History of Yoga
The following is a generalized history of yoga that focuses primarily upon its physical orientation; and I fully acknowledge that yoga’s actual history involves a complex spiritual evolution that has taken place over thousands of years. There is a more in-depth exploration of yoga’s spiritual development and components in subsequent pages.
Throughout this blog, I refer to yoga as a system primarily of physical exercises along with appropriate breath control that is designed to bring the practitioner toward a balance of body, mind, and spirit.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is presumably the most established characterized practice of self-improvement. Founded on principles that promote development of self awareness, through the practice of physical asanas (postures), the understanding and practice of pranayama (breath control) insight and awareness is gained of the physical, mental and spiritual nature and well-being of the individual. With this knowledge and practice, one has the opportunity to adjust and change aspects and habitual patterns that have discouraged the development and attunement that leads to a balanced life.
This enables an individual to glimpse and live a reality that is even more alive than many experiences as the normal state of living.
Today yoga is interpreted as either:
a) A demanding fitness program that stretches and strengthens the spine, tones the body and develops a sense of well being within
b) A way of learning to relax, de-stress and practise breathing techniques that increase lung capacity, work the cardiovascular system and allow the individual to cope with the ups and downs of modern life.
c) The embrace of a philosophical methodology that is based on experiential learning. One that allows the awareness of physical reality and activation within the body to be stimulated or suppressed for maximum benefit.
d) A philosophy of life that codifies principles of conducting and living life so that the development of a witness consciousness might evolve and with it an understanding of the self.
e) Meditation – the practice of concentration on a single object to calm the mind, cultivate inner stillness and merge into the experiential awareness of Oneness.
f) A spiritual practice that develops the experience of Oneness and allows the individual to let go of all ties that create separation from this reality. Through yoga information of the world, the self and its constituencies allow dependency to be replaced by interdependency.
It can be any or all of these things – the decision is up to the individual as to which aspects they choose to develop.
Connection of Yoga and Sanskrit
Yoga and Sanskrit are the term describe as: The word, yoga, is gotten from Sanskrit, one of the world’s most old dialects. Yoga word signifies: “a uniting of the parts so as to make an association or parity of an individual’s body, brain, and soul.”
It is said that many thousands of years ago in India, various orders of high Hindu priests developed parallel concepts of yoga. Through the millennia and particularly in the south of India, the “yogis” as they were known, were vegetarians, wore minimal clothing, and lived literally close to the earth learning directly from nature.
When hungry, animals ate. When tired, they rested. And when injured, animals sought refuge in a quiet place and stayed until they healed, or died. Animals, the yogis observed, showed little fear or anxiety; but when they did, it didn’t last long because animals, they surmised, did not appear to worry about the past or future.
From generation to generation, for thousands of years, and in concert with a deeply involved system of spiritual practices, “exercising the body in order to center the mind,” was only a small component of the yogis’ practice and teaching.
Yoga, Universal Consciousness
Through millennia, however, various yogis developed and codified a system of physical practices that emulated the perfection of nature. Their ancient yoga texts described how their intense practices both enhanced health and spirituality, thereby allowing them to merge with Universal Consciousness.
Historically, these ancient people lived in totally protected religious environments spending virtually all of their time in devotional prayer that included the exercises. It is important to note that until the beginning of the twentieth century, all yogis were devout practicing Hindu “priests”; which is not true today.
Therefore, throughout the remainder of this blog, I shall define yoga to mean simply, “a movement toward union or balance. So, let’s repeat and make it very clear that my use of the term yoga in and of itself, has absolutely nothing to do with Hinduism or with anyone’s religion.
OK, getting back to that ancient priest class in India: Because of their highly protected life-style and because most of them were devout vegetarians living in a tropical environment, their bodies were extraordinarily supple. Kind of like Gumby, which is to say, their bodies were not at all like today’s often uptight, often injured, and usually stressed-out-to-the-max western bodies.
As previously stated, through the aeons many forms and approaches to yoga had developed, but only a few became popular in the West. Historically, most approaches to yoga focused upon various forms of devotional prayer while only some focused upon physical exercises and breath control.
On Chakra One & Muladhara
The first or “root” chakra, muladhara, vibrates through the bones, specifically through the tailbone, legs, and feet. in noticing this vibration, we grow more in touch with the experience of home, safety, security, all-things-in-order, and the weight and roots of mother earth.the most important sentient experience we have rising up from this lowest chakra is trust. the more we can define the bodily experience of trust versus its enemy, fear, the more we can live harmoniously with the overall rhythm of our planet, a small rock amid billions of others.
The first chakra comes alive in the legs, eyes, and inner ears. the stronger and more tubular the legs, the more relaxed and receptive the eyes and ears (and, by association, the rest of the senses).
Try it. in your standing poses this week, imagine your legs waking up like as though they were controlled by that game litebrite some of played as kids, and see how you feel. post here to tell me what happens.
When you take on a Pose
Paying attention to your alignment when doing yoga postures makes sense in the same way it makes sense to feel and be quiet when are walking through the woods. if you grow still enough to notice the sounds and movements around you in nature, you find yourself able to take in all kinds of data that come in as neither overwhelming nor stressful.
