Let’s take a deep dive into the core of yoga philosophy and the way yoga evolved over time. From the fundamentals of the Yoga Sutras to the present day, the yogic discipline has 5,000 years of traceable history.
The Origins of Yoga
Yoga dates back thousands of years. The mysterious origins of yoga are laid out in ancient scriptures and secretive teachings. Thanks to the texts that tell stories of yoga rituals and spiritual awakenings, we can still enjoy the benefits of yoga to this day.
As the yoga practice grew and evolved, it underwent many changes. The original purpose of yoga was an attempt to sacrifice the human ego, while focusing more on gaining wisdom and finding peace. The secondary purpose was to synchronize body and mind in perfect harmony. And so, the ultimate goal of the practice was Samadhi, or enlightenment. In yoga, the concept of enlightenment means being at peace with yourself, your inner thoughts, and the entire universe surrounding you.
It is believed that yoga originates from the land of Indus-Sarasvati people in the Northern part of India. Throughout the years, yoga transformed and eventually spread to other lands. This journey lead to a transformation of the yoga following, and so the practice evolved into a more physically active discipline. It slowly drifted away from the mindful attempt at relaxation.
Sage Patanjali is a legendary figure in the yoga world. He is credited with the authorship of groundbreaking Sanskrit texts, including the Yoga Sutras. Much of the yoga practice as we know it is rooted in Patanjali’s teachings.
Practicing yogis all around the world chant his words and give thanks to his name. Yoga teachings across the globe still take inspiration from his work, The Yoga Sutras. Patanjali was a sage in ancient India, as well as a scholar, an author, and a philosopher. Patanjali’s brilliant mind and spirit gave birth to the practice of Ashtanga.
In Sanskrit, his name can be broken down patta (पत, meaning “falling or flying”) and anj (अञ्ज्, meaning “honor, celebrate, or beautiful”). Patanjali is often depicted as a man, with a snake coiled around his body, symbolizing the energy coiled at the base of the spine. His image has inspired the origin of Kundalini yoga. The purpose of Kundalini is to undo the restraints of the self and begin the process of spiritual awakening.
His origins are a mystery, and his exact location in the world is unknown, which makes his life an exciting tale, the legend of sage Patanjali. He is variously estimated to have lived between 2nd century B.C. to 4th century A.D, but no one knows for sure. In fact, some historians even suggest that Patanjali was a name used by several people who worked on yoga texts at the time.
Legend has it that a high-ranking guru by the name of Gonika (translated as “goddess” from Sanskrit) prayed to the gods for a son with inner peace and strength. That way, she could pass on her learnings and introduce the world to her teachings. Several weeks later, she was still praying, when suddenly, a small snake fell into her hands. It was none other than the serpent god Adisesa. The snake transformed into a human that would lead the world on a path to spiritual enlightenment. His knowledge from his time on earth would be bestowed upon Patanjali, whose purpose would be to spread wisdom to all beings.
Wisdom of Yoga
Along his journey, Patanjali realized many things, one of which was how common suffering was among individuals from all walks of life. Therefore, he made it his mission to attempt to end all suffering. The way to do that was to unleash the power housed within oneself. And so, the practice of Ashtanga yoga was born with one goal in mind: to promote ethical living.
The practice represents a collection of experiences of the legendary scholar. Ashtanga had clearly outlined the path of a peaceful life, including Yamas and Niyamas. By living in close connection with the principles outlined in his scriptures, everyone could live without suffering. Additionally, yoga can help humanity to strengthen the union between mind, body, and spirit.
A Note From the Scholar
The exact circumstances and the timeline of the scriptures are still under debate. However, we cannot deny how much the teachings of Patanjali have affected the world. Yoga has taken the world by storm, and The Yoga Sutras are still one of the most significant sources of yoga philosophy. Attempting to incorporate some of Patanjali’s ancient teachings into your yoga practice and your life as a whole could be the key to inner peace. In fact, it’s safe to say that the self-enlightenment and spiritual awakening was Patanjali’s ultimate goal for the world.
Five Yamas of Yoga: A Guiding Light
One of the most impactful concepts brought forward by Patanjali was the concept of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. This concept represents eight stages, or “steps” on a path to enlightenment. Life can be a mystery. A giant puzzle full of pieces that sometimes don’t seem to fit together. Practicing yoga and mindfulness can give you enough perspective to see the big picture.
