- 01. The Birth of the Discipline in India
- 02. The Founding Text of Yoga
- 03. The Different Strands of Yoga
- 04. Yoga: The Fruit of a Civilisation
- 05. The Big Questions Asked by Traditional Yoga
- 06. The Origins of Yoga Poses
- 07. The Origins of Bikram Yoga
- 08. The Birth of Hatha-Yoga
- 09. The Creation of Yoga Ashtanga Vinyasa
I've been taking yoga classes near me for a few years now. Maybe you have to or maybe you've just discovered this discipline centred around well-being and understanding of the human body and its emotions.
In any case, to master your grasp of this age-old practice, you are curious about its history and philosophy.
Prepare yourself for a spiritual maiden voyage that begins in India thousands of years ago.
To learn more about yoga, its origins and fundamental principles, follow this guide.
The Birth of the Discipline in India
The Definition of Yoga
In Sanskrit language, yoga comes from the word "jug" which means "put together, join, connect".
In the Indo-European language, the nearest term seems to be "yoke". Although this term evokes submission, among the Indians, the creators of yoga, the meaning would be rather that of bonding and unison.
It is, therefore, the unison of the universal self (brahman) and the individual self (atman). In fact, it is the relationship between the human being with the universal whole and the universe.
Thus, with the right movements and proper breathing, we are able to harmonise ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually.
This is the art of meditation and yoga.
Obviously, it did not appear just like that, as if by magic. It is the result of excessive testing and developing which took place over thousands of years that has allowed yoga to become what it is today.
So, my yoga classes near me are not just a series of techniques about how to eliminate stress that has accumulated during the day.
There are thousands of years behind this practice. Your yoga teacher embodies a link between the past, the present and the future.
"Yoga is the cessation of mental fragmentation" Patanjali
How did Yoga emerge?
Historians who specialise in Indian history find it difficult put a precise date on the birth of yoga.
According to some archaeologists who searched vestiges in the Indus Valley, it seems that the oldest traces of yoga date back to 5,500 years ago.
When we talked about an age-old practice, we weren't exaggerating.
Indeed, these researchers found figurines displaying yogic poses.
According to some data, scholars believe that this civilisation was peaceful and focused on abstract concepts. Few weapons, little fortification and, most surprisingly, there was no main building on the plans of the city at the time.
This tends to suggest that this population was a community, a united one at that, without a hierarchy.
Note: all this information is to be taken with a pinch of salt. As texts relating to life in this epoch are indecipherable for the moment and there are still many mysteries surrounding this ancient culture.
Some also say that yoga could come from an ancestral discipline that was practiced by the Brahmans: the tapas.
These are extremely difficult exercises for the body and the senses which were intended to increase the power of the person who practised them assiduously. This was in order to seize the power of the gods.
To practise tapas, you had to isolate yourself from the rest of the population and to impose harsh exercises.
Over time, these series of exercises have been transformed and softened. Those who practise yoga no longer want to impose their power on the gods. They want to become like them and unite with them.
You have understood that there is a certain mystery surrounding yoga. That is all part of its charm.
The Founding Text of Yoga
Whatever form of yoga you practise, did you know that this discipline comes from a single text?
Eh yes! Today I have many styles of yoga classes near me, including:
- Vinyasa Yoga;
- Ashtanga yoga;
- Dynamic Yoga;
- Yoga Iyengar;
- Hatha Yoga;
- Yoga Nidra;
- Yoga Kundalini;
They are all derived from a text called the Yoga sūtra.
Written and compiled between the 2nd and 5th century BC. There are 195 sūtras (short sentences to be memorised) and 1161 words.
It is composed of 4 chapters.
Chapter 1: Samādhi pāda
This first chapter can be translated as "Unification".
It begins with the first sutra: "And now here is the traditional teaching of yoga."
The second sutra can be literally translated as "Yoga is the cessation of the activities of thought".
During the 51 sutras which it is comprised of, we find the definition and description of yoga in order to reach the state of serenity specific to this discipline.
This first chapter explains the obstacles to be overcome and the parts to be undertaken (the famous poses of Yogi or asana) and the different stages of samadhi (ecstasy or completion in Sanskrit).
