People around the world from all kinds of cultural, national, and religious backgrounds have been becoming more and more aware of yoga. While this is a household word in India, the nation of yoga’s origin, many people in the western world are less aware of its existence or at the very least, the practice itself. It can be simply characterized as a form of meditation with a more physically active element added to it, which engages your mind and body simultaneously. It depends on who you’re asking and what specific form or religious background of yoga or meditation is the focal topic, but some might argue against yoga and favor meditation, favoring a purely introspective experience without any physical distractions. However on the other end of the spectrum, you’ll likely find that some yoga enthusiasts would tout yoga as being a higher form of meditation because as you become more adept and confident in your performance of the stances and motions, it seems to add more lucidity to your mind, offering a greater sense of meditative concentration, or lack thereof depending on how you wish to define meditation.
Yoga is the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines that aim to transform body and mind. The term denotes a variety of schools, practices and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism (including Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism) and Jainism, the most well-known is generally considered to be Hatha yoga and Raja yoga. The term yoga is derived from the literal meaning of “yoking together” a span of horses or oxen, but came to be applied to the “yoking” of the human mind and body. Liberation is like peeling onions. When you have peeled all then it leaves with nothing. Similarly, there is nothing (sunya), from where we’re all connected.
The origins of Yoga are likely to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions. The earliest accounts of yoga practitioners are to be found in the Buddhist Nikayas. Parallel developments were recorded around 400 CE in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which combines pre–philosophical speculations and diverse ascetic practices of the first millennium BCE with Samkhya-philosophy. Hatha yoga emerged from tantra by the turn of the first millennium.
Gurus from India later introduced yoga to the West; following the success of Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th and early 20th century (this comes as some comfort to those who believe that words and ideas can still change the world). In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world, picking up a most noticeable following in France, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States of America (this form of yoga is often called Hatha yoga. Yoga physiology has described humans as “existing of three bodies and five sheets which cover the atman and energy flowing through energy channels and concentrated in chakras. Many studies have tried to determine the effectiveness of yoga as a complementary intervention for cancer, schizophrenia, asthma, and heart disease.
Personally in my skeptical mind, often more clinical and analytical than spiritual, I may find the notion of astral projection or inhabiting another corporeal form as pure science fiction, however the fundamental physiological benefits do have scientifically factual basis and that cannot be denied. Perhaps yoga is something that even a scientist might want to put aside the microscope for.
(Some of the information above is paraphrased and intellectual property of Wikipedia © Wikipedia page on Yoga)
The above photos come to us courtesy of members of flickr.com
First image credit: Umberto Salvagnin.
Second image credit: Ian Burt.