When you practice yoga, it is, of course, not necessary to have a full understanding of yoga history in order to fully benefit from your practice. A brief understanding of the history behind yoga, however, may increase your spiritual practice and inspire you to find out more about the tradition behind the discipline.
The first writings about yoga were written in Sanskrit in early religious manuscripts in India called the Vedas. The word ‘yoga’ has many meanings. The root of the word is ‘yug’ which means ‘to hitch up’, referring to fastening horse bridles to a carriage. But yoga also means ‘to actively put to use’ or ‘yoke’ or ‘join’. Today, it is agreed upon that yoga is a method of joining or a discipline. Men who practice yoga are called yogi or yogin and women who practice yoga are called yogini.
Yoga was first passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. It wasn’t until about 2000 years ago when an Indian named Patanjali wrote ‘The Yoga Sutra’ that the philosophy of yoga was committed to paper. Yoga is not just about stretching and breathing and holding poses. Yoga is a philosophy on how to live life and deal with the challenges that human beings face daily. The Yoga Sutra defined this philosophy in 195 statements.
Sutra can be defined as ‘thread’ or ‘aphorism’, which means ‘a short declaration of truth’. It also means ‘the concentration of a large quantity of information into a simple definition’. It is a way of looking at truths that apply to everyone despite culture in the clearest way possible.
Hatha yoga, or the yoga that you do when you take a yoga class or perform yogic poses, was begun as a physical form of meditation. The physical act of yoga calms your body and allows your mind to become calm. It also gives you the physical strength to sustain long periods of meditation.
When you perform the physical practice of yoga, you are only engaging in half of the discipline as it has been practiced for thousands of years. Yoga is an incredible form of exercise and calming for the body, but it can also be used as a spiritual practice and a way to calm the mind and will as well.