In Vedic Sanskrit, yoga (from the root yuj) means
“to add”, “to join”, “to unite”, or “to attach”
in its most common literal sense.
By figurative extension from the yoking or harnessing of oxen or horses, the word took on broader meanings such as “employment, use, application, performance” (compare the figurative uses of “to harness” as in “to put something to some use”). All further developments of the sense of this word are post-Vedic. More prosaic moods such as “exertion”, “endeavour”, “zeal”, and “diligence” are also found in Indian epic poetry.
There are very many compound words containing yoga in Sanskrit.
Yoga can take on meanings such as “connection”, “contact”, “union”, “method”, “application”, “addition” and “performance”. In simpler words, Yoga also means “combined”. For example, gunáyoga means “contact with a cord”; chakráyoga has a medical sense of “applying a splint or similar instrument by means of pulleys (in case of dislocation of the thigh)”; chandráyoga has the astronomical sense of “conjunction of the moon with a constellation”; pumyoga is a grammatical term expressing “connection or relation with a man”, etc. Thus, bhaktiyoga means “devoted attachment” in the monotheistic Bhakti movement. The term kriyayoga has a grammatical sense, meaning “connection with a verb”. But the same compound is also given a technical meaning in the Yoga Sutras, designating the “practical” aspects of the philosophy, i.e. the “union with the supreme” due to performance of duties in everyday life.
According to Panini, a 6th-century BCE Sanskrit grammarian, the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samadhau (to concentrate). In the context of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the root yuj samadhau (to concentrate) is considered by traditional commentators as the correct etymology. In accordance with Panini, Vyasa who wrote the first commentary on the Yoga Sutras, states that yoga means samadhi (concentration).
According to Dasgupta, the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samadhau (to concentrate). Someone who practices yoga or follows the yoga philosophy with a high level of commitment is called a yogi (may be applied to a man or a woman) or yogini (traditionally denoting a woman).
The ultimate goal of Yoga is moksha (liberation), although the exact definition of what form this takes depends on the philosophical or theological system with which it is conjugated.
According to Jacobsen, “Yoga has five principal meanings:
- Yoga as a disciplined method for attaining a goal;
- Yoga as techniques of controlling the body and the mind;
- Yoga as a name of one of the schools or systems of philosophy (darsana);
- Yoga in connection with other words, such as “hatha-, mantra-, and laya-,” referring to traditions specializing in particular techniques of yoga;
- Yoga as the goal of Yoga practice.”
- Yoga as an analysis of perception and cognition;
- illustration of this principle is found in Hindu texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and Yogasutras, as well as a number of Buddhist Mahayana works;
- Yoga as the rising and expansion of consciousness; these are discussed in sources such as Hinduism Epic Mahabharata, Jainism Prasamaratiprakarana;
- Yoga as a path to omniscience; examples are found in Hinduism Nyaya and Vaisesika school texts as well as Buddhism Madhyamaka texts, but in different ways;
- Yoga as a technique for entering into other bodies, generating multiple bodies, and the attainment of other supernatural accomplishments;
- these are described in Tantric literature of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the Buddhist Samaññaphalasutta;
White clarifies that the last principle relates to legendary goals of “yogi practice”, different from practical goals of “yoga practice,” as they are viewed in South Asian thought and practice since the beginning of the Common Era, in the various Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain philosophical schools.