Meaning of Yoga, branches of Yoga and Patanjali Sutras

One of the most famous stories of  Greek mythology is of the Minotaur. Daedalus, the best craftsman ever lived, builds a labyrinth to entrap it. Fatefully, Daedalus and his son fall prisoner to the twisted pathways of the labyrinth, but finally, he escapes by stitching feathers together and flies away. Likewise, yoga is this magical wing that can make us jump to our freedom from the clutches of our minds.  However, there are different kinds of yoga that help us immensely. The meaning of yoga, irrespective of its kind, is to unify the body and soul.

The ever-wandering mind is easily pliable to the perils of overthinking and stress that can dampen our happy life. This is where the life-changing art of yoga swoops in and saves the day!

What is the meaning of yoga?

Firstly, yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word ‘Yuj’. The meaning of yoga in Sanskrit is ‘to unify, join or yoke’. The literal meaning of yoga is ‘union’. To sum up, It is all about uniting your body with your athma/atma. So, it is a beautiful journey of self-realization where you discover the wonder that your mind is. Through various breathing techniques and asana, one can tie down his ever-wandering mind. 

The person who achieves this feat of oneness is a yogi and is one step closer to moksha. Further, Yoga Nidra is one of the techniques in yoga. The meaning of yoga Nidra or yogic sleep is that it is a state of consciousness where we’re fully awake yet deeply relaxed. Moreover, the ultimate goal is freedom and from this freedom stems self-realization. Knowing ourselves can be one of the best virtues we could possess and yoga gives us just this!

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


If there’s ever been a book that is sacred to the yogic life, it is the “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.”  Through its 196 sutras, it teaches us the true meaning of yoga. It remains one of the most translated works among the Indian ancient texts. Most probably, this sacred work is written around 400 BCE.

To borrow a line from the book,” yogas Chitta vritti nirodha” refers to the quieting of the mind to experience self-realization at its truest essence. This is the way Patanjali himself explained the meaning of yoga. I.K Taimni, a prominent scholar in the field of yoga translates it as “Yoga is the inhibition (nirodhaḥ) of the modifications (vṛtti) of the mind (Citta)“.

It shows that calming one’s mind is the crux of this sacred practice. We seek out this ritual to drive away from the demons that haunt our minds. The book has also added to the meaning of yoga education and has wonderfully set down the ways to impart its goodness to others.

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The branches of yoga and what they mean

Broadly speaking, people all over the world praticse six kinds of yoga. The meaning of yoga is to bring us one step closer to divinities in us and all this kind of yoga does just that, while they may significantly differ in their techniques, but give you the same endpoint- a calm and restrained mind. Here are the different branches of yoga according to what they stand for.

 The meaning of Hatha Yoga

The word “ha” means sun, and “ta” means moon. Therefore literally the word “Hatha” means to strike a balance between the sun (Pingala) and the moon (Ida) in you. In other interpretations, the word ‘Hatha’ means force which speaks about its importance to physical aspects. It tries to balance our left and right channels, called nadis.

More often it is seen as a preparatory ritual. A process that makes us better suited for the better possibilities that life could surprise us with. It gives us a glimpse of a better version of ourselves. Some of the poses of this kind are Tadasana (mountain pose), Vrikshasana (tree pose), and Uttanasana (standing forward bend).

 The meaning of Vinyasa Yoga

Vinyasa is a Sanskrit word that is derived from the suffix ‘Vi’ which means variation, and the suffix ’Nyasa’ which means “to place”. This kind of yoga is all about flow. It is a fluid motion, as well as a transition from one pose to another. 

It teaches us about the enlightened state of mind where we’re aware of our actions. In its repetitive motion, we find a rhythm that teaches us the importance of continuity in all things. The vinyasas are progressive steps in a sequence of poses that hold a strange beauty in their fluidity. Some of its poses are Kumbakasana (plank pose) and Bhujangasana (cobra pose).

The meaning of Karma Yoga

Karma is something we all know about- the repercussions of our actions. But what is Karma Yoga?  Like the word suggests it is the yoga of our action or work. It significantly differs from other kinds of yoga. It doesn’t involve bodily poses but is more of an exercise of our inner goodness. Rather than exercising our bodies, we try to test our selflessness. It is a path of service to others, where we cleanse our soul through helping the needy. 

Karma, as we know, is both the cause and consequence of our deeds. We are just a speck in the wheel of karma. There is a belief that by practising Karma Yoga, we can stop the never-ending cycle of our karma. It is a process of distancing ourselves from our ego, which only thinks of “I”. When we place all things in the hands of the divine, we can bring a stop to this. This is a humble and selfless way to achieve a near-perfection in our senses.

Karma yoga could even mean the smallest of the services. It needn’t be a grand or elaborate gesture. Even something as small as saying a good word to others counts as Karma yoga. 

Karma yoga believes that one only gets richer by giving and it is a very healthy way of life; Healthy for the mind, because we’ll be in a place with less ego and more humility. 

The meaning of Sankhya Yoga

Sankhya or Samkhya is a Sanskrit word that closely resembles the act of deliberation through numerical methods. According to Hindu philosophy, it is an act of rational judgment. The philosophy has numerical reasons as its basis. It is considered the best kind among all kinds of yogas. If you know Sankhya yoga, then you need no other yoga! The second chapter of Bhagavad Gita speaks of this Yoga explicitly.

According to its philosophy, the universe is made of two realities; Purusha( the consciousness) and Prakriti( the matter). The literal meaning of Sankhya is the segregation between these two realities. Jeeva (the living) is the manifestation of the state in which Purusha and Prakriti are bound. It explains the constituent principles (tattvas) of the universe. 

