The above image is a page from the Monier-Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary that contains "yoga."
"yoga: the act of yoking, joining, attaching, harnessing, putting to (of horses); a yoke, team, vehicle, conveyance; employment, use, application, performance; equipping or arraying (of an army); fixing (of an arrow on the bow-string; putting on (of armour)" - excerpt from the Monier-Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary
What is "Yoga"? Like so many other Sanskrit words, there is no single English definition of the concept of "Yoga." Perusing the many definitions in the Monier-Williams English Dictionary, it becomes clear that Yoga's long history and culture shine through many of its meanings.
Funny thing. There's no mention of it as exercise.
This is why I like to call it Yoga, with a big "Y," while the little "y" yoga is what we in the Western world refer to as the asana or postural practice.
One of my favorite definitions from the dictionary is "the union of the soul with matter." There are also many references to astronomy and conjunction.
To be clear, evidence of the postural practice didn't exist until maybe the last few hundred years. That's not a long time for a tradition that's got several thousand years in the books.
So what does Yoga mean really?
To me it means Connection with a big "C." Connecting body, mind, and spirit. Connecting to myself, and to others. Connecting to my environment, the place that I dwell, not only my physical body, but where my body lives on this planet.
But even the word "connection" falls short in my eyes. To me it's more than that. Yes, it's connection, awareness, acknowledgement of other. But it's also engaging, with life and with my community in a way that takes connection a step further.
I think this is why yogis who practice for a long time tend to be more aware of others, listening and interested to their life stories, empathetic to their struggles. We also tend to be aware of how we use material resources, and engage with the planet. And we tend to be the first ones to call for peace, not as a passive way to avoid violence and war, but of choosing another possibility for the sake of everyone.
Because in the end, we're all connected, yoked, if you will, to one another. That's one thing astronauts have commented on. Looking down at Earth from space, they say, it seems so small, and we're all down here living on the same piece of stardust.
Before we break out into "Kumbaya," let me ask you this:
What does Yoga mean to you?