Yoga…Explained – Part One.

YOGA…. it has become a household word and is now practiced by millions around the world, but in the western world in particular, is still misunderstood or thought of in the wrong terms.

In translation it has many meanings but is derived from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means ‘to control’, ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. Many people today have misunderstood the practice of ‘Yoga’ to be just a series of different postures (asanas), with various kinds of breathing or meditation involved – however it is so much more than that – it is a philosophy, a way of life…of being & thinking, allowing you to reach a state of higher consciousness, of ‘enlightenment’. It talks about:,

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Observation
  • Devotion to a ‘higher’ power
  • Cleanliness & purity
  • Honesty & truthfulness

… it has many branches & paths to which you can aim to reach a goal of self-realisation. It is not however a religion, in fact it dates back to long before Christ.

There are many ‘styles‘ of Yoga today and it can be very confusing to a newcomer as to which style to follow and depending on who you speak to you will receive a different explanation! As is often the case there is not always one right or wrong answer, merely different translations. I will go through some of the popular variations later in my next blog…

You can find roots of yoga going back many thousands of years, for example several ‘seals’ (carvings or drawings on stone) were found in the Indus Valley civilisation (what is now Pakistan) around c.3300-1700BCE, showing figures in yoga or meditation poses.

The first written form of Yoga (texts) are to be found in the ‘Vedas‘ (the earliest scriptures). The origin of these were actually hymms which date back up to 10,000 years ago and were passed down verbally until a written form was produced named the ‘Rig Veda‘. This was written by the ancient people living in whats known as the Indus Valley civilisation, and describes such things as the 8 mystical circles (or ‘chakras‘) and the 9 gates of the human body, showing that these sages were aware of the nature & importance of the practical aspects of yoga.

However, generally Yoga is thought to have been born in India with many different literatures being written revealing other ‘origins’ of Yoga. The first of these ancient Sanskrit epics is entitled ‘The Ramayana‘ and is dated anywhere from the 4th to the 8th Century BC, again this text talks about the principles of yoga. The second great yogic literature is entitled ‘The Mahabharata‘ (c.3000BC) and within this text is the most famous scripture of Indian history, ‘The Bhagavad Gita‘ – the ultimate textbook of yoga, it has 18 chapters with each one a specific yoga & with great stories about Lord Krishna telling prince Arjuna how to use the principles of Yoga to advance through life.

Finally, in this brief history of Yoga, I must mention the ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali‘ – arguably the first complete detailed and technical presentation of Yoga as a practical spiritual science. Again there is much debate about its actual age, though generally thought to be about 2500 years old – with a lot of these old words it is very hard to give a proper translation into today’s English, so  ‘Sutra’ (in Sanskrit) literally means a ‘thread’ or line or string which holds things together, though metaphorically it refers to a line, rule or formula – or a collection of such which forms a manual or book say.

So in the Sutras of the sage Patanjali, he is refering to Yoga as the means to join or become one with The God and to know the truth (Truth & God being one and the same).

So…. Yoga is NOT an easy, or quick word to explain! it is though a way to live your life if you choose…an approach to your existence with high values. But, it doesn’t have to be any of these things – I say to my clients make of it what you want or need, that may be a way of life or simply a great way to spend an hour or so stretching and maintaining strength & flexibility!

Next blog, wading through ‘traditional’ and ‘newer’ forms of yoga!…..

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