WHAT IS YOGA?
Yoga (from the Sanskrit root Yuj, “yoke, unite”, referring to the union of body, mind and spirit with the Universal consciousness) is an ancient and complex system of knowledge, a precious fruit of the millennial Indian culture, developed over 5.000 years ago.
Yoga is an ancient practice with roots in India dating back over 5,000 years. The origins of yoga can be traced back to ancient Hindu texts, specifically the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The Upanishads, written between 800 BCE and 200 BCE, contain early references to yoga as a spiritual practice aimed at attaining union with the divine. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written around 400 CE, is considered to be one of the foundational texts of yoga. It outlines the eight limbs of yoga, which include ethical guidelines, physical postures, breath control, and meditation.
Yoga was traditionally passed down orally from teacher to student, and was primarily a practice for spiritual development and self-realization. It was not until the late 1800s and early 1900s that yoga began to be taught in a more formalized way, and it was introduced to the western world by Indian yogis such as Swami Vivekananda and Sri Krishnamacharya.
In the mid-20th century, yoga began to gain popularity in the western world as a form of physical exercise and stress management. Today, yoga is widely practiced around the world, and there are many different styles and approaches to the practice.
It’s important to note that the original intention of yoga was spiritual and the focus was mainly on the mental and spiritual aspects rather than the physical one. With the rise of popularity of yoga in the Western world, the focus has shifted more towards the physical practice and less on the spiritual aspect of it. However, many traditional styles of yoga still place a strong emphasis on spiritual growth and self-awareness, and some practitioners continue to use yoga as a means of self-realization and spiritual development.
Using a wide range of techniques, Yoga promotes and makes possible the transcendence of the self with the aim of enlightenment.
The Yoga of today is really different from the ancient Yoga, where the most common pose wasn’t “Down Dog” but the classical Lotus meditation position in order to practice the breathing techniques and to train the mind to achieve high levels of consciousness.
The “Bible of Yoga” is The Bhagavad Gita, written about the 2nd-century-BCE. It is the sacred epic poem of Hinduism, where the yogic philosophy is illustrated through metaphors within the context of an heroic battle, and it’s from here that we can see the first notions on important yoga paths such as:
•Bhakti (the path of devotion)
•Jnana (the path of the intellect)
•Karma Yoga (the path of the work)
From these three, new paths of Yoga began to appear:
•Tantra Yoga, the path of the union of body and spirit to the Universal consciousness as one, without separations (nothing to do with sex as many people think). The teachings on the “energetic bodies”, such as Chakras, come from Tantra Yoga, and from here the belief that the body isn’t an impure obstacle in order to achieve the divine, but the sacred place where the spirit lives and so it deserves to be cherished and worship as God itself (or the Universe).
After that emphasis on the body appreciation, the responsibility for taking care of the body came to light through the
•Hatha Yoga, the style of Yoga that is closest to what we practice in our modern age. Tired of practicing more than 10 hours of meditation per day, the Tantric Yogis started to observe the movement in nature, as in the animals, trees and plants, simulating them through various postures of the body, like the ones we know today. If body is stronger so mind and spirit will be.
•The Raja Yoga, or Raja Marga (the royal path), organized and explained in a comprehensive structure for the first time in the history of Yoga through the aphorisms of the sage Patanjali, who wrote, about 400 CE, one of the most important foundational text of Yoga, The Yoga Sutras, where he illustrates how yoga is a set of practices that go beyond physical postures and embrace a real lifestyle made of rigor, discipline and commitment (the Kriya Yoga of the great Master Paramhansa Yogananda is a particular form of Raja Yoga).
Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India. It involves a combination of physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and ethical principles for promoting overall health and well-being. The ultimate goal of yoga is to achieve a state of inner peace and union with the divine. Yoga has been widely adopted in the Western world as a form of exercise and stress management.
Yoga practice typically includes a combination of physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and ethical principles. The physical postures, or asanas, are designed to strengthen and stretch the body, improve flexibility and balance, and promote relaxation. Breath control, or pranayama, is an important aspect of yoga practice, as it helps to increase lung capacity and improve overall respiratory function. Meditation, or dhyana, is a key component of yoga practice and is used to quiet the mind, promote inner peace and focus. Finally, ethical principles such as non-violence, truthfulness, and non-stealing are also an important aspect of yoga practice and are intended to promote a peaceful and harmonious life.
Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India. It is based on the belief that the body and mind are connected, and that by practicing yoga, one can achieve physical and mental well-being.
There are many different types of yoga, each with their own unique focus and style. Some of the most popular styles include:
- Hatha Yoga: This is the most traditional and basic form of yoga, and is characterized by slow-paced, static postures and controlled breathing.
- Vinyasa Yoga: This style of yoga is characterized by flowing sequences of postures, linked together with breath. It is a more dynamic and physically demanding form of yoga.
- Ashtanga Yoga: This style of yoga is characterized by a set sequence of postures that are practiced in a specific order. It is a physically demanding and fast-paced form of yoga.
- Iyengar Yoga: This style of yoga is characterized by the use of props such as blocks and straps to help the body achieve proper alignment in the postures.
- Restorative Yoga: This style of yoga emphasizes the use of props to support the body in passive poses, promoting relaxation and reducing stress.
- Yoga practice typically includes postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation or relaxation. The postures in yoga can vary widely, from easy and gentle to quite challenging and demanding. Yoga can be practiced by people of all ages and fitness levels and can be adapted to suit individual needs and abilities.
The benefits of yoga are wide-ranging and include improved flexibility and range of motion, increased strength and balance, improved breathing and cardiovascular health, stress reduction, and improved overall well-being.
It’s important to note that while yoga can be practiced independently, it is best to practice under the guidance of a qualified yoga teacher, especially if you have any health concerns. This will ensure that you are practicing safely and effectively and to get the most out of your practice.
The ancient master Patanjali, about 300 B.C. quotes eight points that a practitioner of Yoga should follow and they are known as “the eight limbs”:
- YAMA (ethical and social behavior)
- NIYAMA (self physical and spiritual discipline)
- ASANA (postures)
- PRANAYAMA (breathing techniques)
- PRATYAHARA (transcendence of the senses)
- DHARANA (concentration)
- DHYANA (meditation)
- SAMADHI (enlightenment, transcendence of the self)
Over time, many different styles of yoga have formed around the world, and each of them is distinguished by giving more emphasis to one or another aspect of Yoga. Some schools focus on meditation practices, others on postures, while others on breathing techniques and so on.
At the turn of the nineteenth century, the great Indian Yoga Master, healer and Ayurvedic scholar Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (known as the modern father of Yoga), developed a unique Yoga style based on the needs of people in their diversity, adapting Yoga to every body, to every need and considering physical problems of various kinds, maintaining the alignment with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras though.
He was the teacher of the modern influent Masters as Indra Devi (known as the first lady of Yoga), Pattabhi Jois (the founder of Ashtanga Yoga), Iyengar (brother in law of Krishnamacharya, founder of Iyengar Yoga) and Desikachar (son of Krishnamacharya who developed ViniYoga).
•The Ashtanga Yoga (Ashtanga means “eight limbs”referring to the eight fold path of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) founded by Patthabi Jois, consist in six series that never change, which include flowing sequences of movements connecting one posture to another (known as Vinyasas), breathing system (Pranayama) and Drishti (the focus point of the eyes in every asana).