Most people in the West are introduced to yoga by way of yoga asana, or physical postures. But the practice of yoga is much more diverse than that. In fact, yoga is actually a lifestyle more so than a 'thing you do' - it's philosophy is something that permeates the lives of dedicated practitioners.
One of the magical things about yoga is that this permeation begins in trickles. Just a few yoga classes are enough to stir up your soul and create open space for the teachings of yoga to seep into. The philosophy of yoga is accepting of this slow absorption; there is no expectation that students dive into the practice and adopt the teachings immediately. For most yogis the practice means different things at different times in their lives. And some teachings will be more relevant to one person than another. In yoga, this is ok; it's all part of one's life journey.
To begin learning more about the path of yoga we must first explore the meaning of the word.
The English translation of yoga is "union". Since the ultimate goal of yoga is enlightenment, union refers to uniting the physical, worldly self with the True Self, the Absolute or a Collective Consciousness.
The concept of union also makes it's way into other, more literal parts of yoga. You may hear a teacher asking you to unite the body, breath and mind in triputi. Or you may hear reference to the fact that "we are all one", i.e. we are united with those around us. For the most part, people who practice yoga in the West, do so as householders. Meaning, they incorporate the teachings of yoga into their lifestyle while working and living their lives as usual. In this common scenario each of us seeks a type of union between the modern world we live in and the ancient, yet still relevant, teachings of yoga philosophy.
Perhaps the next time you sit for meditation or asana practice you can ponder the word yoga, union. What type of union are you seeking? What type of union do you experience through yoga? This contemplation on the meaning of yoga may leave you with more questions than answers but that curiosity is, afterall, the reason you're on this path...