History of Yoga
Article by Paul Condon
The practise of yoga has a left a trail of imprints that span 5000 years of human evolution. Since its birth, the experience of yoga has been enjoyed worldwide. The sheer number of people who practise yoga is as staggering as the benefits to the spiritual and physical health of its followers. One perspective from which to view it can barely do it justice. The following is but an outline of the major influences on its development that will, hopefully, inspire the desire for a deeper understanding of yoga practise.
The Birth of YogaEvidence of early yoga has been unearthed from the ground in the Indus Valley of northern India. Archaeologists date the findings back to a period between 2500-1800 BC. The artefacts have been identified as a god and goddess culture surrounded by animals and referred to as Shiva. This discovery has been attributed with being one of the first forms of yoga.
Major Influences on the Development of Yoga1. SanskritThe language of yoga is Sanskrit, one of the oldest system of words in the world. Between 1800- 1000 BC, the Sanskrit -speaking Aryan people migrated from southern Russia into the Indus Valley. Their Sanskrit language continues to be used in yoga practise today.
2. TranscendenceVery early yoga was practised by spiritual leaders as a training ground for the grand union among the spirit, mind and body. Exploration of the mind, the whole self, and the collective consciousness was emphasized. It was the intention to transcend or leave the body behind in order to move beyond it. This wider realm of awareness gave people an improved sense of self and a deeper view of their role within the larger context of the whole world. This continues to be the belief held by many devoted followers.
3. JainismThe Jains introduced a strict moral code called ahimsa, which means non-harming. To facilitate transcendence, their yoga used extreme practices of fasting, breath control, and postures.
4. BuddhaThe 45 years Buddha spent teaching had a huge impact on the development of yoga. His input inspired a blend of religion and philosophy. His practical and non-violent guidance bridged the self-torture advocated by the Jains and the self-indulgence displayed in society. Buddha taught that suffering was due to desire, greed and delusion. His antidote was to practise stillness, focus on the present (mindful meditation) and strive to find serenity in where we are now.
5. PatanjaliPatanjali’s belief system has been integrated either in part or as a whole by almost every form of yoga known today. He isolates eight progressive limbs of consciousness.
* Yama: ethics and restraint* Niyama: moral code of discipline* Asana: postures * Pranayama: breathing practices * Pratyahara: sense withdrawal* Dharana: concentration* Dhyana: meditation* Samadhi: ecstasy
6. Yoga in the West Early in the 20th century, yoga practise migrated west. The characteristics of eastern and western culture combined to produce a new and slightly different species of yoga. For the most part, yoga in the West has less emphasis on the spiritual inquiry of enlightenment and more on the value of physical fitness. The postures of asana help people to restore musculoskeletal dysfunction, reduce stress, and find fulfillment through exercise.
7. Western YogisParamahansa Yogananda introduced Hatha yoga to the United States. His yoga practise involves meditation, concentration, and energizing the body through asana and pranayama.
Bikram Choudhury brought hot yoga into the foray on the advice of his teacher, Bishnu Ghosh (younger brother of Paramahansa Yoganada). Bikram Yoga is practised at 105 degrees Fahrenheit and focuses on the discipline of specific vinyasa and poses.
K. Pattabhi Jois gave Ashtanga to western yoga. Ashtanga is known for its flow of movement sequences such as the sun salutations.
BKS Iyengar developed the most popular style of yoga in the world today. His mark is precision of alignment, the retention of poses and the use of props to assist with the proper form.
The expanse of yoga defies any size of pigeon hole. So many variations offer anyone a healthier well-being within its embrace. Its benefits are limitless. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, yoga should be part of the daily lives of every person.
About the Author
Breathemat.com is a retailer of hot yoga mats that are long and thick enough to provide a comfortable, sanitary layer of protection between the body and floor of the yoga studio, yet compact enough to fold or roll up, take home from class and toss in the washer/dryer with ease.