Friday, April 17, 2009

The Meaning of Yoga

What a journey a word can make,
its meaning evolving over the years.

The word "silly" once meant blessed or happy.

"Nice" used to stand in for foolish.

The words "awful," "brave" and "sophisticated" have each made a 180 degree rotation to mean the opposite of what they once did.

A "girl" was once a child of either sex until "boy" came along.

In North America a homely person is ugly. In the Britain such a person is understood to be simply a good homemaker and someone to be admired.

And in all this, how did the noble word "yoga" come to be just an excersize at the rec centre? Its present common usage is a mighty fall from its Sanskrit origins.

The Sanskrit language is the ancient and sacred language of India and the mother of most Indo-European tongues including English. In Sanskrit, "yoga" means a spiritual union. The same meaning holds true in English. As the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, yoga is a "Union with the Supreme Spirit." This is its true meaning in both English and Sanskrit and the dozen other languages that share this special word.

Consider the word "yoke" – the device that connects two animals for the purpose of pulling a cart. Consider also the word "lock." All three – yoke and lock and yoga – derive from the same Sanskrit term. They are all about connection and becoming one.

As our language evolves, some things are lost. The meanings we endow to our words reflect our aspirations. If we only yearn the mundane, those are the meanings that our words will retain.

When we want to talk about our desire to reach God, why are we are undersood to be talking about breathing excersizes – a concern for the body and not the spirit?

Yoga – connection and union – when all else is said and done, is that not the one thing we really want?

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