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Understanding the Basics of Yoga - What is Yoga, Its Origins & Evolution Over the Years

  • 4 min read

Can you think of something that originated some 10-15 thousand years ago and is still being practiced? Well, the system of yoga is the only thing that comes to mind!

How could something survive for such a long time? It’s only possible if it works, right? Otherwise, people wouldn’t have followed it century after century. Like so many other traditions, political or spiritual movements, it would have died after a few hundred years. But yoga is still alive and not just alive, it’s thriving! Its popularity has now grown to every nook and corner of the world, like never before.

So, what is it about yoga that’s so appealing? Heck, what is yoga, first of all? Let’s answer all these basic questions while exploring how yoga is evolving in the world to cater to a wider audience and how you can make use of this ancient system to live a more fulfilled life.

So, What is Yoga, Exactly?

The word yoga literally means ‘union’. And when we say ‘union’ in the context of yoga, we are referring to the ‘ultimate nature of existence’.

You must’ve heard terms like Nirvana, Moksha, Samadhi, or Enlightenment. Big words, I know! But what these terms really represent is a certain state of higher consciousness that allows you to experience existence as a single entity, sometimes referred to as ‘oneness’ or ‘non-duality’ or in simpler terms - union.

All the ancient yogic traditions were designed in order to facilitate human beings towards experiencing this cosmic union. And that’s what the practice of yoga is all about. Its purpose is to introduce you to your true self, to your divine nature!

How It All Started?

While there are many theories related to the origins of yoga, the most widely accepted one point towards ‘The Yoga Sutras’ compiled by Sage Patanjali, who lived somewhere between 500 to 200 BC. He was an Indian ascetic who is celebrated as one of the most accomplished masters of yoga and his Yoga Sutras are the earliest known texts on the subject of yoga.

Though yoga is much older than Patanjali, it’s him who is considered to be the father of yogic sciences. Before him, yogis used to transmit this ancient knowledge via word of mouth only. Traditionally, however, it’s always Shiva, a powerful Hindu deity who’s worshipped as the ‘Yogeshwara’ or the Lord of Yoga.

So, It’s Not Just a Form of Workout Then?

In today’s scenario, as soon as you utter the word ‘yoga’, people think you are talking about twisting and turning exercises. They immediately imagine a slender-looking model, dressed in stretchy pants, holding an impossibly difficult posture, looking like a pretzel! But that’s just a twisted (pun intended) misconception!

Again, let’s come back to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. He categorized the entire system of yoga into eight sub-systems, which are known as the ‘8 Limbs of Yoga’. Out of these eight, Asana practice (holding the postures) is just one limb. It definitely helps you become physically stronger but that’s just one aspect of living a truly fulfilled life.

Without getting into too much technicality, here’s what these eight limbs of yoga represent -

● Yama and Niyama - Developing the right kind of attitude before practicing yoga,

● Asana - Use of body postures to activate life energies,

● Pranayama - Moving the energies via breathing techniques,

● Pratyahara - Turning your senses inward,

● Dharana - Developing a keen sense of attention,

● Dhyana - Meditation,

● Samadhi - The experience of non-duality.

So, How Come There Are So Many Different Schools of Yoga?

You must have heard of many different types of yoga like - Ashtanga, Iyengar, Hatha, Jnana, Kundalini, Tantra, Kriya, Isha, Sivananda, Vinyasa, Raja, and so on. Then there are many modern approaches to yoga where people combine the ancient techniques with today’s lifestyles or art forms. Thus, giving birth to forms like - Ariel Yoga, Hip Hop Yoga, HIIT Yoga, etc.

Traditionally, it was the job of your spiritual guru to decide what kind of yoga you need to practice. For instance, if the student is not physically very active, the guru would ask him to practice Hatha Yoga for a few years, first. This will allow the student to develop a strong body and a robust energy system while helping him attain a higher level of mental clarity which is needed to explore deeper states of meditation.

Which is The Best Form of Yoga Then?

Instead of asking the question - which is the best form of yoga out of all these different forms, you should ask yourself, which form of yoga is best suited for my needs? This decision should be made after carefully examining who you are as a person, what kind of lifestyle you lead, what is the nature of your compulsions, and how spiritually inclined you’d allow yourself to be.

What’s important to note here is that no matter which form of yoga you have decided to practice, your ‘intention’ should be to practice it with integrity so that it could lead to spiritual evolution. Most people start out their journey just to get into better shape, or to feel relaxed, or more focused. But if they practice long enough and with a sense of sincerity, they inevitably turn into spiritual seekers.

So, whether you are sweating it out in a Vinyasa class or you are trying to bust open your chakras in a Kundalini session, give it your all!

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