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YOGA

Yoga is about body, mind and spirit. The practice includes: YAMA (not to do), NIYAMA (to do), ASANA (postures), PRANAYAMA (breath expansion/ or control), PRATYAHARA (senses withdraw), DHARANA (concentration), DHYANA (meditation), SAMADHI (enlightenment).

Nowadays, most people who begin a yoga practice do so because of the physical and mental benefits they get from the asana (postures). They become and feel slimmer, healthier and less stressed. In fact, postures are merely a doorway to a deeper spiritual life, but there is no need to explore this aspect of yoga immediately (unless, of course, you would like to). Just come, practice and enjoy!

The History of Yoga
Although no one can pinpoint exactly when yoga began, evidence of its existence can be seen as early as in the Rig-Veda (The Vedic Hymns), which is one of four Vedic hymnodies that outline early Indian spiritual beliefs. Carbon dating dates the Rig-Veda back to approximately the third millennium BCE.

In many respects what we think of as yoga today was quite different back then; the Vedic people practiced complex sacrificial rituals to strengthen their link with the divine. On the other hand, many of the core spiritual beliefs that define yoga today are similar to what is written in the Rig-Vega.

An example of this are Vedic hymns describing how the mind and senses jump from thought to thought and need to be brought under control. Therefore, unless further research uncovers even older documents (the Rig-Veda is currently the oldest literary document in any Indo-European language) we have the Vedic people to thank for the origins of yoga.

However, the Vedic people did not refer to their rituals or hymns as “yoga” per se. The term yoga, and the spiritual tradition it defines, is circa two and a half thousand years old. Yoga teachings are further categorized into Epic Yoga/Preclassical Yoga (from about 500BCE to perhaps 100CE), Classical Yoga (emerging circa 200CE) and Postclassical Yoga (the period following Patanjali).

Epic Yoga/Preclassical Yoga includes seminal yogic scriptures such as the Bhagavad-Gita and the Shvetashvatara-Upanishad (Secret Teaching of the Whitest Horse). The teachings set forth in the Upanishads belong to Jnana Yoga (Wisdom Yoga). Jnana Yoga held that true wisdom could shatter all self-delusion and illusion and allow the devotee to comprehend Reality, the Self, or Spirit. Wisdom was defined as being quite different from ordinary knowledge; it did not mean absorbing a lot of information. What it did mean was a direct understanding of Reality, or direct Self-realization.

Then, around 200CE, Classical Yoga emerged and was codified by Patanjali in his renowned Yoga-Sutra (Yoga Aphorisms), which consists of 195 (196 in some editions) aphorisms (sutra). Classical Yoga proposed a dualistic philosophy—distinguishing between spirit and matter—whereas most other yoga schools

that emerged in the period following Patanjali embraced nondualistic philosophies and are usually classified as belonging to Postclassical Yoga.

In addition to the yoga categorizations outlined so far, diverse yoga teachings are encountered in a great number of scriptures including certain Hindu, Buddhist and Jainist scriptures; the Tantras (Webs), which fall under the category of Shakti worship and which exerted great influence on the development of Hatha Yoga (Hatha Yoga probably has its earliest roots in approximately the 11th century CE) and the scriptures of the worshippers of Vishnu.

In conclusion, the history of yoga is long, complex and varied. It spans millenniums and appears in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. One could easily spend several lifetimes reading everything that has been written about yoga, but reading should always be secondary to practice. What all the above-mentioned schools/religions of Yoga have in common is that they place spiritual realization above scriptural authority. That is not to say that some background reading is not necessary, but at its heart the legacy of yoga goes thus: To know yoga is to do yoga.