So, why did people start doing yoga anyway? I was thinking about this as I sat on my mat this afternoon having failed, yet again, to master a headstand (I will do it before I write blog 5!!!) . I mean, what is the point of bending ourselves into all sorts of odd positions, and even standing on our heads??
If nothing else, doing the research gave me a good reason to stop trying to stand on my head! It was very easy to get very deep into the philosophy of yoga and to get deeply involved in the history of yoga but I’ll save all that for a future blog. Once I drilled it down, it’s very simple really, and probably not too different to why you and I are attempting to do yoga;
Yoga originated in ancient India, which is why you’ll hear me, and many teachers, use some Sanskrit words during a class. There is a lot of debate about exactly when it originated as many of the early texts about it were either lost or passed down through word of mouth, however we do know that it has been around for at least 5,000 years and some would say that it has been around for 10,000 years and people have been feeling the benefits of it for all that time.
Initially yoga was a way of finding self-knowledge and wisdom through action. This is known as Pre-Classical Yoga. During this time yoga was a mishmash of various ideas, beliefs and techniques that often conflicted and contradicted each other and so yogis wanted to make some sense of it. This led to what is known as the Classical period which is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtras and was the first systematic presentation of yoga with a strong focus on enlightenment. At this point I felt I was becoming too drawn into the philosophy but, if I take it to its core essence, what Patanjali was looking for was ‘understanding’, ‘awareness’ or ‘knowledge’ again using action (yoga) as a means to achieving this. In many ways then it wasn’t that different, but just brought together more. Patanjali is often considered the father of yoga and his Yoga-Sûtras still strongly influence most styles of modern yoga.
Yoga continued to evolve as people looked for a physical exercise that would help them to bring calm to their minds and to allow them some time and space to free themselves of whatever they felt was holding them down or back. During what has become known as the Post-Classical period of yoga, the exploration of physical-spiritual connections and body-centred practices led to the creation of what we now think of yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga.
Yoga was introduced into the West in the early 19th century and has gone through some changes since then as what we want from yoga has changed. There are now many different schools or styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of yoga, but all falling under the Hatha Yoga umbrella. Each style of yoga is a reflection of what people want from their practice, but in essence it is a place where people can take some time out for themselves, focusing on their body and also on their minds and breathing, if that is what they need, in order to live as they want to.
Reflecting on this, I realised why I had been trying to stand on my head: I was wanting to challenge myself and in doing so, to take myself away from everything that is going on to a place where I could focus on me and feel positive in doing so, which despite the failure to actually stand on my head, I did achieve…
As Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new..”
And so, I will keep on practicing yoga, and I hope you will join me in doing so too..