What the Yoga?!
If you have only encountered yoga as physical postures or asana in a yoga class, then it’s time to meet the bigger yoga family. Yoga’s history is somewhat mysterious due to the oral transmission of many of its sacred texts and the secretive nature of its teachings. What we know is that yoga can be traced back to over 5000 years ago, and that as a science it has evolved and continued to have relevance across cultures through innovation, practice and development. With origins in Northern India, the word yoga was first mentioned in a sacred text called the Rig Veda.
The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. The most renowned of the yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad Gita, composed around 500 BC. The Yoga Sutras, written by Patanjali, were the first systematic presentation of yoga, breaking it down into an eight-limbed path pointing seekers to the stages towards obtaining ‘samadhi’ or enlightenment. Patanjali was never keen on the Sutras being viewed as a definitive, prescriptive work. Rather, he saw the eight limbs as an evolution in collaboration with other sages and yogis.
Systems of yoga continued to be developed in India through the exploration of physical and spiritual connections and body-focused practices, which became known as hatha yoga and is the principal yoga we know and practice in the West. Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, being a foundation from which to explore rather than a finite set of rules, still offer a completely relevant and logical pathway for self-discovery. The pathway isn’t necessarily linear, with each element offering insights in recalibrating how we live holistically in a yogic lifestyle.