As a master would do to his pupil.
Chapter 2: Sādhana pāda
In this second chapter, which can be translated as "Pathway", we identify two forms of yoga: Kriyā Yoga (Yoga of Action) and Ashtanga Yoga (eight-branched yoga).
The first form is based on the practice of tapas and meditation.
The second, on the other hand, is based on 8 principles:
- Yama (moral duties): ahiṃsā (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (honesty), brahmacarya (sense control), aparigraha (non-possessiveness);
- Niyama (observances): śauca (purity), santoṣa (contentment), tapas (discipline), svādhyāya (motivation of acts and study of sacred texts), īśvara-praṇidhāna (dedicating your actions to Ishvara, the universal Being);
- Āsana (to be in a stable and pleasant position);
- Prāṇāyāma (adopt a conscious, long and fluid breathing);
- Pratyāhāra (harmonisation or withdrawal of the senses);
- Dhāraṇā (concentration to access meditation);
- Dhyāna (meditation);
- Samādhi (deep contemplation and state of unity, sometimes called enstasy).
This chapter has 55 sutras.
Chapter 3: Vibhūti pāda
In this third chapter of 55 sutras that can be translated as "Powers", the author returns specifically to the last 3 principles of Ashtanga Yoga.
He describes yoga techniques that allow you to reach a higher state of consciousness.
However, he warns that going in search of it can be a hindrance.
Chapter 4: Kaivalya pādah5
Finally, the last chapter is that of "Liberation" made up of 34 sutras.
Previously, this meant a certain degree of isolation from the yogi.
Today, we speak more readily of freedom and unity of being with the body and the universe that surrounds it.
This is the ultimate goal of yoga.
The Different Strands of Yoga
In everyday practice, there are two main types of yoga: the traditional approaches and the Kriyā Yoga approaches.
Let's look in more detail at that they entail.
There are 4 of them:
- Bhakti Yoga essentially focuses on devotion to the divinity;
- Jnana Yoga allows access to transcendent knowledge;
- Karma Yoga is that of selfless action.
- Rāja Yoga (otherwise known as Integral Yoga or Royal Yoga), is based on the Yoga Sūtra.
The first three yogas form the path to enlightenment (or trimarga).
The last one takes up the other three yoga approaches and associates Hatha Yoga with it.
Each strand has its own practices.
As such, they can be done individually or collectively.
The Strands of Kriyā Yoga
The other great ancestral method of yoga is Kriya Yoga. Unlike Aṣṭāṅga-Yoga which encourages you to follow the rules of life, the Kriyā Yoga is all about techniques.
These two strands are separated in the Yoga Sūtras.
Thus, the three most known forms of this traditional method are:
- Mantra Yoga;
- Tantra Yoga;
- Hatha Yoga.
Mantra Yoga is the repetition of syllables, following a certain rhythm. The one who recites this sacred formula is often accompanied by a rosary of 108 grains (mālā). This ritual brings both spiritual and material benefits.
Tantra Yoga is too often perceived as a carnal and sexual vision of yoga. Moreover, the goal of tantric yoga is to return to total union with shakti energy. The latter being a concept establishing creative feminine power and fertility.
It symbolises the unification of the two feminine and masculine entities in order to gain energy and supreme consciousness.
Often symbolised by a carnal scene between two members of the opposite sex, this represents, in reality, an inner psychic and mental fusion.
Among the forms of yoga found in tantric yoga, there is Yoga Nidra (sleeping Yoga), Shaivism of Kashmir and Kundalini Yoga.
Let's end with the most common form of yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga. In the yogic tradition, the practice is very far from what we know today.
In fact, instead of a gentle activity, similar to slow gymnastics, it is a dangerous spiritual path recommended only for elites wanting to cut corners.
It focuses on poses that promote flexibility of the body and great concentration, pushed to perfection.
Through this text, we wanted to make you discover the origin of yoga, as it has been taught for thousands of years.
If you want to know more about a specific type or method, ask your yoga teacher who will be able to recommend famous works.
