The term yoga is an ancient one deriving from Sanskrit, originally from a proto-Indo-Iranian word yáwgas (team, yoke) and even more archaic proto-Indo-European word yewg (to join, yoke, tie together). When the common westerner hears the word yoga, he/she is likely stricken by visions of skinny, stretching, robed monks, silently posturing in abstract positions. What many do not realize, however, is that yoga applies to many different techniques, practices, and traditions. Additionally, many people practice yoga without being conscious of it, as it is more associated with purpose and action than it is with pure movement. The technical definition of the word means “a spiritual practice or teaching that aims to master the body, mind, or spirit.” In this context, anyone with extreme mastery within these fields of life is a practitioner of yoga, as long as this practice is intended and directed towards the positive development of mind, body, or spirit.
One could say that some sort of belief in the divine must be associated with this practice, as material mastery and purely mechanical operations do not seem to qualify as yoga without a higher purpose which one practices yoga in honor of. Mastery without purpose is near worthless, and likewise, purpose without a form of mastery is fantasy.
The channels or techniques of yoga are endless in spectrum, as one can do many things, such as the classic forms of stretching and meditation we commonly associate with yoga and yogis. Martial arts, physical exercise, hiking, art, music, crafting, writing, and most forms of creative or conscious repetitive action are all forms of yoga. If the action is meant to help the operative transcend or control body and consciousness, then it is fair to say that it would fall under the loose definition of the word yoga. In a way, every act in life could be considered yoga, if applied to them sacred and divine context.
Yoga, through a resurrection and travel through linguistic history, appears to have a common theme in joining together, bringing into union, or “yoking.” Through this union, which could very well be seen mirrored in the alchemical schools of the west, creates, manipulates, and masters man’s position in the cosmos. The yogi, through yoga, connects, joins, and unifies intention and purpose into an action. He translates physical movement into a metaphysical act of devotion. If we look at the linguistic “criteria” for yoga, thus far, we can safely say that if our chosen practice aids in our self-mastery, our path of ascension or dharma, then we successfully practice yoga. If you achieve mastery over your technique, this is what it means to be a yogi.