January 4th is National Trivia Day, a day to share little-known facts and obscure knowledge. Most newcomers to yoga have some common questions about the terminology of yoga, so this seems like a great day to address them. (Please note, these are simplified answers to these questions; there are different and deeper interpretations.)
What is yoga?
The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, which means to yoke or bind. The most frequent translation in the West is “union.”
So what is it that we’re uniting? On one level, it is the unification of the body, mind, and breath for a focused physical practice. On a spiritual level, it is the unification of the limited little self to the higher eternal Self. The higher eternal Self is united to the collective consciousness that is the universe or the Divine.
What is om?
Om, or more precisely aum, is the vibration sound of the universe. Used most frequently in our modern practice as a mantra heard at the beginning and/or end of yoga asana class, om is used to foster a sense of connection and harmony.
Some scholars say that the shape of the visual om symbol embodies each of its syllables — the three is the Sanskrit letter for “ahh,” that same three with the mini S on it is “oooh,” and the bindhi and half-moon at the top are the “mmm.” Some say the symbol is connected to Ganesh, the Hindu half-elephant god who removes obstacles, because if you squint, you can see his rotund curves and graceful trunk represented.
What is namaste?
Namaste‘s literal translation is “I bow to you.” In India, it is used as a respectful hello. In Western yoga classes, it has evolved to mean something more along the lines, “The divine in me bows o the divine in you,” with “divine” sometimes replaced with “light” or “spirit.” It is most often used to symbolize the respect between teachers and students at the end of class.
So there you have it. Go out and share your own unique knowledge with family, friends and whoever will listen today.