What is Yoga?
Yoga provides a path of endless learning and discovery, delivering tools and techniques to assist and enhance every aspect of life. Yoga is an ancient eastern science. It has been practiced for thousands of years. Its depth is too big for words and it extends way beyond the parameters of our yoga mats.
It is impossible define Yoga in just a few hundred words; what follows is a brief introduction.
Yoga has been practiced for roughly 5000 years. Yoga has survived this incredible test of time and although our reasons for participating in yoga today may be very different from the early practitioners yoga brings so many benefits to all practitioners.
The Roots of Yoga
It is believed that Hatha Yoga was first practiced by members of the Vedic Civilisation, whose main settlements were on the banks of the Saraswati River (which is now dry) in the Indian states of Haryana and Punjab between 4500BC and 1800BC. The first written records of Hatha yoga date from around 3000BC, they were written by the Sage Putanjali in the ancient Vedic language of Sanskrit. Even today the Sanskrit names for the yoga postures or asanas are still commonly used; this reaffirms yoga’s foundation and age.
The Sanskrit words Ha and Tha translate to mean Sun and Moon. Yoga translates to mean yoke, union, join or fuse. Hatha Yoga therefore can be described as the union of the Sun and the Moon, which represents the joining of opposite forces to maintain a healthy balance.
Hatha Yoga was at first practiced only by men, usually the Sages or Rishes (seers or wise men) and was passed down from master to disciple within the environment of an Ashram; this system of learning was known as the Guru Kula. Boys would enter the Ashram at approximately 8 years of age, leaving their families behind to begin their yogic studies. They would learn from their teacher or yogi and perform daily chores which are known as Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga was practiced with the intention of removing any bad karma and preventing more from accumulating. The yogis believed that each soul had many incarnations, each incarnation was depicted by the level of Karma accumulated during previous incarnations and once all bad karma had been eliminated one could move towards Samadhi or enlightenment.
To achieve enlightenment Hatha Yoga was used to fine-tune body and mind so that both were free from impurities and illness. This would enable the practitioner to sit and meditate uninterrupted for very long periods of time without even minor aches and pains which could distract the mind and disrupt the path to enlightenment.
Over such a vast period of time Hatha Yoga has changed and evolved in many ways, the information and practices passed on by teachers to their students has varied immensely. Many teachers and students have brought their own experiences into their teachings and practice. As a result many different forms of yoga have been created and these are now practiced by millions of people around the world for countless different reasons.
Today enlightenment might still be the ultimate goal for some yogis but for most practitioners yoga is an ever unfolding system which brings many, many physical and emotional benefits to all aspects of modern life.
Some form of yoga can be practiced by everyone regardless of age or physical ability as practices range from sitting or lying breathing slowly right through to more gymnastic poses, yoga has something for everyone.
Yoga is a powerful tool that will enrich so many different areas of our lives. Yoga techniques will help us deal with whatever challenges or changes life presents to us.