Yoga is an ancient art, drawing all the way back to the stone age. The first evidence of yoga is found in depictions of yoga poses on ancient stone seals that date back to around 3000 BC. Yoga grew out of Brahmanism, an early form of the religion now known as Hinduism. The basis of Brahmanism is the Vedas, the religion’s sacred scriptures. The scriptures taught Yogic philosophy and promoted rituals that helped people expand their minds in order to live in harmony with the divine power.
Yoga really began to take shape during the classical period with the writing of the Yoga Sutra. This piece of writing by Patanjali contains 195 sutras (or proverbs) that expound upon Patanhali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. The eight limbs of yoga include:
2. Niyama, which is personal study
3. Asanas or postures
4. Pranayama, which means breath work
5. Pratyahara or sense withdrawal to prepare for Meditation
6. Dharana, which mean intense concentration
7. Dhyana, which means Meditation
8. Samadhi, which means spiritual enlightenment and bliss
These eight limbs are based upon Patanjali’s belief that the human being is comprised of both physical matter and spirit. However, unlike today’s notions of unifying the body with the soul, Patanjali believed that the two myst be separate in order to purify the soul. For many centuries, yogis concentrated primarily upon the meditative and breathing aspects of yoga, and neglected the asanas.
Within the last century, yoga has evolved and grown. There are different types of yoga, many that ignore several aspects of Patanhali’s definition of yoga. No longer does yoga seek to separate the spirit from the body; true spiritual bliss is thought to be achieved through the unification of the spiritual body and the physical body through breathing, meditations, and posturing. Yoga became extremely popular in the western world during the 1960’s, and a number of yoga schools opened around the world and yoga literature became abundant.
Today, yoga remains a traditional religious philosophy, cognizant of its Hindu roots. However, yoga has also been secularized. Doctors, therapists, and exercise instructors have noted the many benefits of practicing yoga and have adopted it as a common exercise offered at gyms, community centers, and even at therapy centers. With the dawn of modern technology, yoga is accessible to the masses through video instruction and of course, the internet.