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Yoga is a spiritual discipline that emphasizes the harmony between the mind and body, based on a subtle science. It is an art and science of living a healthy and balanced life. The term ‘Yoga’ originates from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj,’ meaning ‘to join,’ ‘to combine,’ or ‘to unite.’ Yoga and Ayurveda have a historical connection, evolving alongside each other since ancient times. As per the teachings of Yoga, the practice of Yoga facilitates the unification of individual consciousness with the Universal Consciousness, fostering a state of harmony between the mind, body, and the natural world.
Yoga aims to balance the three doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Modern scientists suggest that everything in the universe is interconnected. Those who experience this unity are known as yogis, achieving a state of liberation referred to as Mukti, Nirvana, or Moksha. The primary goal of Yoga is self-realization and overcoming suffering, leading to freedom and harmony in life. Yoga is an inward science that includes various techniques for individuals to achieve this union and gain control over their destiny. It is an ancient practice originating from the Indus Valley civilization around 2700 B.C., promoting physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Yoga embodies fundamental humane values and serves as a pathway to self-transformation.
History of Yoga
Yoga has its roots dating back to the earliest civilizations. The exact history and origins of yoga are not clear, as it developed over a long period of time through the collective wisdom and practices of various sages and spiritual seekers. Yoga is deeply rooted in Indian history, philosophy and spirituality. It predates the formation of religions and belief systems, emerging as an ancient science that transcends time. In the realms of yogic traditions, Shiva is revered as the first yogi, known as Adiyogi, and the first Guru, referred to as Adi Guru. Many millennia ago, on the shores of Lake Kantisarovar in the Himalayas, Adiyogi imparted his profound wisdom to the legendary Saptarishis, also known as the “seven sages.”
These sages became custodians of this profound yogic science and ventured to different corners of the world, disseminating its knowledge across continents such as Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and South America. It is intriguing to observe that modern scholars have recognized and marveled at the striking similarities found in ancient cultures worldwide. However, it was in India that the yogic system flourished, finding its most complete and profound expression.
Agastya, one of the Saptarishis who extensively journeyed across the Indian subcontinent, played a pivotal role in nurturing and shaping a cultural fabric deeply rooted in the yogic way of life. The yogic principles permeated every aspect of existence, creating a unique and comprehensive yogic culture within the Indian civilization.
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The earliest evidence of yoga can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization, around 2700 BCE, where seals and artifacts depicting yogic postures have been discovered. Yoga finds its mention in ancient texts like the Rigveda, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita, which provide philosophical insights and guidance on the practice.
Over time, different schools of yoga emerged, each with its own approach and emphasis. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written around the 2nd century BCE, outlined the eight limbs of yoga, providing a comprehensive guide for spiritual growth and self-realization.
Throughout history, yoga was primarily transmitted from teacher to student through oral tradition. It was often practiced by ascetics and renunciates as a means to attain spiritual enlightenment.
Seals and Fossil
The presence of Yoga in ancient India is indicated by the numerous seals and fossil remains found in the Indus Saraswati Valley civilization. These artifacts depict figures engaging in Yoga Sadhana, suggesting the early practice of Yoga. The symbolism of phallic symbols and seals representing mother Goddess idols points towards the influence of Tantra Yoga during that era. Yoga can also be traced back to folk traditions, Vedic and Upanishadic heritage, Buddhist and Jain traditions, philosophical schools (Darshanas), and epic texts like Mahabharata and Ramayana. Theistic traditions of Shaivas and Vaishnavas, along with Tantric traditions, further exemplify the presence of Yoga in different forms. Additionally, there existed a primordial or pure form of Yoga that was manifested in mystical traditions throughout South Asia. These diverse sources collectively illuminate the rich and ancient roots of Yoga in India’s cultural and spiritual heritage.
Four main periods of Innovation, Practice & Development
The origins of Yoga can be traced back to the ancient Indus civilization in Northern India more than 5,000 years ago. The ancient sacred texts known as the Rig Veda initially mention the term “yoga.” These texts were a compilation of hymns, mantras, and rituals used by the Vedic priests, known as Brahmans. Over time, the Brahmans and Rishis (spiritual seers) refined and expanded the practice of Yoga, documenting their beliefs and practices in the Upanishads, a vast collection of over 200 sacred scriptures. Among the well-known Yogic texts is the Bhagavad-Gita, composed around 500 BCE. The Upanishads delved into the concept of ritual sacrifice found in the Vedas and transformed it into an internalized practice, emphasizing the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action (Karma Yoga), and wisdom (jnana Yoga).
During this period, Yoga encompassed a multitude of ideas, beliefs, and techniques that often contradicted each other. The Classical era is characterized by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras, the first systematic presentation of Yoga. Scholars commonly refer to Patanjali’s text as “classical yoga” and attribute its compilation to the second century. This text presents the path of Raj Yoga. Patanjali organized the practice of Yoga into an “eight-limbed path,” outlining the steps and stages toward attaining Samadhi, or enlightenment. Patanjali is recognized as the father of Yoga, and his Yoga-Sutras continue to strongly influence most modern styles of yoga.
