I’ve been doing some reading to find out just how yoga came into being, and the answer is not clear. A number of sources claim that yoga predates the written word and is over 5,000 years old. The evidence of this comes from archaeological dig sites where yoga poses have been found. There is some conjecture that yoga evolved from Hinduism but Hinduism’s religions structures were developed much later and incorporated yoga but did not create it. Initially yoga was passed down from teacher to student through oral instruction and by demonstration.
One of the earliest texts on yoga came from a scholar named Patanjali, who created a book named Yoga Sutras anywhere from the 1st or 2nd century B.C. to as late as the 5th century A.D. Patanjali wrote about a system called “Ashtanga Yoga,” or the eight limbs of yoga. There are many (hundreds) schools, styles, and types of yoga but some of the more common include:
- Hatha Yoga: The physical movements and postures, plus breathing techniques. This is what most people associate with Yoga practice.
- Ashtanga Yoga: The system is based on six series of asanas which increase in difficulty, allowing students to work at their own pace. In class, you’ll be led nonstop through one or more of the series. There’s no time for adjustments—you’ll be encouraged to breathe as you move from pose to pose.
- Bikram Yoga: This method of staying healthy from the inside out was designed by Bikram Choudhury, who sequenced a series of 26 traditional hatha postures to address the proper functioning of every bodily system. Usually this form of yoga is done at temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the idea is that you will sweat out the toxins in your body.
- Raja Yoga: Called the “royal road,” because it incorporates exercise and breathing practice with meditation and study, producing a well-rounded individual. Raja yoga was first described as an eightfold or eight-limbed (aṣṭanga, ashtanga) path in the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.
- Jnana Yoga: The path of wisdom; considered the most difficult path.
- Bhakti Yoga: The practice of extreme devotion in one-pointed concentration upon one’s concept of God.
- Karma Yoga: Of the four paths to realization, karma yoga is the process of achieving perfection in action. Karma yoga is derived from the spiritual life. Karma yoga is said to be the most authentic way to progress in the spiritual life. Found in the Bhagavad Gita karma yoga is a part of nature. Karma yoga is taught by teachers of zen who promote tranquility.
- Other styles include: Iyengar, Power Yoga, White Lotus, Kali Ray TriYoga, Jivamukti, Viniyoga, and on and on and on.
Even by these definitions one can see that it is difficult to separate the exercise component of yoga from the meditative aspect. The word Yoga means “to join or yoke together,” bringing the body and mind together into one harmonious experience. The system of Yoga is built on three main structures: exercise, breathing, and meditation; all three components must be in harmony to properly practice yoga. My next post will begin to focus in on Ashtanga one of the forms of yoga mentioned above in more detail. Remember you can make up your own sequence of asana’s for your practice, but understanding a few of the more popular disciplines will help you gravitate to what suits your personality and desires.