Yoga is buzzing! It is everywhere. On billboards, in research papers and lecture halls. But where did it all start? How did this ancient wisdom come to be?
What is it that it has to offer? Is it a magic solution to all ailments? Answers to all that and much more, find out, in the following brief history of yoga.
The History Of Yoga
Yoga is derived from a Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which loosely means ‘union.’ It is a path through which an individual unites with the entire existence. Sounds heavy, right? It basically means how you are not a separate entity but part of a greater energy. It increases your consciousness and makes you realize your true self-clearing the clutter of all that you imbibed as part of your culture, family, and education. It makes you realize that there is something more than what you see around. It is a deeply spiritual practice that is part philosophy, religion, science, and exercise.
Yoga goes back to the age of the Vedas or even before. The earliest Rig Veda mentions about yoga, and there are pictographic proofs found in the seals of the Indus Valley Civilization. Bhagavad Gita and the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata elaborately talk about it. Later, Patanjali had compiled the ‘Yoga Sutras’ which became the go-to book for yoga and made him the ‘Father Of Yoga.’ He had spoken at length about the intricacies and details of the practice. Let’s take a look at one important aspect of it called the ‘Eight Limbs Of Yoga’.
‘Eight Limbs Of Yoga’
Patanjali in his book ‘Yoga Sutras’ talks about the ‘Eight Limbs Of Yoga’ called the Ashtanga explained briefly in the following text.
Yama elucidates on the moral standards of living. It tells us how to conduct our lives and stresses on honesty and integrity. It directs us to behave in a way that we would like to be treated, by others. Yama asks us to follow the path of non-violence, truth, and self-control.
Niyama stresses on being contemplative and thoughtful. It talks about discipline and spirituality. It believes in the supreme energy and advises us to recognize and pray to it. Niyama is a path where you study yourself, keep clean, be content and surrender to the Almighty.
This aspect of yoga concentrates on the human body. The body is considered sacred and nurturing and taking care of it is of utmost importance. Asana is a physical exercise which prepares the body for meditation by inculcating discipline and concentration. It prepares your body for a spiritual journey.
Pranayama is breath control and a process where you breathe consciously and connect the mind, body, and soul through inhalation and exhalation. Breath is pranic energy and taking it in and filling your body with it makes you powerful and energetic.
Pratyahara is when we turn inward and get to know more about ourselves. We consciously make an effort to stay away from external forces and concentrate on our inner being uncluttered by outside stimuli. Pratyahara is detachment from the outside world and observing the inner self.
Dharana is training the mind to concentrate on a single energy center by either focussing on a single object, thought or mantra. Our mind is abuzz with many thoughts and ideas. To be able to control them and not let them affect your calm is a challenge you should take up through Dharana.
In Dhyana, the mind is aware without focus. There are minimum or no thoughts that occur to bother the mind. Staying still with nothing to concentrate on is not an easy task and takes time. The strength and stamina built from the previous limbs will help with Dhyana.
Samadhi is a state of ecstasy that comes from a realization of self with the divine and a feeling of oneness with the other living beings. Samadhi gives bliss and peace. Happiness and freedom become primary objectives of life, and you experience enlightenment.
These, my friend, are the eight limbs of yoga that prepare your body step by step to eventually reach the ultimate goal of truth, ecstasy, and bliss. Ashtanga forms the essence of yoga, and from it, various schools of practice were born with time. The vast wealth of yoga knowledge was passed down from teacher to student and eventually branched out into many types and forms. Let’s learn about some of them below.
Types Of Yoga
1. Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga is a set of yoga poses that build internal heat. A particular set of asanas is repeated in each Ashtanga yoga session which involves breathing consciously through all the poses. Ashtanga means eight-limbed and was popularized in the 1940s. It employs the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in its practice.
Benefits- Ashtanga yoga is good for building core strength and increasing flexibility.
2. Vinyasa Yoga
Vinyasa yoga combines movement and breath in a seamless manner. Each pose is taken and transformed to another pose with a particular breathing pattern. Vinyasa yoga involves continuous fast paced movement.
Benefits- Vinyasa yoga builds lean muscles and calms the mind.
3. Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini yoga is a system of physical and meditative practices that focuses on awakening the latent coiled energy present at the sacrum of the human body. This style of yoga became popular in the 1960s.
Benefits- Kundalini Yoga enhances your awareness and helps you connect with your inner self.
4. Iyengar Yoga
Iyengar yoga makes use of props, and the method is very particular about the precision, alignment, and manner of the pose as well as the breath control during the pose. Each pose needs special attention and time. To better the poses props such as blankets and ropes are used.
Benefits- Iyengar Yoga improves balance and coordination in your body. It relieves you of neck and backaches.
5. Power Yoga
Power is a fast paced intense session of strenuous asanas. In Power Yoga, you stay in a pose only for a few moments before you go to the next. It is Vinyasa yoga done vigorously. It became popular in the 1990s and was originally founded by Beryl Bender Birch and Bryan Kest.
Benefits- Power yoga improves your heart health and lowers blood pressure. It keeps a check on your cholesterol levels.
6. Bikram Yoga
Bikram yoga is a set of 26 postures which include two breathing exercises practiced for a duration of 90 minutes in a heated room with increased humidity. The poses were taken and developed from Hatha yoga asanas by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s.
Benefits- Bikram yoga releases toxins from the body and improves blood circulation.
7. Jivamukti Yoga
Jivamukti yoga is a combination of physical, meditative and spiritual concepts. Apart from asanas, it stresses on non-violence, devotion, and scriptures. It was developed in the 1980s by Sharon Gannon and David Life.
Benefits- Jivamukti Yoga flushes out toxins from your body. It increases flexibility and strength of your body. It brings balance and increases blood flow in your body.
8. Restorative Yoga
Restorative yoga is a slow and profound process where you hold each pose for a longer time experiencing the effects of each pose, completely. Yoga props such as ropes and blankets are used to support the body in each pose.
Benefits- Restorative yoga is an excellent way to treat insomnia and anxiety. It calms and relaxes your body.
Choose a style that suits you and practice. Now, let’s answer some questions commonly asked about yoga.
Are they any side effects of doing yoga?
There are no side effects of practicing yoga if done under proper guidance.
Is Yoga different from exercise?
Yoga involves the mind, body, and spirit and leaves you rejuvenated while exercise concentrates mainly on the physical body leaving you exhausted after a session.
What diet complements yoga practice?
Vegetarian and wholesome food like fruits, vegetables, grains and dry fruits work best for a fulfilling yoga session.
When is the best time to practice yoga?
Practicing yoga in the morning on an empty stomach works best. It energizes your body for the rest of the day.
How often does one have to practice yoga?
Doing yoga every day for at least 20 minutes is good for the body.
Now that you have some basic knowledge about yoga, you know that it is a practice with deep rooted philosophy and science that uses the human body as a means to maintaining health. We don’t know for sure when and where the practice originated, and can only ruminate about it. But what is more important to keep in mind is the number of lives it has been improving. We wish you take it up too and reap its benefits. Here’s wishing you fulfilling yoga sessions.