The word yoga comes from the Sanscrit (and is a derivation of the Proto-Indo-European yugam, from a root yueg. Sanscrit yuj) and it means ‘to join or unite’ (Latin iugum and modern English yoke). What is being ‘yoked’ in the practice of yoga is the whole person – body, mind and heart and the whole person is being yoked to reality.
‘The Rig Veda’ contains the first known written reference to yoga (circa 3500 years old). In this text the term is used in the sense of ‘act of yoking, joining, attaching, harnessing’. But also ‘undertaking, work, action’. In the ‘Mahabarata’ (400-100 BCE) of Vyasa, the mental sense of the work appears as ‘exertion, zeal and diligence’. The spiritual or mystical sense of meditation or contemplation appears in the ‘Upanishads’ (800-100 BCE) and the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ section of the Mahabarata especially. The ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ (200 BCE – 300 CE) and the ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ (15th Century CE) also discuss the concepts and teachings of yoga. Archeological artifacts of 5000BC from the Indus Valley or Harrapan Civilization; now Pakistan, show people sitting in various asanas (cross-legged) for meditation.
Yoga is not a religious practice in itself although it annexes itself to religions or philosophies as it did in early Hindu and Buddhist cultures. Today it but can be found in different forms and under different names in the various faiths expressed in the human family.
There are many paths within Yoga; the most well known being the befriending of the body (hatha yoga) and the befriending of the spacious wisdom-compassion aspect of the mind (jnana yoga). There is also the path of coming to wholeness through work (karma yoga), through devotion (bhakti yoga), through study of the scriptures or sutras (raja yoga), through the understanding of our vital and sexual energies (tantra yoga) and through a relationship with a teacher (guru yoga.) In the Hindu and Buddhist systems these yogas are an interrelated web of paths that work together as supports on the path to wholeness.