When you are in a yoga class, listen to your teacher as well as the sounds of your breath. notice the look of your arm upraised in warrior 1, or the toes in seated forward fold. the more you allow yourself to take in these details as though you were part of them — like they are in and of your world, just as the trees and the ground and the bushes in the woods — the more you notice. and the more you steady yourself into relaxing.
Relaxing into the world around you requires a relaxation from within. we have yoga postures in order to measure and observe our daily ability to take in that world. it’s a process, and you learn (and get better at it) only by practicing.
Controlling the Letting go of Control
Sometimes that’s what it takes. to peel yourself off the wall of your own patterns, to go inside and let the breath take you.
An asana (pose) actually takes a lot of control — that’s why we refine them over time and attempt more difficult ones as our practice deepens.
The more we control the body’s response to the shape, which exists outside us in nature (triangle, mountain, tree), the more we free the breath, which exists inside, to enliven us exquisitely.
This, the paradox of practice.
Yoga Gurus (Hindu Yoga-Masters)
Let’s now fast forward to the beginning of the twentieth century, the history of yoga records that several Yoga Gurus (Hindu yoga-masters) travelled to the west in order to share their religious and cultural beliefs. Having their faith and thousands of years of yogic practices behind them, these yoga disciples, or Yoga Gurus as they were called, began to lecture and teach.
The Yoga Gurus initiated a number of different approaches to yoga; most were Hindu based spiritual practices with many of them incorporating the physical components of yoga. In actuality, the physical components of yoga were but a small part of their overall teachings, yet there were a few Yoga Gurus who more or less specialized in the physically-oriented approach to yoga. Thus, yoga came to the west and again because its original proponents were Hindu based, it is understandable why yoga had become associated with the Hindu religion.
Hatha Yoga in Western Society
In our western youth-oriented society, the most popular forms in the history of yoga being taught today are combinations of yoga exercises and breathe control known as Hatha Yoga, or simply, yoga. Although there are many popular styles of yoga ranging from the restorative and quiet, all the way to extreme forms of physically challenging yoga; all are based upon ancient exercises and all incorporate some aspects of breath control. When yoga exercises are appropriately practiced in combination with breath control, enhanced physical, emotional and spiritual health results.
Hatha yoga was originally but a small component of the entire system and because hatha yoga was practiced by people living a totally different lifestyle within a totally different culture from westerners today, the more traditional or classical approach to hatha yoga and breathing exercises offer a potential liability to a western body.
A Brief Look at Yoga Styles: Ashtanga, Kripalu, Iyengar and Hot
Ashtanga Yoga Styles is an ancient and transformative discipline whose system of yoga was recorded by the sage Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta.
Ashtanga yoga actually signifies “eighteen-limbed yoga” as sketched out by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras:
- Spiritual Practice
- Moral Codes
- Self-Purification and Study
- Breath Control
- Sense Control
Kripalu Yoga Styles has been described as ‘Meditation In Motion’, or a meditative flow, thus transcending body, mind and ego. It is gentle, yet very deep and designed to help one connect with one’s spiritual centre.
Less athletic or vigorous in nature, Kripalu yoga invites the body to open into stretches with meditative awareness. As the breath flows into the stretch a deep relaxation begins to pervade the body. Gentle stretching exercises, rhythmic breathing and deep relaxation techniques are stressed in the beginning practice of this form of yoga.
Kripalu Yoga Styles is designed to lead to an ever-increasing knowledge of oneself and the needs of one’s body and mind in order to achieve and maintain good physical and mental health and harmony.
As a practice, Kripalu yoga provides the therapeutic and transformational tools needed to free oneself from stress, ailments, and depression; and to improve one’s overall health and wellness. Hatha Yoga, a broadly practised form of Kripalu yoga, is about the physical movements done in every style of yoga. These physical postures, called asanas, represent one of the eight paths of yoga.
The literal translation of Yoga Styles is union or communion. However, yoga has a different meaning for everyone. One definition is found in sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra where yoga was described as ‘a disciplined action, study of the self and surrender to the Lord’. The work of Patanjali some 2,000 years ago systemized the philosophy of yoga. B.K.S. Iyengar has brought this system to light and made it readily accessible to today’s yoga practitioners. As a living yoga master, his aims towards perfection, observing scientific detail.
During Iyengar classes, the focus is on a variety of poses that build strength and increase flexibility, stamina, and balance. The Iyengar style of yoga places emphasis on correct body alignment using blocks, blankets and other types of props. Inversions are also introduced with advanced Iyengar teachings placing emphasis on the refinement of poses and on inversions (salamba sirsasana and salamba Sarvangasana). Restorative yoga is based on the practices of Iyengar Yoga Styles.
Hot Yoga Styles is a series of traditional yoga postures created for practice in a room heated to approximately 37° Celsius, however.
Hot yoga helps to improve the immune system, cardiovascular system, muscle tone, flexibility, endurance, balance, focus, energy levels, breathing, and overall well-being. Regular practice also provides countless benefits to those suffering from stress, arthritis, back/knee pain, chronic fatigue, constipation, depression, headaches, insomnia, hyperthyroidism, poor posture, scoliosis and poor indigestion.
Conclusion: On the other hand, the entire purpose of this history of yoga blog is to understand and to adapt yoga exercise and breathe control in accordance with known physiological principles and laws in order to maximize yoga’s potential and minimize its liability.