In any case, there is a British yoga federation that offers courses in Hatha Yoga (and other types).
And if you want, you can also get in contact with a private teacher for a yoga session tailored to your needs: Prenatal Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Iyengar Yoga or Natha Yoga.
By exercising regularly, you will soon notice real changes, both mentally and physically.
Yoga: The Fruit of a Civilisation
Yoga is the byproduct of a mature civilisation that was unrivaled in the ancient world.
Think about it!
As a practicer of yoga, you are part of an ancient and honorable current of tradition, which makes you a descendant of this civilisation at least at the heart.
India can claim to be the oldest sustainable civilisation in the world.
Its present problems must not make us forget its glorious past and the lessons we can draw from them.
Yoga lovers can particularly benefit from India's prolonged experimentation with life, especially its explorations of the mysteries of the mind.
Indian civilisation has produced great philosophical and spiritual geniuses that have provided all imaginable answers to the great questions, which are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago.
The Big Questions Asked by Traditional Yoga
Traditional Yoga seeks to provide plausible answers to such profound questions such as "Who am I?", "Where do I come from?", "Where will I go?" And "What should I do?" .
These are the kinds of questions that we all end up asking ourselves sooner or later.
The underlying idea is that, basically, we are all philosophers, because we all need to give meaning to our lives.
Some of us are delaying thinking about these issues.
Yoga does not only promote "well-being", it awakens one's consciousness (not just self-awareness).
The Origins of Yoga Poses
2000 years ago, it was in the ruins of the city of Mohenjo-Daro, located in present-day Pakistan, that the oldest representations of the asanas were discovered...
Founded more than 3000 years before our time, this city that is now recognised as the birth place of Yoga, housed scattered seals with illustrations of figures performing poses similar to those found in Haṭha yoga.
The Yoga Sutras and its 196 aphorisms written by Patanjali or the Yogabhashya of Vyasa cast doubt on whether the asanas or poses existed before the "bible" of Yoga
Originally, all these poses had a name in Sanskrit - the Indo-European language of the Indian subcontinent - and it was only much later, with the adoption of Western Yoga that they were translated into other languages such as English, French and Spanish.
This ancient language is now reborn from its ashes, like the phoenix, thanks to the rise of the practice of Yoga and the asanas.
Third "Anga" or member of the Sūtra of Patañjali, the Asanas are called either poses or physical exercises depending on the yoga teacher, the yoga school or the part of the world you're in.
The term Asana which is a literal translation of Sanskrit which means:
- In the original, philosophical and spiritual sense: "ritual pose".
- In the raw, current and contemporary sense: "the act of sitting," "the method of sitting," "pose," or even "situation."
Constantly developing for more than two millennia, Yoga poses or asanas are not part of a tradition. Indeed, they have been modified, created and invented to meet the expectations of new forms of Yoga that stem from Hatha Yoga such as Bikram Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga or Power Yoga. On the other hand, they have, for the most part, the characteristic of being inspired by nature.
Thus, among the 10 most common translated positions of Sanskrit we have:
- Tadasana or mountain pose.
- Adhomukhashvanasana or downward dog.
- Bhujagasana or cobra pose.
- Padmāsana or lotus pose.
- Garudasana or Eagle pose.
- Vrksasana or Tree pose.
- Ustrasana or Camel pose.
- Marjaryasana or Cat pose.
- Adho Mukha Svanasana or downward facing dog.
- Bhujangasana or Cobra pose.
The Origins of Bikram Yoga
Within the family of modern yoga methods, I wonder which is the best? Which is the one that makes you really work, warms up your body and impresses you with its intensity? I'm sure you realise by now, I want to talk about bikram yoga .
As well as yoga iyengar, sivananda yoga, power yoga, yogalates, laughter yoga, salsa therapy and satyananda yoga, Bikram Yoga is a modern practice of this ancestral art.
Following a sequence of 26 hatha yoga poses or asanas, this form of yoga subjects the body to intense temperature as it is practiced in a 40 degree room.
Founded by Bikram Choudhury, this type of yoga that takes his name draws inspiration from the very famous hatha yoga.
