The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ meaning to Yoke or Bind. In today’s modern world we associate yoga to the postures we see on social media. To really understand why Yoga is so much more than the pose we have to turn to its roots, heritage and ancient texts.
The first discovery of ‘yoga’ came about around 4000-2000bc during the ‘Pre Vedic Period’. Evidence was found of a person seated in a meditative posture (seated in contemplation).
THE VEDIC PERIOD
Moving on to 1300-900 BC the period known as The Vedic Period, a collection of 4 books were written which made reference to yoga in the form of breath control (pranayama). The 4 books were known as;
The Rig Veda (Hymns) – The oldest most sacred text
These ancient texts were heard and passed down.
Around 1000-500BCE saw the creation of the Upanishads which were texts based on the commentaries of the Vedic texts. They explained in detail oneself and the relationship to all things, here many more references to Yoga were made including techniques and meditation.
Moving to 300BC we come to the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most famous texts and one which is often recommended reading for modern day Yoga teacher trainings. This famous poem within the Mahabharata is also known as the longest poem ever written. ‘Song of God’ describes the soul’s struggle for freedom, it’s the part of the Mahabarata that depicts India’s history. It tells the story of Krishna and Arjuna and how Arjuna’s soul is confronted with difficult choices. Krishna instructs Arjuna on the methods and types of yoga to reveal yoga’s true path. It’s a traditional text as in it comprises of questions and answers between teacher and student.
POST CLASSICAL PERIOD
From the Bhagavad Gita saw the creation of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras, another well-known text commonly referenced in yoga teacher trainings. Sutra translates as ‘thread’, each sutra are brief phrases that intertwine to create yoga. They are divided into four books, within the text 196 sutras reference consciousness, practise, power and liberation, ironically only 3 sutras relate to Asana (yoga poses). You may have heard of the path of Ashtanga or Pantanjaji’s Eight Limbs which is mentioned in the second book. This system influences many forms of emerging yoga including the developments of Hatha Yoga (an umbrella term for the many paths of yoga) and asana.
And finally we come to 1300BCE when the Hatha Yoga Pradipika text came about, again this text is referenced in yoga teacher trainings as it acknowledges through its 4 chapters, Asana, Shatkarmas (cleansing techniques) mudras (hand gestures) and Bhandas (energy locks).
It wasn’t until 1900CE to the present day when several yoga masters came to the West to spread the word on yoga. At this time British Gymnastics heavily influenced the popularity of Hatha Yoga and the poses we often see today. Asana (yoga pose) has now become the face of yoga however, although they serve their purpose to strengthen, lengthen and stabilise the physical body, to give Yoga its substance we also need to remember how important the breath and meditation are too.
Combined, they give us the tools to not only practise the physical part of yoga they allow us to take our practise into the world by reminding us everything is equal and our true essence lies within us and not what we perceive ourselves to be, to welcome reality and live in the present moment.