The ancient yogic discipline is far more than a fitness method for physical health or a psychological tool to achieve peace and happiness. Wellness of body and mind, often touted as the primary benefits of modern yoga practice, is merely a by-product of becoming a fully balanced and vibrantly alive being.
Yoga has its origins in the search for the spiritual and primordial questions about the meaning of life. Yoga is commonly known as a generic term for the enormous body of physical, mental and spiritual teachings, techniques and disciplines formulated from rigorous inner observation, by ancient yogis over thousands of years. With their extraordinary perception and mastery over every aspect of the human mechanism, these great yogis delved into their own systems, uncovering the nature of the cosmos – a macrocosm of the human system.
The Sanskrit word “yoga” comes from the word “yuj” which means, “to unite.” Yoga works to unite and achieve the full potential of the body, mind and spirit, Through yoga, one may gradually be united with something higher, more subtle, more universal and more profound than we find in everyday consciousness – the pure nature of the self, the whole of existence, also commonly referred to as “self-realization,” “nirvana,” “mukti,” or “enlightenment.” So yoga is the state of union and the path to this union. Yoga can transform us and our relationship to life.
Initially, yoga was imparted by the Adiyogi (the first yogi), Shiva, over 15,000 years ago. It was Adiyogi who introduced to humanity the idea that one can evolve beyond their present levels of existence. He poured his knowing into the legendary Sapta Rishis, or seven sages, who took the tremendous possibility offered by the yogic science to various parts of the world, including Asia, ancient Persia, northern Africa, and South America. It is this fundamental yet sophisticated science of elevating human consciousness that is the source of the world’s spiritual traditions, predating religion by many thousands of years.
It was not until about 2000 years ago that the sage Patanjali codified many already existing practices into a unified text known as the Yoga Sutras. These consist of 195 aphorisms or threads which are a series of terse sentences that convey only the most essential ideas of yoga theory and practice. So subsequent master teachers and commentators have explained them.
Patanjali presented the practices of yoga in the form of eight limbs, known as Ashtanga / Classical / Raja / Royal Yoga because they lead to complete realization of one’s inner nature.
For the larger part of history, the postures we know and practise today played little or even no part. In the Yoga Sutras, only 3 of the 195/196 aphorisms relate to asana and they refer to the seated meditation posture.
Over time, roughly 1000 years ago, a form of yoga developed that emphasized working with the body as a vehical through which awakening can occur, as a basis for self-realization. Hata yoga evolved the myriad of postures that have become so popular today.
Patanjali’s Raja yoga forms the structural framework for the different styles of yoga.