According to legend, a Yoga enthusiast since the age of 4, this Indian born in Calcutta in 1946 was the youngest national yoga champion in India at only 13 years old under the guidance of Bishnu Ghosh, his mentor, teacher and guru.
After he was involved in an accident at the age of 20 which left him unable to walk, he began working, with his mentor, on research to create this particular practice of yoga which allowed him to regain his full health in only 6 months.
In an effort to consolidate this personal success, he decided to share his spiritual, physical and well-being knowledge with the country where dreams come true: the United States.
For example, he created his first Bikram Yoga schools in California and Hawaii, where well-being is an important part of everyday life and where people listen intently to their bodies.
In the early 1990s, he started to pass on his wisdom in order to spread his Yoga movement and make it popular on a global scale.
Controversial in the spiritual scene, the father of this form of yoga we are used to seeing with long black hair wearing American celebrities' clothes, sparked public uproar when he tried to patent his already existing invention related to physical exercise and breathing.
Moreover, the founder of this yoga empire hid his dark side, not only being fathering one of his pupils like a real-life Darth Vader, but in the acts of moral and sexual harassment of which he was accused and lost.
Deemed to be close to bankruptcy, today he still has a collection of 30 to 40 luxury cars. Namaste!
Bikram Yoga has a series of 26 poses that are repeated twice in a room overheated to 40º Celsius. Heat promotes:
- Elimination of toxins
- Weight loss.
The Birth of Hatha-Yoga
Two opposites, Hatha Yoga - which means the union of body energies (the Indian equivalent of the Chinese Yin and Yang) and marijuana - have two things in common:
- They are the most widespread type of yoga/drug in the West.
- They are a so-called "soft" yoga/drug.
Hatha Yoga owes its success not to India, but rather to the fact that the majority of Western teachers or modern yogis have been trained in this practice by Krishnamacharya as Iyengar, Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois.
Also referred to as postural yoga, it is often thought to have been developed within a Shivaite environment. Its expansion out of its original milieu would have been carried out by the Goraknath, Goraknthths or Nathyogis sects.
However, this theory is now being challenged by an English researcher who, after analysing the Sanskrit and Prakrit texts, as well as the paleontological exploration, expressed doubts on the correct source of traditional yoga.
Indeed, James Mallinson believes that the poses or asanas are not based on hatha yoga but rather vishnouïtes shrîvaishnava or pncharatrika.
Add to this information a fusion towards the eighteenth century of the Vishnuite school with the dashnâmî school of shringeri which was the source of the texts that are considered today as the basis of hatha yoga.
Thus, it is very difficult to see the true nature of this yoga which is generally taught as an authentic and ancestral yoga, from a age-old tradition coming from the Vedas or Hindus religious texts.
The Creation of Yoga Ashtanga Vinyasa
"Synchronisation of movement and breathing"
The literal translation of the Sanskrit term Vinyasa with the words "Nyasa" and "Vi", meaning "place" and "specifically" respectively, evokes the nature of this form of yoga.
Like all modern yoga, Vinyasa Yoga draws its inspiration from an older, traditional, ancestral yoga. Thus, it is in Ashtanga Yoga that we can find poses familiar to Vinyasa Yoga.
Nevertheless, although their differences are subtle and the names are often associated together to make "Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga", distinguishing between them is very easy for yoga fans.
It is distinguished from his ancestor in the freedom, creativity and techniques it demonstrates. Here, in order to follow this type of yoga no pose is forced on you which explains, among other things, its success with young people, dancers and men.
Supported by Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois, he was first taught in Mysore, India at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute before being introduced to the West in the early 1960s with a breathtaking popularity in the United States.
Dying at 93 years of age, the founding father of this form of yoga, a former Indian student of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, saw his art change, standardise and evolve to the point of sometimes taking the name Vinyasa Flow, given the fluidity of movements in a session.
In the United States, vinyasa yoga is extremely trendy. To cater more to an audience focused on physical activity, sport and personal development, this yoga has taken new and more distant forms with:
- Baptise Yoga,
- Power Yoga
- and Jivamukti.
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