Atman - Yoga Lingo
In Sanskrit, ‘Atman’ is the phrase for ‘self’ or ‘soul.’ It forms part of the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy, where it is the first principle: the ‘true’ self.
This idea, of a ‘true’ self or soul, refers to the part of an individual human being which forms their very essence and stretches beyond the ego or the false self. To achieve this, one must acquire self-knowledge; the realization that one's ‘Atman’ is identical to the transcendent self of Brahman.
The religion Hinduism also teaches that there is Atman in every single being. Here it offers a different view of the similar Buddhist concept of Anatta, which explains that there is no unchanging self or soul. Instead, Hinduism sees the potential to achieve this true self in every person, and it is up to them to unlock it.
Self-awareness and self-knowledge are crucial elements of any yoga practice, and the focus on breath is twinned with the emphasis on the self. A regular practice, combined with a focus on breathing and meditation techniques, can help the yogi to recognize and connect with their higher presence.
The Yogasutra of Patanjali mentions Atman in multiple verses when discussing the path to self-knowledge and understanding. Book 4 describes spiritual liberation as a stage whereby the yogi achieves true self-knowledge. At this point, the mind and soul are no longer confused, and the mind is no longer troubled by worries or ignorance. Instead, ‘pure consciousness settles in its own pure nature.’
The achievement of Atman is the ultimate goal of many spiritual practices, including yoga. Meditation is used to help try and achieve this, as it focuses the attention inwards on the breath, and advocates a move towards this true soul which is the desire of so many practitioners.