Monday, June 21 is International Yoga Day, an opportunity for us to look back at the origins of this practice t and has brightened the daily lives of many people.
Yoga is the hype and trendy discipline of our decade. At home, in the studio, new practitioners have adopted the benefits of this practice as a daily necessity during successive confinements. More than a physical activity, yoga is a real way to escape, a lifestyle to adopt. Why does this discipline seem to be able to satisfy both body and mind of many followers?
yoga has a rich 5,000 year history and because it is a multi-faceted practice, which has in the past been intertwined with religion, philosophy and of course exercise, it has proven difficult to determine an exact origin.
The beginnings of yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of texts containing chants, mantras and rituals used by the Brahmins, the Vedic priests. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by Brahmins and rishis (mystical seers) who documented their practices and beliefs in the upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures. The best known of the yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, composed around 500 BC. The Upanishads took the idea of ritual sacrifice from the Vedas and internalized it, teaching ego-sacrifice through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga). In the pre-classical stage, yoga was a hodgepodge of various ideas, beliefs and techniques that were often in conflict and contradiction with each other. The classical period is defined by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the first systematic presentation of yoga.
Written in the 2nd century, this text describes the path of RAJA YOGA, often called “classical yoga”. Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an “eight-pronged path” containing the steps and stages leading to the attainment of Samadhi or enlightenment. Patanjali is often considered the father of yoga and his Yoga Sutras still strongly influence most modern yoga styles. A few centuries after Patanjali, yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as a means to attain enlightenment. They developed Tantra Yoga, with radical techniques for cleansing the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. This exploration of these physical and spiritual connections and body-centered practices led to the creation of what we primarily think of as yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters began traveling to the West, attracting attention and followers.
This began at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, when Swami Vivekananda wowed attendees with his lectures on yoga and the universality of world religions. In the 1920s and 1930s, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga. Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga school in Mysore in 1924 and in 1936, Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the Ganges River. Krishnamacharya produced three students who would continue his legacy and increase the popularity of Hatha Yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois. Sivananda was a prolific author, writing over 200 books on yoga, and established nine ashrams and numerous yoga centers located around the world.
The importation of yoga to the West continued gradually until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. Since then, many other Western and Indian teachers have become pioneers, popularizing Hatha Yoga and gaining millions of followers. Hatha Yoga now has many different schools or styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of the practice.
12 types of yoga
So the benefits of yoga are also widely documented and you can expect to improve your strength, flexibility and balance by practicing it regularly. Yoga also helps to relieve stress, calm your thoughts and relax you. There is a wide variety of yoga disciplines to choose from. However, it can get a little confusing if you are a beginner and don’t know your Kundalini from your Iyengar! To learn more, browse through 12 types of yoga and their benefits.
- Vinyasa Yoga
This is a derivative of Ashtanga that also involves a number of athletic yoga postures and each movement is coordinated with the breath. It is also a very physically demanding practice. The pace is fast and you won’t have to hold a single pose for too long. The key is to move from one pose to the next so that your heart rate picks up. Both Ashtanga and Vinyasa are excellent if your goal is to tone your body. They also work the core and upper body and give you a cardio workout. This practice has no set structure and often depends on the teacher, which may include meditations and chanting.
- Hatha yoga
The Sanskrit term “hatha” is a generic term for all the physical postures of yoga. In the West, hatha yoga simply refers to all other styles of yoga (Ashtanga, Iyengar, etc.) that are based on a physical practice. However, there are other branches of yoga, such as kriya, raja and karma yoga, which are distinct from the physical practice of yoga. Physical yoga is the most popular and has many styles. The practice involves holding a Hatha class pose for a few breaths and focuses a lot on meditation and breathing and correct postures. You will also learn some essential relaxation techniques.
- Iyengar Yoga
Founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, this form of yoga is ideal for those who want to work on injuries and joint problems. It focuses on correct body alignment and very precise movements. The postures are held while holding the breath and the duration of each pose increases with expertise. The perfect pose is achieved with the help of props such as traps, blocks and blankets. This practice greatly improves stability, mobility, strength and flexibility.
