Here’s the beginning of your yoga history lesson. I know that history can make most roll their eyes and yawn, so I’ll try to make this interesting.
Archeologists have found seals with pictures of people (figures as they would call it) in yoga and meditation postures in Pakistan. These seals date back to about 3300-1700 BC.
Now yoga comes from the sanskrit word “yuj” which is hard to translate but could mean “to control”, “to yolk” or “to unite”. My opinion is that since it was originally a spiritual practice, Yoga means a way to enlightenment or uniting with the divine.
There are many ancient Indian texts which describe yoga, but they aren’t all the yoga that you or I am familiar with. There are six main paths to enlightenment. These are:
- Raja Yoga: The yoga of meditation (which is why Yoga and Meditation go so well together)
- Hatha Yoga: The yoga of physical purification (this is what most of us in the West practice)
- Gyaan (Jnana) Yoga: The yoga of knowledge (knowing more about the divine will bring enlightenment)
- Bhakti Yoga: The yoga of devotion (according to Indian texts, this is the easy way to attain enlightenment)
- Jaap or Mantra Yoga: The yoga of repeating the name of the divine
Obviously from what you can see above, yoga in India many years ago was a spiritual practice.
Patanjali who was around in 150 BCE formalized yoga practice and created the Yoga Sutras which various modern Yoga Styles are based on. Ashtanga means “eight limbs” referring to the eight sutras of Patanjali.
These sutras are:
- Yama (Ethics):consists of Ahimsa (non violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non stealing), Brahmacharya (controlling sexual energy), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
- Niyama (Discipline): this involves controlling yourself and your inner and outer body, continuous study and surrender to the divine.
- Asana (Posture): the idea here is that by controlling the body you control the mind. Martial arts also have a similar belief.
- Pranayama (Breath): breathing cleans the body and calms and concentrates your mind.
- Pratyahara: in order to concentrate on yoga you need to withdraw your five senses from the environment around you.
- Dharana: keeping your mind laser focused on your yoga practice
- Dhyana: preparation for Samadhi through meditation
- Samadhi: Enlightenment and union with the divine
But just because India had such an intricate system doesn’t mean that similar ideas didn’t exist in other cultures.
Buddhism, Jainism, Zen, Islam and Christianity also have poses and meditation that bring them closer to the divine.