We all know what yoga is, but do we actually know what yoga means? One of yoga’s literal meaning is union in Sanskrit, in other words, it means to be in union with our own consciousness, our higher selves. Our body, mind, soul, and spirit should be seen as one.
Yoga’s history is more than 5,000 years old based in ancient India, and it is quite a complex history and it has been interpreted differently by different people. I will focus more in explaining regarding the origin of yoga poses (Asanas), which is a physical & spiritual practice that yoga has developed into more recently (2,000 years ago…ok, not that recent…but recent enough!).
By User:Alokprasad – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Patanjali_Statue.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18095910
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
About 2,000 years ago, there was a Yogi named Patanjali, whom we believe came from the rural parts of India. There is not much information regarding who he was, but he made a difference as he gathered all the school of thoughts of Yoga that had already existed and created the Yoga Sutras. This is where we can really start to trace back to the beginning of the origin of yoga poses. The Yoga Sutras were a simpler way for an average person to understand how to follow the path to enlightenment. There are four “chapters” to his Yoga Sutras:
- Samadhi Pada – the first chapter focuses on enlightenment & meditation
- Sadhana Pada – introduction to the 8 limbs of yoga (pictured below) & putting what you have learned in into practice
- Vibhuti Padha – this chapter is about the results you are achieving and what you are manifesting in your life
- Kaivalya – this is where one achieves inner freedom or liberation
Within these 4 chapters, there are 8 limbs of yoga that you should get to know if you wish to follow yoga as a way of life. Remember that yoga is not only about exercising, it’s all about becoming aware and connected to your higher self.
By Ian Alexander – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84657829
The 8 Limbs of Yoga (within Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras)
We will go deeper into these 8 limbs in a later post, but as you can see above, Asana means posture, but back then it was more of being in a meditative and still state. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras were very popular at that time, and became favored again around 11th & 12th century as there is proof that his work had been translated into two other ancient languages at that time. For some reason, it was not practiced for a while after that, but centuries later it started to gain popularity again and yoga masters were using more of their physical body to achieve enlightenment.
The modern physical yoga that we practice today was influenced and changed by more recent Yogis that I will cover below.
T. Krishnamacharya, The Father of Modern Yoga
Yoga Master T. Krishnamacharya was born in India in 1888, living a long life until he was 100 years old. He was trained by a guru in the Himalayas for about 7 years before he went off to open his own Hatha yoga school in 1924 in Mysuru, India. He based a lot of his teaching from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, but it is also believed that a lot of the physical aspects of yoga today were also influenced by gymnastics performed by the British military when they were colonizing India.
When T. Krishnamacharya taught his students, he believed in personalized yoga, so he would give one-to-one lessons. He believed that anyone could do yoga, but that each person has different needs thus requiring a class that is individualized. He had 3 prominent students that helped to spread the teachings of Yoga to the west. They were B.K.S. Iyengar (whom I have mentioned already in this post), T.K.V. Desikachar (whom was his son), and Pattabhi Jois. There were other masters at that time as well that had an influence on modern yoga such as Indra Devi, who was one of T. Krishnamacharya’s first western woman student in India, who brought back Yoga to Hollywood. Swami Vivekananda was also legendary, as he was a Hindu Monk who wrote many philosophies about Yoga & spread the knowledge about Hinduism in the west.
There’s no doubt that the practice of doing yoga has spread to everywhere in the world. Whether you are in Jakarta, Moscow, New York, or Buenos Aires, there is bound to have a Yoga studio or Yoga teachers in the city. And there is not only one type of yoga, but many:
- Hatha Yoga
- Kundalini Yoga
- Restorative Yoga
- Bikram Yoga
- Vinyasa Yoga
- Ashtanga Yoga
- Iyengar Yoga
- and so on!
This is because Yoga can benefit our lives in all aspects, whether it’s our body, mind, soul, or spirit. Within these practices, there are more than 300 yoga poses. If you are just a beginner, don’t worry, you can always start of with the most popular ones such as downward facing dog, child’s pose, and mountain pose. The most important part is learning how to do diaphragmatic breathing while doing the poses…this requires a lot of focus! Hence, it’s why yoga is a type of meditation in motion.
The Beauty of Yoga is That It’s an Everchanging Practice
Just because yoga is not the same as it was 5,000 years ago or even 2,000 years ago, it does not mean that it’s not a life-changing & useful practice for everyone. Yoga has many different meaning and interpretations from its history, but one thing for sure is that it has helped millions of people to love themselves and to be in touch with their inner world. Like yoga, our purpose is to evolve all together as human beings. That’s why it’s important to live a balanced life and as well as to take care of the Earth and environment…even when we are practicing yoga!
So now that you have a brief understanding of the origin of yoga poses, are you more motivated to change your life and begin feeling the benefits of yoga?