What is Yoga?

Part 1: A very BRIEF history of yoga.

Let me start this off by saying that yoga is different for everyone. Part 1 of this blog will give a little background into yoga and then part 2 will finish with what yoga means for ME! If you like my view of yoga then you’ll probably like my class. If you don’t like my view of yoga, that’s totally fine, there’s other instructors and classes out there that will suit you. Please don’t ever assume one person’s view stands for the rest of the world (words to live by in our world wide web).

Let’s start with the beginning: the history. Keep in mind that I’m about to sum up 5000 years of history in two paragraphs. Obviously, I’m going to keep out a lot of details. Don’t hate you haters. I’ll try to include more details in later blogs. I’m also trying to write for people with no previous knowledge of yoga. I make references to other religions since the majority of people have been to at least one church service in their lives but maybe never a yoga class or studied eastern religion. I’m hoping to help provide examples that are relevant for everyone. Here we go!

Badlands-&-Yoga

Yoga has been around for over 5000 years and initially started off as part of the Hindu religion. It’s important to note that the first mention of yoga does not mention any of the poses. The primary focus of yoga was for meditation. Meditation is much like praying. If you’ve ever prayed or meditated then you know that it can be really hard to still your mind for a long period of time. It takes practice to shut out all of the other voices in your head and pray or meditate for five minutes (or 30 seconds for some!). Therefore, when the poses were finally mentioned in the 1300s it only included 16 poses that were focused on making the body more comfortable for extended periods of sitting meditation. Imagine that you had to pray on your knees for 30 minutes. This would be incredibly uncomfortable. Your knees and your back would ache which would disturb your prayer. It would be advised to do other exercises on your knees or for your back in order to quiet the pain and therefore your mind. This was how the yoga poses worked.

Over the next 5000 years, more and more yoga poses were developed as well as more and more books and teachings on yoga.

There are four main books of yoga:

1. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

2. The Vedas

3. The Upanishads

4. The Bhagavad Gita

These books tell us that yogis used asana (poses) and pranayama (breath control) to help achieve enlightenment (or recognition of the supernatural “Self”). These books use a non-dualist worldview, or essentially interconnectedness. If you believe that killing other humans or animals is wrong then this is part of non-dualism. You believe that all life is interconnected and we all deserve a chance to live. Some yogis believe that all insects and even living bacteria are interconnected and that we all deserve to live. These books also provide us with the four basic forms of yoga: devotion, wisdom, good works, and mind control (over yourself, not other people; think of it as wanting to call someone a curse word in your head but controlling your mind to not do it, or even having enough mind control to not let your mind stray during a 30 prayer or meditation). Lastly, they provide us with the eight limbs of yoga or guidelines for moral behavior that help lead the yogi to enlightenment (similar to the 10 commandments).

There it is. That’s your history lesson for the day. Next week, I’ll describe what yoga actually means to ME and how I apply these 5000 year old yoga principles into the 21st century.

Allison

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