Yoga is an ancient eastern science, it is so much more than just physical exercise. When practiced mindfully it has the ability to greatly improve physical and emotional health and wellbeing.
It is impossible to define yoga in a few hundred words, so what follows is a brief introduction to its depth and history.
Yoga has been practiced for roughly 5000 years. Yoga has survived this incredible test of time, because it provides so many life enriching tools, which extend through our entire wellbeing, physically, emotionally and spiritually. It provides a path that naturally unfolds, to guide us and support us as we journey through our lives.
Although today our reasons for practicing yoga might be very diffrent from the early practitioners yoga still brings profound benefits to our modern lives.
Yoga back in the mists of time.
Yoga was first practiced by members of the Vedic Civilisation, whose main settlements were on the banks of the Saraswati River (now dry) in the Indian states of Haryana and Punjab between 4500BC and 1800BC.
The first written records of yoga date from around 3000BC, however an exact date is unclear and it could be anywhere between 3000 BC and 1500 BC. What we do know is that the first known written record of Yoga was The Yoga Sutras 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.
What is Hatha Yoga?
Hatha Yoga is the name given to the physical practices of yoga. Any physical yoga practice comes under the Hatha umbrella (although some studios have taken to calling slower held classes a Hatha class), Hatha Yoga includes asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques to enhance the flow of prana), relaxation and meditation.
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 descrided as the union of the Sun and the Moon, the joining of opposites to create 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 distraction, as even minor aches and pains could distract the mind, preventing meditation and then 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 vary considerably, this is because each individual has experienced different benefits from yoga, helping shape and adapt different teachings and styles. As a result many different forms of yoga are now practiced, we often here the expression "many rivers lead to the same sea".
Yoga is practiced by millions of people all around the world for countless different reasons.
Today enlightenment is still the ultimate goal for some yogis, but for most modern day practitioners yoga is an ever unfolding system which brings many, many physical and emotional benefits. With so much variation we are able to experience lots of diverse styles of yoga, to enhance different areas of our lives and help us enjoy a happier and healthier journey.
Yoga is not just for the physically flexible amongst us, some form of yoga can be practiced by everyone regardless of their age or physical ability. Yoga is a powerful tool that enriches so many areas of our lives, encouraging a state of physical and emotional equilibrium that makes all challenges easier to overcome.
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