History of Yoga and Modern Yoga
The History of Yoga
The practice of yoga comes from millennia ago and was only recently written down about 2000 years ago, by a wise being named Patanjali. The book “Yoga Sutras” of Patanjali is an ancient philosophical text. Sutras are short aphorisms addressing a particular topic, in this case yoga. Most yoga practice these days is based on his wisdom. His short verses captured in 4 chapters within a book, are guidelines on achieving a balanced harmonious life.
The second sutra in the book provides a definition of yoga: “yoga chitta vritti nirodha.” Although there are variations on how this statement is translated from the ancient language of Sanskrit, one common interpretation is “yoga is doing away with the unsteadiness of mind“. In other words, the aim of yoga is to achieve stillness and clarity of mind. In the second chapter of his book, the most well-known Eight-limbs of Yoga are given to us.
The practice of Yoga around the world today has been modified and adapted into many different styles, several named after the teacher who first started teaching that “style”. Some of these are purely based on only one aspect of Patanjali’s original wisdom, for example the physical part of the practice and has thus become a physical form of exercising which has many benefits to the body but has lost the purpose of yoga.
Other styles of yoga are entirely based on the meditation (mental and spiritual) component and take no notice of the physical part, which is also unbalanced, as we are in human form with a body that needs to be maintained and kept healthy for us to get the most benefit from life itself.
A more balanced form of Yoga practice is Hatha Yoga which includes body awareness and exercise, as well as benefiting the mental, emotional, and energetic attributes as well as touching on the spiritual aspect.
These days the most common type of yoga is Hatha Yoga, which is a broad category of yoga that usually includes physical postures (asana), breathing exercises (pranayama) and relaxation (pratyahara) at the end of the class. Most styles of yoga fall into this category, and this includes the kind of yoga practised at spas and gyms that have sprung up all over the country (some have even dropped all except the physical aspect – asanas).
Hatha Yoga is subset of practices of a greater system of yoga called Raja Yoga. The origin of Raja Yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which is the foundation of classical Yoga. In addition to the 3 practices mentioned above there are 5 other elements which make up classical yoga – there is guidance on values and morals (yama and niyama), and the deeper spiritual aspects of concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and oneness (Samadhi).
By exploring these parts of yoga, yoga teachers say our attitude to the outside world changes, we become more compassionate and more focussed, we have more respect and reverence for everything and we start to focus inwards until we reach Samadhi (Oneness, sometimes called enlightenment).
Questions and Answers
Who can do Yoga? One doesn’t need to be physically flexible to do yoga. You mainly need to be mentally flexible and open to new possibilities. Within a yoga class do your best to focus on letting go, breathing, moving, and honouring where you are today. A yoga pose may expose your weaknesses and strengths but soon you’ll learn so much from your weaknesses and become so much stronger by accepting them and working through them rather than running from them. You will be amazed that as soon as you let go and simply allow the process to unfold, the tension in your body (and mind too) will dissipate and your range of motion and strength will increase. Flexibility will come with practice.
I’m new to Yoga, what can I expect? Yoga is a unique experience for everyone and you can acquire out of a yoga class whatever you set your goal to be. As a beginner, you are about to embark on a journey that will change your life in ways as unique as you are. As with anything new, please be compassionate with yourself. Remember it isn’t possible to get everything right away, and even experienced yogis are still in the process of learning something new every day! Attend class with an open mind, expect to have fun, breathe, move and relax. Initially don’t worry about doing it “right”- just show up, do your best and enjoy the journey.
How often should I practice? At Ananda Sanga we recommend that people practice in a yoga class, with an experienced teacher once or twice a week, but then have some sort of home practice. Spend a few minutes each day working at a posture or breathing practice and include some quiet time for meditation. Remember it takes 21 – 30 days to form a new habit, and yoga will be of benefit in all aspects of your life, so take the time to practice. For optimal results in gaining energy, decreasing stress and building a strong, pain-free body, consistency is the key to success.
What do I wear to yoga class? Wear clothes that you feel comfortable moving in. In summer, a T-shirt and leggings or shorts and in colder months, track pants and a T-shirt or long sleeved top, and take socks and something warm to relax in.
What do I need to take with me? You will need a yoga mat, blanket for winter and a bottle of water with pop-up lid (optional).
How much water should I drink? Unless you attend classes in very hot weather, yoga in a heated room or a very physical form of yoga where excessive sweating takes place, you do not need to drink much in class. Always come to class well-hydrated. In general, one should consume between 1 -2 litres of water daily – more if you are active or in hot weather.
Will I lose weight, change body shape or build muscle? This depends on how long and often you practice. What we do find is that your body, mind and energy levels will change according to what is needed in your practice. It all depends on what shift needs to take place in your body to bring it back to its most natural state.
What about the spiritual aspects of yoga? At Ananda Sanga we advise that you get a regular meditation practice. This brings spiritual harmony which is an important aspect of a balanced life. Meditating regularly allows you to experience an inner peace and well-being both on and off the yoga mat. However, how much or how little this aspect of yoga becomes important to you is up to you.
Why do I need to know Sanskrit? Sanskrit is an ancient language like Latin. It is not a spoken language any more but is a universal “yoga” language. This means if you decide to become a Yoga Teacher and wish to travel to a foreign speaking country, the people in your yoga class who have done yoga previously will know exactly what posture or other yoga practice you are talking about. Similarly, if you travel to another country and attend a yoga class there you will understand what to do. In the beginning it seems a little overwhelming as you learn the Sanskrit names, but soon you will get to know them very well.
Is there a characteristic feature of Ananda Sanga style of yoga? There are more than one. However, one that stands out is the breath. Originally, founded on the teachings of the humble and respected Sri Desikachar, this yoga has the breath as its core. There is movement within asanas and in sequenced asanas and these movements are guided by slow and deep breaths. The breath is the link between body and mind, the breath also relates to spirit or life-force (prana), so it becomes the essence of harmonious integration of body, mind and spirit.