Before you start the journey of self-discovery, there is a foundation you need to establish first. Something that serves as a guide, sets you on the right path, and makes the journey a little smoother. This is the aim of the yogic principles known as Yamas. According to Patanjali’s teachings, the five Yamas of yoga is the first step. They act as a guide to an alternative way of living. A lifestyle that helps you be at peace with yourself and the world around you.
Although some of the Yamas have practical applications, they are more insightful. The Yamas are a set of words and actions to live by, as we make our way through the ultimate journey that we call life. Integrating the five Yamas into your life is the first step towards enlightenment and an attempt to live in a world devoid of aggression.
- AHIMSA (NON-VIOLENCE). Ahimsa is the first one of the five Yamas of yoga. This Yama calls for compassion and non-violence in thoughts, actions, and words. On the most basic level, this means a non-violent attitude towards yourself and the people around you. However, for most yogis, it extends to all living beings and the planet we live on. It’s a commitment to live as a peaceful and compassionate person. When we spread love and kindness, we make a change for the better.
- SATYA (TRUTHFULNESS). The concept of Satya means truthfulness and candor. You must strive to be honest with yourself and others. Even thinking lies and false facts is dangerous and harmful to our spirit. It clouds the mind and creates an internal conflict. It blurs the line of what truth really means. Most of all, it shadows the importance of telling the truth to yourself and the people around you. Even white lies should be avoided. Although the truth may be painful at times, true love heals any pain caused by reality.
- ASTEYA (NON-STEALING). This concept applies not only to physical objects but also to our relationships with the material nature of the world. To try and take something from someone is seen as stealing. It may feel like a gain, but stealing corrupts your spirit. Failure to realize the many forms of stealing can lead to jealousy and envy. Two of the most detrimental and evil sentiments that rot the soul to the core, creating a domino effect of negative thoughts and energy along the way. In the modern world, stealing no longer just applies to physical items, but intellectual property as well. Although it takes longer to develop something of your own, stealing is not an option for a true yogi.
- BRAHMACHARYA (NON-EXCESS). The concept of non-excess could be understood in the literal sense, but this guide pushes the spirit to go deeper, down to the very root of joy and pleasure. Though we can all get lost in things, people, and feelings that bring happiness, this guide calls to enjoy, with the ability to steer clear of excess.
- APARIGRAHA (NON-POSSESSIVENESS). This Yama is used as an attempt to grant ultimate freedom, showing that material things are a luxury. This is the concept of understanding the difference between necessity and desire. A concept that unleashes deep feelings within that are sometimes hidden by possessive ideas and thoughts.
Going through the journey of life with the Yamas in mind is a chance to live freely and happily while gaining a deep-rooted connection to oneself and understanding their place in the universe. It’s a process, not a one-off checklist, so do it with patience.
Popularization in the West
Yoga gained traction in the new world in the late 1890s, when Indian monks started sharing their knowledge with Western civilizations. Specifically, the influential sage Swami Vivekananda is credited with introducing yoga to the West. This resulted in a slight change of the sacred spiritual practice in favor of physical exercise, which only grows more prominent over time. The key is always to remember yoga’s roots, while embracing it’s changes.
Evolution is necessary for survival. Although the yoga practice has undergone many changes since it spread through the world, the teachings of Patanjali are still revered and respected in the yogic community. Whether you do it to adopt a healthier lifestyle or to find the meaning of life, yoga is a profoundly healing practice. Breath work is at the core of both Indian and Western styles, used as the one method of connection and freedom from a busy mind. Though the reason for practicing yoga is not always clearly defined, everyone can benefit from a deeper look into the roots of yoga.
By opening the mind to the original purpose of yoga, you can achieve more in the physical practice. The most important concept in yoga is perhaps the recognition of one’s own thoughts and feelings in response to energies and natural changes. Taking time to practice develops this instinct, whether you choose to practice in a more traditional or modern yoga style. Most importantly, you should know that you don’t have to fully commit to one approach. When it comes to yoga, you can combine the best of both worlds to create a practice that suits you best.