Nov 08, 2017

Yoga: The Origin Story

The earliest mention of yoga can be found as far back as the sixth and the fifth century BCE, however an exact time for the origin of yoga as a discipline cannot be determined. This is chiefly due to the oral nature of the transfer of yogic practices from one generation to the other. The writings that were done were on fragile leaves and have been lost or damaged beyond repair over the years. Therefore, the earliest written records that can be found are in the Vedas.

The Vedas are the sacred texts of the Hindus. The mention of yoga exists even in the Rig Veda, the oldest out of the four Vedas – the earliest written record of the origins of yoga.

Fortunately, the place of origin of yoga is not as obscure. Yoga developed in northern India. The definitive and precise place of origin of yoga within India is another debate, as there are differing opinions which talk of Yoga having originated in the Indus Valley Civilization as early as  3300–1900 BCE or as late as the śramaṇa movement in the 6th century.

The British scholar Gavin Flood also talks of a continuity that might exist, between these different yogic traditions.

 

The Original Purpose

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Today, Yoga is known as a formiable set of exercises to keep your body healthy. However, this belief is quite recent and thanks primarily to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda. Yoga gained popularity throughout the western world by the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century, becoming a powerful wave that influenced a lot of people.

But yoga did not originate as a form of exercise, or rather not only as a form of exercise. Yoga, according to Indian traditions, was and still is believed by the traditionalists to be a more spiritual practice than a physical one.

According to a famous Sanskrit grammarian of the sixth century, Pāṇini, the term yoga originated from one of two possible word roots: yujir yoga which means to yoke or to join, or yuj samādhau which means to concentrate. According to both Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the saint Veda Vyasa (believed to be the author of the Hindu epic Mahabharata), however, yuj samādhau is the correct etymology.

The etymology helps to trace back the original purpose of yoga, which was to concentrate and achieve total harmony. Yoga, or concentration, was originally used for understanding and applying the world and worldly knowledge better. Gradually, the focus shifted to self-enlightenment. It was much later, around the sixth century BC, that physical characteristics like poses and meditation became an integral part of yoga.

 

Different Disciplines of Yoga

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The three major disciplines of yoga that have prevailed through the ages are Ashtanga Yoga, Hatha Yoga and Tantric Yoga.

 

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga means eight limbs or branches. Ashtanga yoga is an umbrella term that covers eight different components explained in the philosophy of Patanjali.

Asana or physical exercise is only one limb out of the eight; Yama (ethical standards), Niyama (self-discipline), Pranayama (breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (ecstasy) are the remaining seven.

Power Yoga is an offshoot of Ashtanga Yoga.

 

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga emphasizes the physical aspect of yoga. Hatha (force in Sanskrit) is the ideology behind Hatha Yoga. It was believed in the olden days that the yogi or practitioner forced the effects of the yoga on himself through these physical movements.

Other important components of Hatha Yoga are a proper diet and proper breathing, accompanied by the asanas.

Iyengar Yoga has sprouted from Hatha Yoga.

 

Tantra Yoga

Tantra Yoga, which originated from the worship of the Hindu deities Shakti (dynamic, creative, feminine) and Shiva (static, destructive, masculine) deals with the two polar energies of the Universe, i.e. static and dynamic.

Tantra, which literally means woven together, works on many different principles to achieve the alignment of the human microcosm with the Universe. Some of the most common rituals of tantra yoga are Asanas, Mantras, Yantras, Mudras, etc. The ultimate goal of Tantra Yoga is to reach enlightenment. 

 

Health Benefits of Yoga

Yoga has numerous health benefits. It works on the core of your body, strengthening your bones and muscles and most importantly increasing your flexibility. Although people desire flexibility, they highly underestimate its importance. Increased flexibility has the power to remove the extra age-lines from your face and make your body freer to perform functions that an advanced age generally doesn’t allow. It also helps in weight reduction, increased metabolism, improved immunity and reduces problems related to almost every organ.

Apart from helping your body, yoga also works on the mind. Just like the body, yoga also provides the flexibility of the mind. It sometimes is termed as a ‘moving meditation’ or the meditation that occurs while you exercise your body. Yoga can relieve stress, and improve concentration and decision-making skills.

 

Popularity

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The popularity of yoga spread outside India in the later part of the nineteenth century and has only been growing ever since. Yoga has grown to such an extent that it is a 2 billion dollar industry in the U.S. alone!

Yoga owes its success to the fact that people have been experiencing positive results by adopting yoga in their lives. It is an ancient science that offers answers to modern-day problems.

As a testimonial to the increasing popularity of yoga, June 21 was proclaimed as International Yoga Day in 2015 by the United Nations, and is celebrated throughout the world. 

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