Culture & origin of Yoga
Yoga or Yogasana – Today the word ‘Yoga’ has made every Indian feel proud of their rich culture & heritage. Every household is aware of the name & would want to connect with it in some way or the other. Accordingly, many variations are made to this form of physical activity to reach to its caterers. Before going ahead, let’s take a deep dive into the history & culture of India so as to understand the origin & history of yogic (Yogasana) tradition.
History & culture of Yoga
The history of yoga dates back as far as ancient India, when people practiced it to increase their serenity and spiritual insight. Today it is practiced purely for physical benefits.
The term yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ means joining. ‘- yujyate iti yogah – ‘Yoga is that which joins’. In the traditional terminology it is the joining of individual self with universal self. (Individual self is the incarnated soul/Atman & universal self is Paramatma /god).
In that context our scriptures (Rigveda, Upanishads, Bhagavad-Gita, etc) & great sages, have described, in great detail, several different paths/routes, through which we can attain this unison. These are the paths which accelerate our movements towards our ultimate goal. They are – Karma yoga (Path of unconditional karma/work), Bhakti yoga (Path of devotion & complete surrender), Jnana Yoga (Path of knowledge) & Rajayoga (Path of will power)
The term Raja yoga in Sanskrit means king of all the yoga marga/path I.e. the highest state of Yogic practice. This yoga is based on Pathanjali’s yoga sutra (rules- aphorisms). According to Pathanjali, yoga is – ‘Yoga scitta vrtti Nirodhah’ – ‘achieving mastery over mind’. By the power of will, the practitioner tries to gain the mastery.
The Rajayoga is broadly classified into two parts, one is ‘Ashtanga yoga’ & the other is’ Yoga beyond Samadhi’.
The yoga what we practice today is derived from Pathanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. As the name suggests Ashtanga yoga has got 8 parts. ‘Ashta’ – Means ‘eight’ & ‘Anga’ – means ‘limbs/body parts’.
Pathanjali further classifies his Ashtanga yoga into two parts Bahiranga Yoga(This is the process of gaining mastery over the mind through indirect means. ) & Antharanga yoga (This is the process of handling the mind directly & gaining mastery over it.).
Bahiranga yoga has got 5 of the 8 Anga/parts of Ashtanga yoga such as Yama (Set of Don’ts), Niyama (Set of Dos), Asana (Yogic Postures), Pranayama (Breathing Techniques) & Pratyahara (Sense control Techniques) & rest 3 parts are Antharanga yoga- Dharana (Focusing of mind), Dhyana (Meditation) & Samadhi (Super-conscious state)
Asana – Yogic Postures
Yogasana is a physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India. These are specialized postures of the body which imitates animal postures. Pathanjali Yoga Sutras are considered to be the first of the formal yoga(Yogasana) philosophy. The Yoga Sutras of Pathanjali are a collection of 196 Sanskrit sutras (aphorisms) on theory and practice of yoga & is believed to develop during 2nd century BCE.
Unlike any other exercise, Yogasana are the exercising techniques which bring about deep rest to parts of body, when carried out in a specified way. Hence it helps us to conserve energy & strengthen body. It removes lethargy & develops stamina.
Pathanjali describe this Yogasana as -‘Sthira Sukham Asanam’– meaning, Asana is to stay in a position with ease. To achieve this we may have to fallow three stages- Sthira (Stable), chira (long duration) & sukha (Relaxation). The first step is to attain desired position of the asana/exercise. Next is to maintain the position for longer duration. The last & the ultimate step is to stay in the position with ease in a relaxed state of mind.
Considering the difficulties involved in doing this type of yoga Sutra, people of those ages fallowed other routes then Rajayoga. Hence slowly this yoga had lost its prominence & was less prevalent.
Yoga Made A Comeback
Roughly around the 11th century Yogasana made a comeback in the form of Hatha Yoga. A book named Hatha Yoga Pradipika was compiled by a sage named Swatmarama. The aim of hatha yoga was in line with Pathanjali yoga shastra; however he used different methodologies to achieve the same. Hatha yoga employed 4 steps – Shatkarma/Shatkriya ( Shat– six, Karma/Kriya – work, six exercises for the purification of internal parts of body), Asana( yogic Postures), Pranayama ( breathing exercises which purifies nadi/ prana/lungs) & meditation/chanting( one pointed concentration of mind) to achieve the unison. Practitioner needed to always start the 1step & could proceed further only after attaining perfection in each layer.
Due to the intricacy of this system, yoga took a back seat again. Very few percentiles of the Indians were interested in this type of yoga.
Yoga On Thrive Again
Yogasana gained prominence in the west in the 20th century after being first introduced by Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda wrote a book about “Raja Yoga“, where he has interpreted Pathanjali Yoga Sutras . Thus yoga stepped into Western world & got accepted allover.
Yoga gurus from India, later made some omission & addition into two styles of yoga (Hatha Yoga & Ashtanga yoga) and made Yogasana popular all over the world.
Yogasana is now the most sought out farm of exercise & has developed into a posture-based physical fitness, stress-relief and relaxation technique in India & across the world.
Await for Yogasana – Part 2