Many may not be aware of this, but Yoga was more than just physical exercises of postures (asana) as most individuals in this present time believe it to be.
Hatha Yoga, involving the strengthening of our body and mind, is the most common form practiced in the western world.
But what really then was Yoga before the origination of Hatha yoga and its exposure?
Yoga (Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’ – Unison), is given several definitions, but the generalized is that it is a spiritual and ascetic discipline to achieving self-realization through meditation and body postures.
It is believed to have originated simultaneously with civilization in Northern India (Indus-Sarasvati valley), but only from the pre-Vedic period (2700 BC) has historical records of its existence been identified.
➔ Pre-classical period (500-200 BC)
The two forms of yoga practices were Karma Yoga— ‘Yoga of action’ seen as an imbibing selfless action as a discipline to perfection – and Jnana Yoga – the Path of wisdom, knowledge/intellect & self-realization to overcome ego. These were practices that were stored in Rig Vedas and Upanishads.
➔ Patanjali’s Period (300 BC – 800 AD)
This period marked the amazing growth & spread of yoga. A new form, Raja yoga – ‘the Path of meditation’ (often referred to as the ‘Classical yoga’) was practiced. It was the first system of yoga practiced by all without dispute on its belief system as the previous. Introduced by Patanjali in yoga sutras, this yogic meditation was organized into an 8-limb path towards obtaining enlightenment – its emphasis was on mental & spiritual discovery.
➔ Post-classical Period (800 AD – 1700 AD)
Tantra yoga, involving techniques & rituals aimed at the physical man—working on his body and mind. This meant they rejected the spiritual beliefs of ancient yoga. The tantra yoga techniques revamped, resulted in the development of Hatha yoga (what we believed to be what yoga is all about!).
➔ 1700 to 1900 and Contemporary times
The wave of Hatha yoga came into the western world through yogi masters who were willing to enlighten others on the practice. It is widely practiced and though by contemporary masters as Swami Shivananda, Shri T. Krishnamacharya and the like.
So! some take away points should be the following;
Yoga creates self-awareness, causing a yogi to come to the understanding of the origins of their desires, distress and all sorts. Thus, attaining freedom and discovering a great way to live life. It offers mental, physical and spiritual benefits generally.
Yoga practice is not restricted to Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga, itself is most times a preparatory for meditation.
Though it seems the main aim of Yoga has been associated with health & well-being, but its goal is more unique than that. It has been to obtain liberation, to align ourselves with nature, the universe and disengaging from various distractions around us.
It is a practice that has welcomed individuals from diverse faiths, race, communities, and culture. To prove this is to note its different schools, each with its own objectives to meet the diverse needs of the people. Some of them include Dhyana, Hatha, Raja, Karma, Jnana etc.
In these contemporary time, Yoga is being practiced worldwide as a growing trend for several initiatives by individuals and corporations as mindfulness and meditation among others.
The growth has been ever booming.
Additional References & Information