Yoga history cannot fairly be condensed to one page. Here is a very brief introduction to a small part of this ancient tradition.
Yoga originated in India over five thousand years ago. Yoga history can be traced to the Vedic period, approximately 3000 BCE, and specifically to the Rig Veda – the oldest written book in the world.
Yoga is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian Philosophy. The date of its origin is difficult to pinpoint, as the actual era from which this knowledge came is much less important than the knowledge itself.
The word “yoga” is a sanskrit term that has many meanings. The word itself is derived from the sanskrit root “yuj” – to yoke or harness.
In India one would bring an ox under control by harnessing it to a wagon, similarly, yoga can be viewed as a process of training and uniting the body, mind and spirit. It has been practiced over the centuries many different forms.
Yoga is the name given to a set of practices compiled by the sage Patañjali some time between
200 BCE to 250 CE. Ashtanga Yoga is translated from the Sanskrit language as: 8 limbs of yoga.
Very little is known about the sage Patañjali, although he is credited with writing texts on grammar, ayurveda, and most importantly for us, on yoga.
Simply put,yoga philosophy describes a spiritual discipline or path that promotes harmony within the individual self, and creates connection with a greater universal Self or Reality.
The 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga literally means “8 limbs yoga. ” These limbs are defined in the the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The following are the 8 practices or limbs:
1. yama (moral restraints) – how we relate to others
2. niyama (observances) – how we relate to ourselves
3. asana (posture) – how we relate to our body
4. praṇayama (breath extension) – how we relate to our breath or spirit
5. pratyahara (sensory withdrawal) – how we relate to our sense organs
6. dharaṇa (concentration) – how we relate to our mind
7. dhyana (meditation) – moving beyond the mind
8. samadhi (meditative absorption) – deep realization and inner union
Six Branches of Yoga
1. Hatha Yoga or Yoga of Postures
Hath yoga is perhaps the path of Yoga you are most familiar with since this is the most popular branch of Yoga in the West. This branch of Yoga uses physical poses or Asana, Breathing technique or Pranayama, and Meditation to achieve better health, as well as spirituality. There are many styles within this path – Iyengar, Integral, Astanga, Kripalu, and Jiva Mukti to name a few.
If what you want is a peaceful mind and a healthy body to go along with it, Hatha Yoga may just be the path for you.
2. Bhakti Yoga or Yoga of Devotion
Bhakti Yoga is the path most followed in India. This is the path of the heart and devotion. Yogis who practice this branch sees the “One” or the Divine in everyone and everything. Bhakti Yoga teaches a person to have devotion to the “One” or to Brahma by developing a person’s love and acceptance for all things.
3. Raja Yoga or Yoga of Self-Control
Raja means “royal”. This path is considered to be the King of Yoga and this may be due to the fact that most of its practitioners are members of religious and spiritual orders. Raja Yoga is based on the teachings of the Eight Limbs of Yoga found in the Yoga sutras.
A Raja Yogi sees the self as central, and as such, respect to oneself and for all creation are vital to this path. They achieve self-respect by first learning to be masters of themselves.
If you wish to learn discipline, then Raja Yoga would perfectly suit that need.
4. Jnana Yoga or Yoga of the Mind
Jnana Yoga is the path of Yoga that basically deals with the mind, and as such, it focuses on man’s intelligence. Jnana Yogis consider wisdom and intellect as important and they aim to unify the two to surpass limitations. Since they wish to gain knowledge, they are open to other philosophies and religion for they believe that an open and rational mind is crucial in knowing the spirit.
5. Karma Yoga or Yoga of Service
Karma Yoga is the path of service for in this path, it is believed that your present situation is based on your past actions. So by doing selfless service now, you are choosing a future that is free from negativity and selfishness. Karma Yogis change their attitude towards the good and in the process, change their souls, which leads to a change in their destiny.
6. Tantra Yoga or Yoga of Rituals
Perhaps the most misunderstood of all the paths, Tantra Yoga is about using rituals to experience what is sacred. Although sex is a part of it, sex is not the whole of it since this path aims to find what is sacred in everything we do. Tantra Yogis must possess certain qualities like purity, humility, devotion, dedication to his Guru, cosmic love, and truthfulness among other things.
There are still a lot of misconceptions about Yoga, for instance, Yoga being a religion. Yoga is not a religion. It is more of a set of techniques for us to find spirituality. In fact, Yoga is being practiced by a lot of people from different religions like Christians, Jewish, Buddhists, and Muslims.
Another misconception is that Yoga is an exercise, a way for us to keep fit. It is partly true, but if you think that Yoga is just that then you are greatly mistaken. Yoga develops the body since a weak one is a hindrance to spiritual growth. It does not simply focus on the physical but on the mental and spiritual aspects as well.
Yoga in Your Life
You may ask, “Is Yoga for me?”
Definitely, yes! Yoga is for anyone who is willing to learn its ways and ideas. It does not actually require any special equipment or clothing. What it requires is your will to have a healthier, stress-free self.
You may first approach Yoga as a way to achieve a great body or to keep fit and that is perfectly alright. Yoga really does help in improving your health for stretching can tone your muscles and exercise your spine and your entire skeletal system.
Do not just take advantage of what Yoga can offer. Yoga encourages you to reflect on yourself and to find your inner peace. It exercises not just your body but your mind as well. With a healthy body and mind, you’re on your way to a more fulfilling life.