What is Yoga?
The word and practice of yoga has many meanings.
The way I was taught initially is that yoga means to yolk, or union. As a teen I understood it to mean that the practice helps us to recognize that the personal “I” and the universal “I” are inseparable. I still hold that understanding in a way, but I would say more succinctly that the illusion of their separateness has never been.
The practices of asana and pranyama were designed from the get go to calm the fluctuations of the mind by increasing awareness, and to make the body more supple, flexible, strong and balanced. These thereby prepared one for meditation. Being wholly engaged in thought patterns and the usual subsequent arising of emotions is considered the height of distraction and a barrier to awareness or realization. When the mind is quiet it is far easier to see things as they are, rather than succumbing to typical thinking and feeling habits.
When we practice asana and pranayama together, meaning the body and breath are moving in unison, automatically the mind and awareness are more relaxed and open. You could say the three are then more aligned and the practice becomes therefore meditative. This conscious harmonizing of body, breath, and mind has a great power in it.