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The History of Yoga

A much talked about and requested topic, the intent of this blog in a nutshell, is to capture the birth & history of the time-tested practice of Yoga.

The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit word yuj , which means ‘to join’ or ‘to unite’. This union particularly refers to the coming together of the body & mind. At a deeper level, Yoga is the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness.

It is said that Yoga started at the beginning of civilisation before the first religious system was born. Shiva, referred to as Adiyogi, is seen as the first yogi. Lord Shiva the first Yogi, imparted the knowledge of Yoga to Saptarishis (seven sages).

These sages shared this powerful knowledge of Yoga with the rest of the world, including Asia, The Middle East, North Africa & South America.

The word 'Yoga' was first mentioned in the Vedas (the earliest body of 4 sacred Hindu scriptures written in Sanskrit), specifically in the Rig Veda dating back to around 1500 BC. The Atharva Veda highlights the importance of controlling the breath.

The Upanishads (a set of 108 Sanskrit texts of Hindu philosophy), particularly 20 Upanishads, further explained the workings of the mind and spirit through personal teachings, yogic techniques, Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), sounds & meditation.

Lord Mahavira & Lord Buddha’s teachings formed the foundation of yoga sadhana. Lord Mahavira emphasised attaining salvation and freedom through meditation, while Lord Buddha spoke of meditation in specific postures to attain enlightenment.

The Bhagavad Gita (Hindu scriptures) elaborates on the concepts of Dharma, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Jnana Yoga through the teachings of Lord Krishna.

The Father of Yoga, Maharishi Patanjali, was the pioneer to systematise the practice of yoga & its meaning through the Yoga Sutras (a collection of Sanskrit Sutras on the teachings & practice of Yoga) called Raja Yoga.

He was instrumental in introducing Ashtanga Yoga, popularly referred to as the 8 Limbs of Yoga: Yamas, Niyama, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana & Samadhi. Raja Yoga was further developed by Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramahansa, BKS Iyengar, K Pattabi Jois, Paramhansa Yogananda and Vivekananda.

Many philosophers, such as Adi Shankaracharya, contributed to the development and continuation of Raja Yoga & Jnana Yoga, a direct interpretation of the teachings & techniques of yoga. Philosophers like Tulsidas & Purandaradasa also contributed to the science of yoga.

Swami Vivekananda introduced Yoga to the Western world in the mid-nineteenth century. The focus was predominantly on physical well-being.

Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India by T.Krishnamacharya. Despite the various contributors and given the evolution of yoga with time, the essence continued to become one with the self, spirit & the world around.

Previously people lived in harmony with nature. They were in their natural state & there was a deeper understanding of the relationship between the body - mind.

Therefore well being of the mind & body was an integral part of their lives. Yoga was a way of life for them.

Cut to chase our modern society is a far cry from the past. In today's world, Yoga is mainly considered a physical practice of asanas.

While asanas are essential to prepare the body to enter a meditative state & is one of the eight limbs, the practice of yoga certainly does not begin and end with asanas alone.

Yoga is a journey that encourages self-realization; you are one with the universe around you. It embodies that our existence is not a separate entity from the world around us.

Once we attain this state of awareness (Samadhi), we will be liberated from the world's sufferings and achieve full control of the mind, body & spirit.

This path to self-discovery and self-realization is the true meaning of Yoga.

This deep-rooted practice commemorates & honours universal peace & harmony globally.

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