity, a personified primordial power or concept, or even that inner part of you that is feminine and creative - a metaphor or an analogy. As long as you follow a certain way of life, you are Hindu. Now let's bring that back to yoga and the idea of union...
In my view, there is no need to remove yoga from its original meaning; there is a lot of debate surrounding the idea of cultural appropriation in regards to yoga, etc... but that's a post for another day. My point is just this: you can honour yoga philosophy by learning about it, and then applying it to your own circumstance and frame of reference. In that way, you honour the very core of yoga as it was developed in the past and bring it into your now.
So... what do you seek union with? If you're unsure, I suggest you meditate on it, or bring it onto your mat, or even journal about it... I think it might bring another level of intention into your practice, if that's what you seek.
Thanks for reading and feel free to share what you seek union with in the comments if you feel comfortable doing so.
Ps. Feel free to watch my rant about the subject here. Thanks!