Yogic philosophy had its beginnings within early Vedic civilization. This was a very advanced civilization that inhabited the regions now known as India and Pakistan. Their Sanskrit scriptures, known as “The Vedas”, were heavily linked to the Hindu religion and gave rise to the texts on which modern-day Yoga philosophy is based.
Although written records of Yogic philosophy exist, many of the traditions were passed down orally from teachers to students over thousands of years. Hatha Yoga – the style from which modern practices arise – is largely based on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a text in which he explains the eight limbs of Yoga still recognized today. Vedic sages started with the first step and progressively practiced each one for years before reaching the culmination of all eight: Self-realization.
1. Yama – social conduct
2. Niyama – individual conduct
3. Asana – physical poses
4. Pranayama – breathing techniques
5. Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses
6. Dharana – concentration
7. Dhyana – meditation
8. Samadhi – ultimate state of super consciousness, or enlightenment
Patanjali also described nine obstacles to the practice of Yoga that are just as relevant in the 21st century as they were thousands of years ago:
• Lack of attention
• Lack of mental effort
• Lack of perseverance
• Misunderstanding or false knowledge
Toward the end of the 1800s, Swami Vivekananda taught Patanjali’s principles under the name of Raja Yoga. While Patanjali’s Sutras were the major scriptures in the development of Yoga, other texts were also important:
• Upanishads – metaphysical concepts leading to ultimate truth about reincarnation and karma
• Bhagavad Gita – philosophy of Yoga in Hindu epic poem meaning “song of the blessed one”
• Gorraksha Paddhati – description of energy centers and explanation of chanting “OM”
• Hatha Yoga Pradipika – dissertation on the union of Hatha and Raja Yoga
Although the poses of Yoga date back before the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, they were not widely practiced by the public in India until the early 20th century. In 1946, Paramahansa Yogananda introduced the Kriya style of Yoga in his book, “Autobiography of a Yogi”. In 1948, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga was introduced and became the system from which many Hatha Yoga systems in the United States were patterned during the 1960s.
Although the philosophy of authentic Yoga is about a way of living, Yoga today is often used to describe the physical practice of poses for the sole purpose of exercising and improving health. To reap the true benefits of the practice, practitioners would need to find a class that embraces the original teachings of the ancient Vedic texts – along with asana, pranayama, and meditation.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Most practitioners are too busy for the traditional Yoga teacher training. Going through long apprenticeships and levels of dedication as a formal student within a specific lineage with one Guru is a thing of the past. Do you have 10 years to leave your family and live in a monastery or an ashram? Can you leave your job behind?
For these reasons, Yoga will continue to grow with online education and Internet networking. It is up to us as Yoga teachers and practitioners to look deep into the Yoga Sutra, Vedas, and writings of the past. In this way, we can pass the torch to the next generations of teachers, who will surely be more advanced in their ability to absorb the Yogic teachings of the past.
© Copyright 2011 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division