Many people come to realise that the values and aspirations of much of today's society are questionable to say the least. The acquisition of material possessions and status is found not to lead to happiness and there is a deep feeling (not just a wish) that there must be more to life than this. For most people now, religion does not seem to offer any solution, the original meaning having been largely lost and the teaching not having kept pace with the developments of science. Many are now looking to the pseudo-religions of the so-called 'New Age'. But there is not really anything new here. Today is always at the front edge of change and the dilemmas that face man are essentially the same as they have always been.
For those who have recognised the need to break out of the chains of ignorance and begin to find out how things really are, there have always been sources of truth available. These are encountered when the need arises, whether in the form of books of wisdom, schools or gurus. The teaching of Advaita is not unique. It is mirrored in other traditions, too - Taoism, the Sufism of Islam, the esoteric teachings of Christianity, and many more. Advaita is perhaps more appropriate today because it offers a uniquely logical and scientific view of reality, quite in keeping with the views of theoretical physics. It will not appeal to the materially minded or to those still entrenched in an egotistical world view. But if you have recognised the futility and worthlessness of such an outlook, Advaita provides understanding and ultimately release, re-uniting us to our true nature - of being-consciousness-bliss - no longer threatened by the world and others because it is known that there are no others. All is one.
'Yoga' means to join, as in religion (from the Latin 're-ligare' - to join back) and is a method or path for taking us back to our true nature. There are many yogas, the idea being that we should choose the one most suited to our character. According to Shankara - the 8th Century philosopher who systematised the teachings of Advaita - what is required ultimately is knowledge. We cannot overcome the ignorance that keeps us bound to this illusory existence until we fully absorb the knowledge of how things really are. This is the path of jnana yoga.
Having acknowledged this however, many people are unable to follow this path immediately. Some preparation is neccessary. The right attitude of mind must be cultivated and we need to give up anything inimical to the pursuit. Some are simply incapable of what is essentially an intellectual approach. For them, other paths are available to begin with. For those whose nature is emotional, the devotional path of bhakti yoga may have more appeal. For those who are constantly 'on the move', the path of action - karma yoga - is probably appropriate.
The purpose of all of these paths is to break down the attachements that we have - to things, to the body, mind and intellect. Only when we have discarded all of those things that we are not can we come to realise what we truly are - the Self. The process has been described as like removing the scum of algae from the surface of a pond.