If you’re looking for an exercise that is both physically and spiritually rewarding, yoga may be just right for you. The practice is thousands of years old and it shows its age by the number of alternate styles that have evolved over time. Let’s take a brief look at the history and basics of yoga.
Yoga Over Time
Yoga is broken down into four major periods in history: pre-classical, classical, post-classical, and modern yoga. Much like a changing social philosophy or culture, yoga served different, yet still similar, ideals in each period. With each period came a slightly different approach to the art, largely dictated by the masters at each time.
Pre-classical yoga, developed in India over 5,000 years ago, is famously portrayed in the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad-Gîtâ. In this, three major themes of yoga are discussed: karma yoga (the yoga of action), Bhakti yoga (devotion toward god or sacrifice of the ego), and Jnana yoga (wisdom, or the yoga of discerning reality).
Classical yoga attempted to consolidate the growing base of ideas that had spawned over centuries. Here, the defining text became the Yoga-Sûtras, written by Patanjali. The scripture systematically organized yoga within four chapters. This type of yoga became known as Raja Yoga or the “eight limbed path”. Much of Patanjali’s influence remains with modern yoga.
Post-classical yoga took yet another focus on the art of yoga. Here, yoga became a means to enlightenment through the physical body. Hatha Yoga, as it was called, became a way to break the “knots that tied us to physical existence.”
Finally, modern yoga entered the world. Yoga masters began to reach westward and draw in new followers. Soon, Hatha Yoga seeped into western culture and is evidenced by the explosion in popularity seen in places like the United States. Although modern yoga still follows most of post-classical yoga’s teaching, there are a number of styles and approaches to the practice.
If you’re considering beginning the practice of yoga, here are a few quick pointers:
- Determine where to start. Consider going to a yoga studio or having a friend that practices help evaluate where you’re at physically.
- Get on a consistent schedule. Find a good time each day to practice yoga and try to stick to it. Many people find a half hour session of yoga after work is a great way to unwind. Alternatively, morning yoga may give you the energy to take on the day.
- Find a friend to practice with. It helps to have a work out buddy for motivational purposes as well as constructive criticism on form and approach. Plus, it always seems to brighten the mood when you have someone around to talk to and meditate with!
- Just like any exercise, set some goals for yourself. Try to master new poses regularly. Going to a yoga class is great for this because you’ll be able to work off of other people.
Dr. Berkas Comment
Yoga is a wonderful addition to any exercise/meditation practice. It promotes flexibility of mind and body through signature body positions, breath, and focus of intention. All of which are important in living a balanced life. In fact, Candace Pert, PhD states this very eloquently in her book “Molecules of Emotion”, …at any/every moment, the mind is in the body and the body is in the mind.
It this mind/body connection which makes yoga such a unique practice. Regardless of which “type” of yoga you practice, cultivating your mind/body connection is essential. So whether you are a seasoned practitioner or just getting started, embrace the process of transformation as you unfold and blossom into the best expression of YOU. NAMASTE