Post Classical Yoga
Centuries after Patanjali, Yoga masters developed a system of practices aimed at rejuvenating the body and extending life. They departed from the teachings of the ancient Vedas and placed emphasis on the physical body as a means to achieve enlightenment. As a result, Tantra Yoga emerged, utilizing innovative approaches to cleanse the body and mind, with the aim of unraveling the entanglements that tether individuals to their physical existence. Exploring the connections between the physical and spiritual realms and incorporating body-focused practices gave rise to what we now primarily recognize as yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Yoga masters began their journey to the West, seeking to attract attention and followers. The journey to the West commenced during the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago when Swami Vivekananda captivated attendees with his lectures on yoga and the universality of world religions. In the 1920s and 30s, Hatha Yoga gained significant momentum in India, largely due to the efforts of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda, and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga. He established the first Hatha Yoga School in Mysore in 1924, and in 1936, Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy River Ganges.
Krishnamacharya had three notable students who continued his legacy and contributed to the popularity of Hatha Yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois. Sivananda, a prolific author, wrote more than 200 books on Yoga and made nine ashrams and numerous yoga centers across the world. The introduction of yoga to the West remained gradual until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. Since then, many more Western and Indian teachers have played significant roles in popularizing Hatha Yoga, gaining millions of followers. Hatha Yoga now encompasses various schools and styles, each emphasizing
Types Of Yoga
One of the oldest forms of yoga, Hatha Yoga incorporates asanas (postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises) to bring peace to the mind and body. It prepares the body for deeper spiritual practices like meditation.
Introduced by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga Yoga consists of six series of asanas practiced in a specific sequence. This type of yoga is a fast-paced, vigorous style that provides physical challenges.
Derived from the traditional Ashtanga system, Vinyasa Yoga is an active and athletic style. This Yoga type involves movement synchronized with breath, characterized by a rapid flow through sun salutations and continuous transitions between postures.
Bikram Yoga consists of a fixed sequence of twenty-six postures and two breathing techniques. It aids in detoxification, weight management, and deeper posture exploration.
Jivamukti Yoga, founded in 1984, incorporates chanting, meditation, readings, and affirmations into the practice.
Iyengar Yoga emphasizes precision and alignment in each yoga posture. Props such as blocks, straps, and blankets are often used to assist in achieving correct alignment. This practice helps to improve posture, strength, and stability while cultivating mindfulness and body awareness.
Anusara Yoga teaches Universal Principles of Alignment while emphasizing grace and following one’s heart. This Yoga type encompasses attitude, alignment, and action.
Sivananda Yoga starts with relaxation and breathing exercises, followed by a set of twelve asanas to strengthen and increase flexibility of the spine. Incorporating chanting and meditation is also possible.
Viniyoga adapts yoga practices to meet individual conditions and needs. It aids in self-discovery and personal transformation.
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Kundalini Yoga involves movements, dynamic breathing practices, chanting, meditation, and mantras to awaken the energy at the base of the spine and channel it through the chakras.
Main Paths of Yoga
The practice of Yoga encompasses four primary paths, each offering a distinct approach to spiritual growth and self-realization. These paths provide seekers with various methods and practices to align their body, mind, and spirit. Let’s explore these four main paths of Yoga:
Karma Yoga focuses on selfless action and service to others. Practitioners engage in actions without attachment to the outcomes, dedicating their efforts to the well-being of others and the greater good. By cultivating a mindset of selflessness, Karma Yoga purifies the mind and helps individuals transcend ego-driven desires.
Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion and love for the divine. It involves deepening one’s connection with a chosen deity or the universal consciousness through prayers, rituals, chanting, and devotional practices. The essence of Bhakti Yoga lies in surrendering oneself completely to the divine, fostering an intimate relationship with the divine presence.
Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge and wisdom. It involves self-inquiry and contemplation to attain higher understanding and realization of one’s true nature. Through the study of sacred texts, reflection, and philosophical exploration, practitioners of Jnana Yoga aim to transcend the limitations of the ego and attain spiritual enlightenment.
Raja Yoga, also known as the “Royal Path,” encompasses the practice of meditation and deep concentration. It involves controlling and stilling the mind through techniques such as breath control (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana). Raja Yoga aims to achieve a state of inner tranquility, self-awareness, and union with the divine.
Formats of Yoga Practices
Power Yoga is an intense and fitness-oriented style that incorporates elements from various Yoga traditions. It focuses on building strength, stamina, and flexibility through a fast-paced and challenging practice. Power Yoga is often accompanied by upbeat music and emphasizes physical fitness.
Yin Yoga is a slow-paced and meditative practice that involves holding poses for an extended period, usually three to five minutes. It targets the connective tissues and aims to increase flexibility and release tension. Yin Yoga promotes relaxation, mindfulness, and the balance of energy.
Yang Yoga combines elements of Hatha, Vinyasa, and Ashtanga Yoga, providing a dynamic and energetic practice. Unlike Yin Yoga, Yang Yoga is less introspective and more focused on creating vitality and strength. It aims to increase energy levels, improve endurance, release bodily tension, and promote muscle development. Yang Yoga offers a more invigorating and active approach, helping practitioners build physical resilience and enhance overall vitality.
Face yoga incorporates gentle massages and exercises specifically designed to target the facial muscles, promoting relaxation and alleviating stress and tension. This unique form of yoga has gained significant popularity in recent years. Supporters believe that practicing facial yoga can have anti-aging effects, making you appear more youthful by reducing the signs of aging by a considerable margin.
Restorative Yoga involves holding supported poses for an extended period, allowing the body to relax and release tension. It focuses on deep relaxation, stress reduction, and restoring the body’s natural balance. Restorative Yoga is beneficial for relaxation, healing, and rejuvenation.