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The Origins of Yoga

In light of celebrating International Day of Yoga this June 21, 2021, I’d like to delve into the origins of where the principles of breathing, flexibility and strength had emerged from. Read on more to understand the origins of yoga.

“The immortal being and pure Self will not be realized other than the practice of meditation. The practice of Yamas and Niyamas, consists of the first two limbs of Yoga represent the right livelihood, sincerity, honesty, loving kindness and etc. help us to purify our mind in order to be closer to the true nature of

Who We Truly Are.”

In light of celebrating International Day of Yoga this June 21, 2021, I’d like to delve into the origins of where the principles of breathing, flexibility and strength had emerged from.

Yoga, which is derived from the Sanskrit word Yuji, which means to unite representing the unification of body and consciousness – is an ancient practice that focuses on breathing, flexibility and strength that aims to boost mental and wellbeing.

The practice is derived of a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines.

That said, the main components of yoga consist of breathing and postures (a series of movements designed to boost strength and flexibility).

At the same time, it is believed that yoga was originated thousands of years ago in India and has been later adapted in other countries in various of ways.

As mentioned earlier, the origin of Yoga can be traced to northern India over 5,000 years ago – the word yoga was first mentioned in the ancient sacred texts – Rig Veda. The Vedas are a set of four ancient Sanskrit sacred texts where Rig Veda is the earliest among the vedas which consisted of a collection of over a thousand hyms, and mantras in ten chapters known as mandalas which were used by Vedic age priests.

Yoga was then refined and developed by Rishis (sages) who had documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads – a huge work containing over 200 scriptures.

Also, yoga is amongst the six schools of philosophy in Hinduism as well as a major part of Buddhism and its meditation practices

Yoga Terminology

Meanwhile, there are specific terminology in yoga and if you have attended a yoga class before, you may have heard some of these words that you may not understand.

Here I will break down what these terminologies are and to help you gain a better understanding of them.

1. Asana

It is literally translated as seat. The term asana today is used to refer to the practice of physical yoga postures or poses.

For e.g., Caturanga Dandasana is a posture commonly referred as the “low plank”. It requires the arm, shoulder, and core strength. It is often performed before lifting the chest up to “upward-facing-dog”.

2. Pranayama

Prana in Sanskrit indicates to the life force within every being. In relation to today’s yoga classes, the term is used to define breathing exercises with aims to clear the physical and emotional blockages in our body to free the breath.

For e.g., Ujjayi which is translated as “victorious breath”, it is performed by restricting air flow at the back of the throat, while breathing in and out of the nose. This will create a note on exhalation, often compared to the sound of the oceans.

Yoga Postures

Most of if not all of us who have heard of yoga, has the common knowledge that there are a variety of postures in yoga. However, do you know when you start practicing it, there are certain postures that will become the foundation of your yoga practice.

And by anchoring your practice with these postures would allow you to fully reap the benefits of yoga which includes flexibility, improved muscle strength, protection of the spine, increased blood flow, and even improved happiness.

Having that said, it is believed that there are 19 different types of yoga and 66 basic yoga postures. You may find more information here.

And in order to bring yoga to diverse and global audiences, the Hatha yoga professor Swami Vishnudevananda adapted the ancient wisdom of yoga into five basic principles: Proper Exercise (Asana), Proper Breathing (Pranayama), Proper Relaxation (Savasana), Proper Diet (Vegetarian) and Positive Thinking and Meditation (Vedanta and Dhyana) into meeting needs of the current and modern life.

Role of Mantras Play in Yoga

Mantras are repetitive sounds used to penetrate the depths of the unconscious mind and adjust the vibration of every aspect of our being. It can be chanted aloud, delved upon or listened to.

In yoga, mantras are chanted in Sanskrit. The Sanskrit word mantra is from the root word “man” which means to think and “tra” (from trai) meaning to protect or to be free from bondage or to free from the mind.

The earliest mantras were composed in Vedic Sanskrit in India and are about 3000 years old. Today, mantras exist in various schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

They come in many forms where they usually are melodic and have mathematically structured meters. The sounds of “Aum” and “Om” are some of the most basic mantras.

However, on more sophisticated levels, mantras are melodic phrases with spiritual interpretations. These can be many things such as a human longing for truth, reality, light, immortality, peace or even love. While some mantras have no literal meaning but are actually meaningful in a spiritual way.

To conclude, the ultimate goal of Yoga is to lead to the union of individual consciousness to the Universal consciousness, to realize Who We Truly Are prior to form and identity. The immortal being and pure Self will not be realized other than the practice of meditation. The practice of Yamas and Niyamas, consists of the first two limbs of Yoga represent the right livelihood, sincerity, honesty, loving kindness and etc. help us to purify our mind in order to be closer to the true nature of Who We Truly Are. Asana practice, the third limb of Yoga helps us loosen up our body joints and limbs for ease of sitting meditation. The practice of Pranayama (breath works), the forth limb of Yoga helps us restore and rejuvenate our internal Qi or Prana for ease of purifying toxins and negative emotions out of our body system. The last 4 limbs of Yoga, the practice of Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditative absorption) and Samadhi (union and integration) are all meditative practices to lead to the realization of Who We Truly Are, prior to this body and mind, where the final contemplation leads to Self-Realization.

 

Some parts of the article are to be credited to Google Arts & Culture.

Michael Teh, 21st January 2021.