Yoga is a well-known word in the West, and is connected etymologically with the English word “yoke,” or “union” of the individual consciousness with the Infinite Consciousness. The term can be loosely translated as “spiritual discipline” or “application.” Yoga is taught by all sects of Hinduism, and it is taught as a means of salvation.
There are four kinds of yoga, and it is the combination of the four disciplines that leads us from release to rebirth. The Bhagavad Gita is a classic Hindu text that presents a variety of options for those who desire release from rebirth. There the god Krishna talks about the ways in which humans can find release. One is by fulfilling their caste duties. Another is by practicing the philosophy known as yoga.
The significance of the term yoga is profound: Yoga is a method of spiritual training whose purpose is to integrate or unite the self. A physical exercise, its goal is nonphysical — uniting with God. Yoga teaches that people should attempt to yoke the individual spirit to God, to atman — the individual soul or essence of a person — and to Brahman.
What is essential to all yoga is meditation. Meditation is valuable insofar as it enables its practitioners to find release from the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. The early practice concentrated on “yoking in,” or restraining, the senses. Later the word yoga was seen as a metaphor for or “yoking” to God or the divine.
Since there are different types of people, different spiritual personality types, Hinduism recognizes a different path for each. Every human being possesses a talent or attribute that could be emphasized in approaching God. As a consequence, there are several forms of yoga, each having different features.
Before a person can even begin on any of the paths, they must undertake some moral preliminaries. This means casting aside bad habits and acquiring good ones, including nonviolence, truthfulness, self-discipline, cleanliness, contentment, and a genuine desire to reach the goal.