The Heart & History of Yoga
Almost everyone has heard about yoga in some shape or form and as with all things in life there are those who believe in and love what the practice brings to their personal life! Of course there are others who swear it goes against their religious beliefs and comes from evil incarnated to trick the simple minds into devil worshipping, evil doing and generally goes against everything that Christianity holds true. As a newly graduated RYT instructor, there was amble opportunity to research the historical data related to yoga and how it was handed down orally throughout history prior to the written word and documentation of the age old practice.
As a follower of Christ and a believer in the healing potential of yoga, I thought it a worthwhile to spend a few moments sharing the historical significance, the present day application and the future potential of adding any activity into your life that can teach YOU how to become responsible for your body / mind / spirit! For anyone who reads this and is automatically put off because we do not view yoga as a hedonistic, virgin sacrificing, continent conquering practice – our sincere apologies! For those who can stretch your mind & body beyond what your puppeteers have told you, we’ll take a short walk down “Yoga History Lane” and then discuss the benefits for individuals, communities and our planet!
In the beginning… The Earliest History of Yoga finds that the practice traced back to what we could rightly call the Prehistoric Period. This was a time before the written word, when sages organized their spiritual realizations into teachings that could be transmitted to their disciples orally, in an intimate, one-to-one manner. Yoga was a purely oral tradition at this time, which may even stretch back as far as ten thousand years in history. Yoga ashrams (hermitages) were in forests and other inaccessible places. Very few could even find such places, let alone study there. The teachings were given only to those who were considered pure and fit (the adhikarin), and the relationship between the teacher and student was life-long and revered. This structure was known as the gurukula, which literally means ‘the womb of the guru’, as the student lived in the guru’s home and served him lovingly as part of his family. The solitary aim of yoga at this time was moksha (freedom), or spiritual liberation. 
The history of Yoga can conveniently be divided into the following four broad categories:
Vedic Yoga, Preclassical Yoga, Classical Yoga, Postclassical Yoga
The Historical Period – Vedic Yoga- The period from about 7000 B.C. to 1500 A.D. was an era in the history of yoga when the teachings were written down, marking an end to the exclusively oral tradition of yoga. This is the period where we find a rich tradition of classical literature related to yoga, such as the Upanishads, the Yoga Vashishta, and the Bhagavad Gita. During this era of the history of yoga, the purpose of yoga remained the high desire for moksha, ‘realization’, and ‘enlightenment’. The intimate manner of teaching between the guru and student remained as well. Though the teachings were written down, they were done so in a highly secretive, coded form, and only those who had been properly initiated would be able to understand them. I would say, much like many of the biblical texts have been. Hence, men and women dedicating entire lifetimes in the study of the “word” as it is full of imagery, symbolism and from a language that most are not familiar with the true meaning for many generations past.
The Historical Period - Preclassical Yoga - It is within in this timeframe (from about 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D.) in the history of yoga that many teachers arose who started to concern themselves more with social needs. They organized large groups of seekers into sanghas (spiritual communities), and built powerful institutions. The individualistic, highly spiritual aims of yoga gradually transformed into mass, collective movements, which, while retaining the high and noble aims of ‘union with Atman (God)’, also sought to improve society.
The Historical Period – Classical Yoga - The period of 1500 A.D. to 1893 could be considered a slowly declining period in the history of yoga, as the lofty spiritual aims of yoga started to become more and more mundane. Even esoteric knowledge was written down and distributed without discretion, and the physical hatha yoga practices began to rise in popularity. An interest in developing a strong, flexible and durable body became one of the principal aims of yoga. Physical feats and prowess became highly valued and several texts emerged making the physical practices associated with yoga more concrete and organized. This label applies to the eightfold Yoga—also known as Râja-Yoga—taught by Patanjali in his Yoga-Sûtra. This Sanskrit text is composed of just under 200 aphoristic statements, which have been commented on over and over again through the centuries. Sooner or later all serious Yoga students discover this work and have to grapple with its terse statements. The word sûtra (which is related to Latin suture) means literally “thread.” Here it conveys a thread of memory, an aid to memorization for students eager to retain Patanjali’s knowledge and wisdom.
The Historical Period – Post Classical Yoga - This is again a very comprehensive category, which refers to all those many types and schools of Yoga that have sprung up in the period after Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtra and that are independent of this seminal work. In contrast to classical Yoga, postclassical Yoga affirms the ultimate unity of everything. This is the core teaching of Vedânta, the philosophical system based on the teachings of the Upanishads. In a way, the dualism of classical Yoga can be seen as a brief but powerful interlude in a stream of nondualist teachings going back to ancient Vedic times. According to these teachings, you, we, and everyone or everything else is an aspect or expression of one and the same reality. In Sanskrit that singular reality is called brahman (meaning “that which has grown expansive”) or âtman (the transcendental Self as opposed to the limited ego-self). Previous generations of yogis and yoginis had paid no particular attention to the body. They had been more interested in contemplation to the point where they could exit the body consciously. Their goal had been to leave the world behind and merge with the formless reality, the spirit.
The Historical Period – Modern Yoga - Sept 11, 1893, when Swami Vivekananda made his historic address to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, is often regarded as the beginning of the Modern Era in the history of yoga… the point from which the movement of yogic concepts to the West swelled quickly into a powerful wave. In little more than a century since then, yoga has seen an unprecedented rise in its dissemination worldwide. However, for the most part, its face has changed considerably from its ancient past…
Yoga does not demand allegiance with any specific religion to partake upon the benefits. Nor does it push the aspirant to change how he or she worships and by what name they pray or give worship. What yoga does and can do is provide a road map the individual for how to create a healthier life, thereby creating bliss on earth! It teaches personal responsibility and in all the teachings historical and to present day, it gives the aspirant the ability to work with the physical body as they learn to connect with the spiritual in an attempt to manage the mental!
Although this was a very brief historical journey of yoga, it is important to note that at the core of each of the teachings was the desire to find union with the creative life force. The ability to learn how the body, mind, spirit works to enable the individual the ability to create new pathways on his or her journey toward creating excellence. Rather than deny the spiritual side of humanity, yoga works to unite all aspects with balance so the individual can make the adjustments necessary to create a temple for the spirit to reside. Although it was difficult for me personally to accept that specific religions could find harm or malice with any practice that allows and encourages the aspirant to cut the middle man out and work directly to find the source of light and love that exists within us all.
Yoga is a practice that acknowledges the divine aspects of all living and sentient beings and teaches many of the same principles that can be found in other religious texts does not sound like the one who brings and teaches hate through fear. Yet there are those who will stand firmly that Yoga is evil because of it's Hindu historical background. We refuse to point fingers and generate more hate or fear, so I want to leave you with just a couple of thoughts : if you breath slowly, you are doing yoga! If you make conscious thoughts prior to opening your mouth - you are doing yoga! Yoga is about the integration of all aspects of the human adventure to create harmony & balance in this existence and the next!
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