HONORING THE ROOTS OF YOGA
Here’s the thing - when I took my first yoga class, I knew absolutely nothing about it. I knew nothing of its roots in India (other than that it came from India) or really what the practice would teach me. I took my first class because I had always been fascinated by the practice. I was never a sports player in school, I was the dancer, singer and actor of my family. There was just something about yoga that I knew I would love and I wanted to have some form of physical exercise that didn’t include dancing around my kitchen.
At first glance, yoga is just another form of physical exercise and most people only see this practice as that. But it is SO much more. Its roots grow deeper than that. So much deeper.
Sit down kids, it’s time for a history lesson:
Okay, let’s just be honest, the history of yoga is rich and long. To give you a glance of it is just not enough so after reading this post, I urge you to do your own research on your own so that you can learn even more. It is believed that yoga began way before civilization even came about. In yogic lore, Shiva became the first yogi or Adiyogi. Thousands of years ago, Shiva taught his vast knowledge to what is known as the Saptarishis, or “seven sages.” The sages then took this knowledge to Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa and South America. India is where this practice took hold the strongest. There are many seals and fossils performing yoga that suggests it has been present since ancient India. Yoga is present in many heritages including the Vedic and Upanishads. Soon this tradition manifested into a Guru to student and it’s spiritual value became important.
From 500-800 BC is when the practice began to bloom and become more prominent in history. During this time period Patanjali wrote what we know as the Yoga Sutras, which are in so many terms, scriptures about the nature of being human. Then along came the “Bhagavad Gita,” which is known as the bible of yoga. Bare in mind though, you aren’t going to find any yoga postures, because this practice began and still is a spiritual practice. The first yoga posture and only one in the beginning was to sit in lotus pose. In the Bhagavad Gita, depicts different forms of yoga - bhakti, jnana, and karma. Bhakti is yoga of the heart, pure devotion to loving all creatures will lead you to enlightenment. Jnana is yoga of the mind - through the study of ancient texts and self-contemplation, and this will lead you to your enlightenment. And then there’s karma yoga (not the karma we’re used), this is enlightenment through focusing on the work or your dharma (life’s purpose) in this world.
How did yoga make it to the west? In the 1890’s, Swami Vivekananda first came to the US and began to organize conferences where he demonstrated the practice. Other teachers that helped yoga flourish in the west, including Shri T.Krishnamacharya and BKS. Iyengar.
What IS yoga and what is it NOT?
The term yoga derives from the sanskrit word, “yuj,” which translated means, “to yoke” or “to unite.” It is the practice of joining your entire being into one with Universal Intelligence or God, or whatever you want to call it. However, yoga does not adhere to any form of religion. To put this into plain words, because I have had people question this part, it is NOT a religion. Does it help you create an open vessel (body, mind, heart, spirit) so that you can draw closer to God? Yes, but the aim of this practice is to come into a place of complete peace and to overcome all suffering.
Now that this practice is so diverse, it has taken a completely different turn. Especially in the United States, which is where we come into the purpose of honoring the roots. Yoga has just become another form of exercise to some of us who practice here in the West. However, there are many who come to this practice, like me, who fell in love with the peace that it has brought. The opening of the mind. The opening of the heart.
I am a full time yoga instructor, let me rephrase that, I am a white woman who teaches yoga. And it is my honor to teach this practice. I love how accessible yoga is for so many now -- compared to the beginning when only men were allowed to practice. However, those of us in the West who teach have a job to uphold the historical roots that grow deep in India. Where this practice is NOT a form of exercise but a way of life. A way of prayer. A way of growing closer to oneself which leads to enlightenment. It is not a way to get abs or be able to do all those crazy yoga postures you see on Instagram. It means so much more to those in India.
I am in no way saying that your mindset of going into yoga is to get six pack abs is wrong because anyway to get more people to this practice, no matter the reasons, is absolutely beautiful. Through that start, you begin to actually learn what this practice is really about. I am only saying that we have to remember where yoga came from. Where its roots grow the deepest.
Sources/Places you can go to learn even more: