Yoga, the “discipline for attaining union” that popularly began its entrance to the Western world in 1893 with Swami Vivekananda’s introduction of this practice to the Parliament of the World’s Religions, has become to the modern world a synonym of fitness, health, and a hope for the realization of ones’ spiritual potential. But is there more to this ancient philosophy, science, and practice that has been roaming around this world since the Sanskrit hymns of the Rig Veda where composed? With now at least 200 generations of compiled practitioners over the years, the self-evident answer is yes.
This Indian-conceived practice has been evolving since the Sarasvati-Sindhu civilization thrived in the Asian territory and although it was first linked to sacrifice rituals of the Vedas, it then evolved to become a practice of inner sacrifice that meant the resignation to the mundane, which soon after lead to the rise of the Buddhist and Jain religions. With the arrival of the Bhagavad Gita texts around 400 to 500 B.C. a more comprehensive view of yoga emerged; bringing together the Karma Yoga (discipline of action), Bhakti Yoga (discipline of devoting oneself to the divine) and Jnana Yoga (discipline of wisdom and knowledge).
It wasn’t until the year 200 A.D in which the Yoga Sutras collected by Patanjali outlined the eight limbs of yoga, being: rules of moral code (Yamas), rules of personal behavior (Niyamas), body postures (Asana), breathing techniques (Pranayama), withdrawal of senses (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana), and ecstasy (Samadhi).
Hatha yoga, that is the more extensive practice of yoga poses or Asanas or pretty much the “yoga” with which most of us are familiar now wasn’t developed until 8 centuries after Patanjali’s Sutras were assembled. To many it may come as a surprise that the traditional practices of Hatha Yoga were meant for the practitioner’s body to transform itself into a divine and transubstantiated body that can better stand the wear outs of time and that is equipped with all kind of extraordinary capacities. The importance of the human body is understood, as it is seen to be at service to the foundation of the person’s spiritual realization.
Other traditional forms of yoga that matured over time include Mantra Yoga, which employs the use of primordial sounds to achieve a deeper state of meditation, such as Om Shanty Shanty Shanty or simply Om; Tantra Yoga, which engages meditative visualizations as well as elaborated and extensive rituals, and Laya or Kundalini Yoga that seeks to release a primal energy (called Kundalini) believed to be located at the base of the spine in the first chakra, through the regular practice of meditation.
The genuine continuation of this profound, rich, and priceless tradition is now in the hands of countless individuals around the world and across both Eastern and Western cultures. It is now up to us to faithfully keep the light of yoga bright enough within ourselves to carry on outshining a path of wisdom for generations to come.