The meaning of Kriya Yoga

Kriya yoga, found by Paramahansa Yogananda, means “action, deed, or effort”.  This yoga is practised to achieve a specific result. There are three types of Kriya mentioned in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali; asceticism, study, and devotion. 

It contains many different mantras, mudras (the use of hand motions during meditation to channel your body’s energy flow). Over the ages, more than 100 different mudras have evolved along with pranayama. By practising this, one can rapidly increase one’s spiritual journey. It is a meditation ritual that extensively controls our energy by using techniques like pranayama and mantras. 

The meaning of Jnana Yoga

Jnana is the Sanskrit word for knowledge or wisdom. Jnana Yoga simply means the “path of knowledge”. It is a journey of self-realization. It is the intellectual way of attaining moksha. In this journey, one needs to immerse oneself in introspection.

It was first mentioned in Bhagavad Gita. Even though it involves extensive learning of the scriptures, it needn’t be seen as solely theoretical. The knowledge when put to practical use is when one has achieved what he set forth to do.

This kind of yoga holds the mind at high pedestals. Its philosophy is deeply entrenched in the belief that the mind alone can decipher its mysteries. Also, Advaita Vedanta speaks highly of this kind of practice. It says that the knowledge one attains through introspection is identical to the ultimate reality.

The meaning of Ashtanga Yoga

The word “Ashta” means Eight and “Anga” means limbs, which etymologically means the word means the eight limbs. Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras calls Ashtanga Yoga to be the categorization of yoga into eight. They are; Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.

different Stages of Yoga

Graphics by: Sharmili Maji (simi_8854)

All of them are considered to be as equally important as the others. Each forms an integral part of yoga. It could be said that yoga is seen as incomplete without any one of these. Yamas are considered to be the rules we are bound to, the moral scruples that make us human. Niyama, the second of the limbs as classified by Patanjali, speaks about the virtues that one must possess to lead a content life. 

 The meaning of yoga asana is that it is a definite posture that one needs to hold for some time while being relaxed. It doesn’t cause pain and aims at being comforting. It’s an effortless practice that puts one at ease. Pranayama is a technique where one exercises control over his breathing. With measured breathing methods like inhalation, exhalation, and full pause, one can calm himself.

Pratyahara speaks about the importance of distancing oneself from worldly pleasures. With stronger self-restraint comes heightened understanding and freedom to one’s mind. Dharana means concentration and stresses the importance of holding steadfast to his thought with unwavering focus.

In the last of the eight limbs, it is the Samadhi that speaks of the state of complete meditation. In this state, there is no distinguishing between the act of meditation and yogi. One is immersed in the contemplation that he loses track of his physical body.

The meaning of Bhakti yoga

Bhakti yoga, one of the three yogas mentioned in Bhagavad Gita, speaks about attaining moksha through complete faith and devotion in the divinities above. Etymologically, the word derives its root from the word “bhaj” which means to” divide or share” which also stands for an act of devotion or love in its most sincere form.

Bhakti yoga is a spiritual journey that brings together the body and the soul. It is an enriching experience that provides an understanding of our true selves and makes peace with the divine. According to Bhagavad Gita, there are four kinds of people who seek bhakti-yoga. Some do it for relieving themselves of their mental anguish and see this ritual as a way out. The next kind is merely curious about this. They want to increase their knowledge and learn about this ritual

The third kind seeks this yoga for being rewarded in their afterlife. Its staunch followers believe that moksha can be attained through this. The final kind does it out of their love for the gods and nothing more. And they are said to be rewarded in the truest because they do not seek anything in the first place. Nonetheless, Bhagavad Gita recognizes all these four to be very noble purposes.

The meaning of Yogakshemam Vahamyaham

Ananyāśh chintayanto māṁ ye janāḥ paryupāsate
teṣhāṁ nityābhiyuktānāṁ yoga-kṣhemaṁ vahāmyaham

-Bhagavad Gita 9.22

This verse taken from the Gita is, perhaps, one of the most serene of all. It roughly translates to “There are those who always think of me and engage in exclusive devotion to me. To them, whose minds are always absorbed in Me, I provide what they lack and preserve what they already possess.”

It speaks of an ever-loving God who does not desert us in times of need. It assures us that if we surrender ourselves and our problems in the divine, be rest assured, he shall take care of it. Moreover, it is often seen that we carry our burdens and sufferings on our shoulders, looking at the world through perpetually gloomy eyes, but it needn’t be so. Our creator, the supreme ruler, can alleviate it all. All we need to do is trust the Lord with our whole being. 

Here, the word vahami aham means “I personally carry the burden of maintaining my devotees”. The divine assures his steadfast devotee two things. Firstly, Yog– he offers his believers spiritual assets that they covet. Secondly, kshem– he will protect the spiritual assets that his child already possesses.

Our creator is our ultimate protector and without him we are nothing. This verse of the Gita tells us to fall upon our knees and seek the divine for he alone has the solution to all that we seek!


In conclusion, the goodness of yoga has been vouched for centuries. If one understands the true meaning of yoga, then the journey becomes easier. Above all, people all over the world who seek the key to a perfect lifestyle make sure to inculcate yoga into their daily life. In addition, all it takes is a few minutes from your hectic schedule and a few deep breaths. The peace that fills you can be addictive. And this is an addiction we can afford to have as it only ends up helping us more than we could ever imagine. 

 So, here’s a Cheers to glowing and growing with the goodness of yoga!



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