From the beginning, to the yoga sutra, and on to modern types of yoga
1. BEGINNING OF YOGA
VEDAS and UPANISHADAS
The Vedas (India’s ancient scriptures) and Tantra (a non-Vedic teaching) gave birth to both the literature and the techniques associated with yoga. The Vedas are divided into four parts:
Samhita – A collection of mantras (hymns)
Brahmanasa and Ayanyakas – Ceremonial rites and rituals
Upanishadas – The Upanishadas are found at the end of the Vedas, and focus on philosophy and spiritualism
The word ‘yoga’ was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda, and originally meant ‘yoke, join, or concentrate.’ Essentially, yoga has come to describe a means of uniting or a method of discipline.
Tantra considers the universe to be a manifestation of pure consciousness. Through this process of manifesting, consciousness divides itself into two parts, which cannot exist without one another (though appearing to divide, they actually remain one and the same). One aspect remains as a static, formless quality (shiva), while the other is a dynamic, creative aspect (shakti). The two coexist eternally.
The ancient practice of Tantra is actually a powerful combination of asana, mantra, mudra, bandha (energy lock) and chakra (energy centre) alongside working on awakening Kundilini energy. This type of practice works through energy channels and is subtle in nature.
2. YOGA SUTRA
Traditionally the knowledge and practice of yoga transferred directly from the Guru (Master) to the Disciple (student). The Indian sage Patanjali was the first who combined this tradition with his classical work, the Yoga Sutra, a 2,000-year-old text on yogic philosophy, in which a collection of 195 statements divide into four parts according to diriment stages in yoga.
The Sutra, literally meaning ‘thread’ in Sanskrit etymology, contains a kind of philosophical guidebook for dealing with the challenges of human life, and gives guidance on how to gain mastery over the mind and emotions. The Sutra also offers advice on achieving spiritual growth.
Patanjali organised the practice of yoga into an ‘eight limbed practice’ also known as ‘Ashtanga’ yoga, containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi, or enlightenment.
3. HATHA YOGA
The origins of Hatha yoga have been traced back to the eleventh century A.D. The Sanskrit word ha means ‘sun’ and tha means ‘moon’, which likewise equate to the two aspects from Tantra; Shiva (consciousness, static) and Shakti (movement, dynamic). The Hatha yoga system also integrates some tantric practices, like mudra bandha, which works on subtle energy channels combined with asana practice.
4. MODERN DEVELOPMENT OF YOGA
Yoga Sutra provides the framework upon which all yoga practiced today is based. BKS Iyenger and K Pattabhi Jois’ respective static and dynamic systems of yoga were developed in the early 20th century, and since, yoga has flourished in the West.
Iyengar Yoga, named after and developed by B. K. S. Iyengar, is a form of Hatha Yoga that has an emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama). The development of strength, mobility and stability is gained through the asanas.
The Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga is a style of yoga codified and popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois during the 20th century which is often promoted as a modern-day form of classical Indian yoga. Ashtanga means eight limbs or branches, of which asana or physical yoga posture is merely one branch, breath or pranayama is another.
Vinyasa Flow is characterized by flowing poses and sequences that are linked to the breath. Through the flowing movement of one pose to the next, the focus is brought to the inhale and the exhale. In sanskrit, Vinyasa translates to mean ‘connection’, meaning the connection between body and breath.