The History of Yoga

The history of yoga can be traced back to India over 5,000 years ago. Its roots are found in the Vedic period, approximately 5,000BCE, and specifically in the Rig Veda- the oldest written book in the world.

Yoga is one of the 6 orthodox systems of Indian Philosophy. The actual date of its origin is difficult to pinpoint, but the era form which this knowledge comes from is far less important than the knowledge itself.

The word “yoga” is a Sanskrit term that has many meanings. The word itself is derived from the Sanskrit root yuji- “to yoke or harness”.

Yoga is a method for training and uniting the body, mind, and spirit. It has been practiced over the centuries in many different forms.

Where Did Ashtanga Yoga Come From?

Traditional Ashtanga yoga is a name given to a set of practices compiled by the Sage Patanjali some time between 200 BCE to 250BCE. Ashtanga yoga is translated from the Sanskrit language as: Eight limbs of Yoga.

Simply put, Ashtanga Philosophy describes a spiritual discipline or path that promotes harmony within the individual Self, and creates connection with a greater universal Self, God, or Ultimate Reality.

Patanjali and the Origins of Yoga Philosophy

Ashtanga Yoga Philosophy originates between 200 BCE to 250 BCE with the sage Patanjali. He compiled the existing yoga knowledge of his time and wrote a book called the ‘Yoga Sutras’. This book of 196 sutras, or verses, makes up what is commonly called “Classical” or “Raja” (Royal) yoga.

The classical definition of Yoga comes from Patanjali. Yoga is channeling or controlling the fluctuations of the citta.

The citta is the sum total of our: thoughts, desires, senses, emotions, personality, intellect, perception, memory, understanding, recognition, and cognition. It consists of 3 parts: the sensory mind, ego, and intellect.

It is thought that learning to direct and control the citta allows us to see our True Self and gain direct experience of the Ultimate Reality. To achieve this objective, Patanjali defined 8 practices which are known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Modern Ashtanga Yoga

In the modern context of Yoga, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (Guruji), the 94 year old Yoga master from Mysore, South India, called the system of postures he learned from his teacher Krishnamacharya “Ashtanga Yoga”.

Pattabhi Jois taught a form of Hatha Yoga and believed it was essential for most students to enter the Eight-Limbed-Path through the third limb: asana (postures).

Most forms of “flow” or “power” yoga classes taught in yoga studios and gyms across the world today, trace their roots back to the Ashtanga-Vinyasa system of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

However, he would say there is much more than just the practice of postures involved in the system of Yoga he disseminated. Pattabhi Jois always claimed that the yoga he was teaching was completely in-line with Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga Philosophy.

How Physical and Philosophy Work Together

Most people believe that there is more to life than what can be explained or understood, and that belief pushes us to want to connect to some greater mystery beyond, to find something more meaningful than our solitary self.

Modern practices of Ashtanga Yoga (the entire 8 limbs, not simply the physical practice), provide us with the tools to explore and uncover these deeper aspects of our existence, and discover our connection with all living beings.

The physical practice (commonly referred to as Ashtanga Yoga), but more accurately called Asana practice, is the gateway to the other 7 limbs of yoga. When we practice the physical aspect of yoga, we are actually partaking in many of the other limbs at the same time.

By understanding this, we realize that led yoga classes can never fully help us go beyond the physical. Practicing yoga in a led class will have limited beliefs.

Yoga teachers focus on constant verbal commands to push us deeper into the postures. When we focus solely on the physical, we limit our potential growth to the physical. This is why yoga classes never truly bring us beyond ‘good stretching’.

If you want to move beyond the physical, then you must start with Mysore style practices.

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