- Kundalini Yoga
The practice of Kundalini yoga is both spiritual and physical. This style involves releasing the kundalini energy in your body, which is believed to be trapped, or coiled, in the lower spine.
- Ashtanga yoga
Popularized by celebrities around the world, Ashtanga, or “eight-limbed path,” is very physically demanding. It is therefore not recommended for beginners or people in poor physical condition. It consists of multiple surynamaskars followed by standing and floor postures. There are six sets of postures that must be repeated in each class. This type of yoga is also called Power Yoga. In this style, you start with the primary series and move to the next level once you have mastered it. It takes years of practice to master this form.
- Bikram Yoga
Created by yoga guru Bikram Choudhury, the main feature of this practice is to perform a series of postures in a room heated to 41 degrees centigrade and 40% humidity. In a 90-minute sequence, there are 26 basic postures that are performed twice and two breathing exercises. The heat makes you sweat excessively, which allows your body to get rid of toxins, while the postures work every part of your body and bring oxygenated blood to all your internal organs. Drink plenty of fluids to rehydrate.
- Yin yoga
If you don’t like intense activity, Yin yoga is the practice for you. This slow-paced style allows you to hold poses longer, from 45 seconds to two minutes. It also includes many seated postures and emphasizes spirituality, inner peace and relaxation. By holding the poses longer, you stretch your connective tissue and make it more elastic. You also improve blood circulation and qi energy in your body. The props help you relax into the postures instead of keeping your muscles flexed and tense. This style is often practiced in a heated room to help your muscles become more elastic. You should not try this if you are very flexible (as you may injure yourself if you over-stretch) or if you have a connective tissue disease.
- Restorative yoga
Restorative yoga aims to relax you after a long day and ease your mind. This style focuses primarily on relaxing the body. Restorative yoga also helps to purify and free your mind. Restorative yoga is a gentle, relaxing and passive style that allows students to relax and release the body in a gentle stretch that can last up to 10 minutes. This style uses a wide range of props including bolsters, blocks, straps and blankets. The intention is to provide support in each pose, which facilitates complete release and is less physically demanding than some other styles of yoga.
- Prenatal Yoga
Prenatal yoga is carefully tailored to “moms-to-be” and is for women in all trimesters. Many say that prenatal yoga is one of the best types of exercise for moms-to-be because of the pelvic floor work, the emphasis on breathing, and the connection to the growing baby; prenatal yoga also helps moms prepare for labor and delivery. I also practiced my own form of prenatal yoga during my two pregnancies.
- Anusara Yoga
Anusara is a modern version of hatha yoga, very similar to vinyasa in that it focuses on alignment, but with more emphasis on the mind-body-heart connection. It was founded by John Friend, who created a unique system called “Universal Principles of Alignment.” He resigned in 2012 after accusations of sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement. Friend has since partnered with Desi and Micah Springer to teach the Bowspring Method.
- Jivamukti Yoga
Yoga is not just a workout but a deeply spiritual experience. If you want to experience this practice in its entirety, you should try the Jivamukti style. Founded in 1984 by Sharon Ganon and David Life, Jivamukti integrates Vinyasa-style postures and sequences with chanting, meditation, deep relaxation and pranayama. Philosophy, poetry and music are also emphasized. Jivamukti centers also offer classes in Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit and kirtans. Jivamukti practitioners are also expected to be vegetarian.
- Kundalini Yoga
Kundalini Yoga is one of those mysterious yoga practices that is as spiritual as it is physical. This form of yoga is physically demanding and mentally challenging and involves a lot of meditation, chanting, mudras and breathing exercises. The goal of this style is to release the kundalini energy that is coiled in the lower spine. You will do a lot of quick postures with periods of relaxation where you will be taught to pay attention to internal sensations and the flow of creative energy so that you can tap into your kundalini-shakti. This style is for those who are looking for more than just a workout.