There are many facets to the yoga tradition. Some systems of yoga focus on the purification of the physical body, others focus on cultivation of love and still others focus on the development of knowledge through the study and application of scriptural texts. These different approaches are intended to suite the varying natures of the practitioners.
The common aim of these systems is to free the aspirant of a contracted and inherently limited sense of identity and reveal their deepest essence, their original face or universal existence. These are among many terms that attempt to describe this vast and imperishable being.
The yoga tradition uses the word “Atman” to indicate that spiritual identity. Atman is often translated as the “Self” (with a capital S.) This is equivalent to the Western notion of the Soul. Unlike our Western idea of the Soul, the Atman is attributless.
It does not yearn for anything, nor feel compelled to express it-Self in the world in anyway. It is complete unto itself. It needs nothing to validate its existence because it is existence itself. It is the substratum that pervades the entire creation and simultaneously is apart from all manifestation.
In the words of the Kena Upanishad:
That which makes you draw breath but cannot be
Drawn by your breath, that is the Self indeed.
This Self is not someone other than you.
From the yogic perspective, we all suffer from a profound state of mistaken identity. We tend to think of our-self in terms of our relationship to objects, our body and thoughts. The ancient Upanishads tell us tell us that all this things are transitory and therefore contain no essential identity.
The atman on the other hand, is the essence of our being, the ground upon which we stand, the most refined spiritual dimension. The practices of yoga then, are designed to loosen the obstructions that vail our most fundamental nature, the Self. This, is the utmost goal of yoga.