Yoga is an extremely popular form of stretch, exercise and relaxation in the modern world, however many people aren’t aware of the cultural and spiritual importance of yoga. In order to fully understand yoga it’s important to know the basic history of yoga and how its key benefits are still used today.
The History of Yoga
The conceptual basis of yoga can be traced back to ancient India. According to the “Yoga Journal”, the practice of yoga in the Indian subcontinent started as early as 3000 B.C, and there are many ancient manuscripts that support this theory. In ancient times it started as a cultural and spiritual practice, and over the past two thousand years different cultures have adapted their own versions of yoga. In fact, the form of yoga that we practice today in different parts of the world has very little in common with the yoga that was practiced by ancient yogis.
The Definition of Yoga
It’s always difficult to define a tradition in words, the same goes for Yoga. The best way we can define this ancient traditional spiritual/religious practice is by defining the term “yoga”.
The term ‘yoga’ comes from the Sanskrit language, no other word in this language has a wider meaning than the term yoga. It literally means ‘to yoke’ or ‘union’, different traditions interpret it differently, some define the term ‘yoga’ as the union of a person with his/her true nature while others regard the union of a person with God or the universe as yoga. Here is a more comprehensive definition of the term ‘yoga’:
“Yoga is a practice that connects the mind, body, and soul through different stretching, breathing, and meditation exercises. The whole purpose of performing these body and mind exercises is to bring you into a state where you experience the whole universe as part of yourself.
In short, yoga implies disciplining the body and mind through physical postures and exercises (asanas), meditation (dyana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and deep relaxation to achieve a more profound state of consciousness.
In Western society, the application of yoga as a therapeutic intervention began in the early 20th century. This is a time when several pioneering Indian yogis left india and started sharing the benefits of yoga with the world. From Swami Kuvalyandanda to Swami Sivananda, several Indian visionaries started sharing their profound knowledge of traditional Indian yoga philosophy with a broad audience. In doing so, they tried to modernise the traditional yoga practices to suit a broader audience. Today, yoga is regarded as a thoroughly globalised phenomenon; people of all age groups, sex, ethnicity, and faith practice it to achieve physical fitness, inner satisfaction, self-consciousness, and peace of mind.