Yoga is very special in the sense there is so much more to it than just the practice. Theres a rich deep-rooted cultural history to it, and I was curious to find out more as it would been touching base with my own roots.
Yoga originated in India, over 5,000 years ago. It was initially mentioned in the Vedas, which are sacred ancient scriptures used by priests. Within Hinduism, there are six schools of philosophy encompassing the world views and teachings.
- Sankhya: the duality of consciousness and matter
- Yoga: emerging from the prior, the practice of Sankhya through meditation, contemplation and liberation
- Nyaya: Logic, sources of knowledge
- Vaisheshika: empiricist, atomism
- Mimamsa: Orthopraxy, accurately interpreting the ancient sanskrit Vedas
- Vedanta: The final segment of knowledge in the Vedas
Yoga is one of the schools of philosophy in Hinduism, preserved by the sages and adapted to fit a diverse audience by practicing through the five basic principles: Exercise (Asana), Breathing (Pranayama), Relaxation (Savasana), Diet (Vegetarian), and Thinking and Meditation (Vedanta & Dhyana). Given its strong link to the religion and practiced by the priests in temples from years ago, my obvious next question was:
Is Yoga a Hindu practice?
Within Yoga, there are some mantras involved, and even the chanting of ॐ (alongside its history) makes me question – are we practicing a religious form of exercise? The use of repeating mantras or chanting ॐ is to adjust vibrations of all aspects within our being and penetrating into the depths of our unconscious. This is understandably useful and vital in meditation and other aspects of Yoga as we connect with our breath and elevate our self-growth. The word, mantra means to free the mind – very much in tune with the concept of Yoga yet also commonly used in Hindu prayers.
Perhaps with external influences extracting Yoga as a form of exercise, it diluted the significance and link of it to the religion. Yoga was introduced to the west when Swami Vivekananda visited the states, translating the yogic texts into English and describing Yoga as the science of the mind! Thus forth, Yogis were welcomed to the west, and one such guru was Shri Yogendra who strived to research and produce scientific evidence of the yogic benefits in the medical realm. This was wildly successful and since then Yoga has been moulded over time, to adapt to different ages and physical abilities. With the power of globalisation, yoga has a lot more expertise now! But it also facilitates the spread of misinformation and/or omits its significance originating from India, discounting potential other benefits of doing yoga (in place of any form of exercise).
I would love it if we could continue spreading the knowledge of Yoga, while paying homage to its historical significance. From my understanding, while there are links to religion, I do believe it is highly spiritual rather than a religious practice. In religion the focus is on God while in spirituality it begins with your own spirit, within yourself. नमस्ते।