All you need to know about Yoga
Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India. Yoga is one of the six astika schools of Hindu philosophical traditions. There is a broad variety of yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
Table of Contents
- 1 - Origin of Yoga
- 2 - History of Yoga
- 3 - Benefits of Yoga
- 4 - Types of Yoga
- 5 - Yoga and Religion
Origin of Yoga
The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’ which essentially means to join or unite. The union referred to is that of the individual self uniting with Cosmic Consciousness or the Universal Spirit. Yoga is a means of achieving this goal.
The term Yoga was born in India, almost 26,000 years ago. Yoga is believed to have evolved during the period of the ‘Sat Yuga’, also called the Golden age. This period became known as a time of everlasting peace and abundant blessings, filled with seekers of the Eternal Truth.
That is why, probably, even today we associate yoga with sages and hermits. It was not until the discovery of the Indus- valley civilization which is the largest civilization that knowledge about the origin of Yoga surfaced. Excavations give evidence of yoga’s existence during this period; yogi -like figures engraved on soapstone seals have been unearthed.
In fact, it was the Aryans, migrating from the northwest, who was instrumental in discovering yoga.
History of Yoga
Yoga’s history has many places of obscurity and uncertainty due to its oral transmission of sacred texts and the secretive nature of its teachings. The early writings on yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves that were easily damaged, destroyed, or lost. The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old old.
Yoga’s long rich history can be divided into four main periods of innovation, practice, and development such as:
The beginnings of Yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras, and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests.
Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishis who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures. The most renowned of the Yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gita, composed around 500 B.C.E.
In the pre-classical stage, yoga was a mishmash of various ideas, beliefs, and techniques that often conflicted and contradicted each other. The Classical period is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras, the first systematic presentation of yoga. Written sometime in the second century, this text describes the path of RAJA YOGA, often called “classical yoga”.
Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an “eight limbed path” containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment. Patanjali is often considered the father of yoga and his Yoga-Sutras still strongly influence most styles of modern yoga.
A few centuries after Patanjali, yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment. They developed Tantra Yoga with radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence.
This exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body-centered practices led to the creation of what we primarily think of yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters began to travel to the West, attracting attention and followers. This began at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago when Swami Vivekananda wowed the attendees with his lectures on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions. In the 1920s and 30s, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda, and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga.
Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga school in Mysore in 1924 and in 1936 Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy Ganges River. Krishnamacharya produced three students that would continue his legacy and increase the popularity of Hatha Yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois. Sivananda was a prolific author, writing over 200 books on yoga, and established nine ashrams and numerous yoga centers located around the world.
Benefits of Yoga
There are two types of benefits of yoga such as:
“The relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches, and carpal tunnel syndrome,” explains Dr. Nevins. “Yoga can also lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia.”
Other physical benefits of yoga include:
- increased flexibility
- increased muscle strength and tone
- improved respiration, energy and vitality
- maintaining a balanced metabolism
- weight reduction
- cardio and circulatory health
- improved athletic performance
- protection from injury
Aside from the physical benefits, one of the best benefits of yoga is how it helps a person manage stress, which is known to have devastating effects on the body and mind. “Stress can reveal itself in many ways, including back or neck pain, sleeping problems, headaches, drug abuse, and an inability to concentrate,” says Dr. Nevins. “Yoga can be very effective in developing coping skills and reaching a more positive outlook on life.”
Yoga’s incorporation of meditation and breathing can help improve a person’s mental well-being. “Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centers attention, and sharpens concentration,” says Dr. Nevins. Body- and self-awareness are particularly beneficial, she adds, “because they can help with early detection of physical problems and allow for early preventive action.”
Types of Yoga
There are so many different types of yoga out there, whether you want a more physically demanding class or an easy, relaxing, meditative class.
Here are the 11 major types of yoga.
1. Vinyasa yoga
Vinyasa means to place in a special way. Vinyasa yoga is often considered as the most athletic yoga style. Many types of yoga can also be considered vinyasa flows such as ashtanga, power yoga, and prana.
Vinyasa was adapted from Ashtanga yoga in the 1980s.
2. Hatha yoga
The Sanskrit term “Hatha” is known as an umbrella term for all physical postures of yoga. In the West, hatha yoga simply refers to all the other styles of yoga that are grounded in physical practice. However, there are other branches of yoga such as kriya, raja, and karma yoga are separate from the physical-based yoga practice.
Physical-based yoga is known as the most popular and has numerous styles.
3. Iyengar yoga
Iyengar yoga was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar. Iyengar yoga focused on alignment as well as detailed and precise movements. In an Iyengar class, students perform a variety of postures while controlling the breath.
4. Kundalini yoga
Kundalini yoga practice is equal parts both spiritual and physical. This Kundalini yoga style is all about releasing the kundalini energy in your body said to be trapped, or coiled, in the lower spine
5. Ashtanga yoga
In Sanskrit, Ashtanga is translated as an Eight Limb path. In Mysore, Indian people gather to practice this form of yoga together at their own pace. Vinyasa yoga stems from ashtanga as the flowing style linking breath to movement.
6. Bikram yoga
Bikram yoga is named after Bikram Choudhury and features a sequence of set poses in a sauna-like room typically set to 105 degrees and 40% humidity. Bikram Choudhury faced sexual assault and harassment lawsuits in the U.S. and fled to Mexico in 2017. Many studios that were formerly Bikram now practice hot yoga, in an effort to disassociate with the founded.
7. Yin yoga
8. Restorative yoga
Restorative yoga focuses on winding down after a long day and relaxing your mind. At its core, this style focuses on body relaxation. Restorative yoga also helps to cleanse and free your mind.
9. Prenatal yoga
Prenatal yoga is carefully adapted for “moms to be” and is tailored to women in all trimesters. Many have said that prenatal is known as one of the best types of exercise for expectant moms because of the pelvic floor work, focus on breathing, and bonding with the growing baby. Prenatal yoga also helps mothers prepare for labor and delivery.
10. Anusara yoga
Anusara is a modern-day version of hatha yoga. Anusara is most similar to vinyasa in that it focuses on alignment. It was founded by John Friend who created a unique system called the Universal Principals of Alignment.
He resigned in 2012 after accusations of sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement. A friend has since partnered with Desi and Micah Springer to teach the Bowspring method.
11. Jivamukti yoga
Jivamukti was founded in 1984 by Sharon Ganon and David Life. Jivamukti is mainly vinyasa-flow-style classes infused with Hindu spiritual teachings. At its core, this style emphasizes the connection to Earth as a living being, so most Jivamukti devotees follow their vegetarian philosophy.
Yoga and Religion
Yoga becomes a spiritual experience leading to confusion about how its practice impacts one’s religious beliefs. Fortunately, the vast majority of people who explore yoga actually discover that it strengthens and deepens their own faith.
Dr. Mary Pullig Schatz explains,
“Because yoga has its roots in the Hindu culture of India, there is a popular misconception that yoga is a religion. Just as the practice of the Japanese martial arts of karate and aikido does not require becoming a Buddhist, the practice of yoga does not require you to adopt Hinduism. Rather yoga is nonsectarian, promoting health and harmonious living.”