The Journey into the History of Yoga:
The benefits of Yoga are all too well known and in no way a secret to us anymore. If one wishes to practice and imbibe Yoga, he can do so regardless of his caste, race or religion – all one needs is the will to begin, the strength to go on, and of course, someone already initiated to guide him along the way.
But up until this day, I have realized that one needs to know, every aspect of what he chooses to practice, before he adopts and makes it his own. Context is very important, and history is a great part of the context. So, without further ado, I will share with you, my knowledge journey about the origins of this mystical ancient science, Yoga.
Although its exact origin is not very well documented, it is said to have originated from the East, during the Vedic period – Vedas being the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, with inscriptions of Yoga postures dating back to 3000 BCE.
This particularity of ancient shamanism has gained more and more attention, flourishing within the age of Buddha, while still being peacefully practiced by the Yogis. It has received so much attention, that around 356 – 323 BCE, Yoga has begun to feel an alluring curiosity to Alexander the Great himself. He had actually studied the Yogis, but failed to learn their secret due to the incompatibility of hearts – Alexander the Great, a conqueror, and the Yogis, the peaceful people. They would have rather preferred being killed than dishonor the sacred art and practice of Yoga, by giving in to the shallow intentions of Alexander.
Yoga continues to expand, having its roots, its philosophy and principles, well preserved in The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, dating back to approximately 200 AD.
What is Yoga?
The word Yoga is derived from the Sankrit word ”Yuja”, which means to bind, to align, to hold. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali defines yoga as “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” which means “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. Yoga is a path to liberation and enlightenment (Nirvana) by detaching yourself from the experience of life.
Others, though, believe that the meaning of Yoga needs a more dissociative approach; more precisely, that Yogis search not for union with the Divine, but for freeing the soul from matter, for recognizing that consciousness is different from matter. Either way, the two interpretations are not so different in my opinion, because the stages of Yoga remain the same, and either way, the Yogi will attain the same otherworldly attributes.
The Stages of Yoga:
There are eight stages of Yoga practice:
- Yama in which we lose desire and interest for the material, and choose to deal with people with compassion and truthfulness.
- Niyama teaches us to observe and control ourselves internally, to study ourselves and concentrate upon our purity and cleanliness
- Asana would be the practice of spiritual postures in order to silence our mind.
- Pranayama teaches us the importance of our mere breath. It expands its utility while we are taught to control it, and to regulate our breathing, in order to reach clearing of the mind.
- Pratyahara is about abstraction, restrain while we gain control of our senses. It happens because our minds are so focused during this stage, that our senses follow her, thus being controlled by her.
- Dharana stands for concentration – respectively, maintaining concentration upon a single aspect, a single direction. Because we have already gone through the previous stages, our mind is now capable of fully focusing on one subject, and we are ready to move on to the next stages in order to reach our true potential.
- Dhyana, our seventh stage, is when we reach meditation. We contemplate profoundly upon the Divine, and the whole of us is in a reflective state.
- Samadhi is our final step in our union with the Supreme Spirit. We are in deep trans-contemplation, and we are experiencing the higher form of consciousness.
These are, of course, no easy steps, and it takes great courage, will, sacrifice, and concentration, in order to merely begin. At this point in our civilization, it is of no wonder that the process of soul cleansing is the most difficult task, propelling us away from the real truth.