The true history of yoga is shrouded in mystery.
There is no way to tell exactly how long this ancient tradition has been practiced.
We understand that yoga evolved in the East from ancient texts known as the Vedas.
These four spiritual scriptures detail postures and experiences which define yoga even today. Classic Hindu literature dates the Veda back almost ten thousand years. How long yoga was practiced prior to that, might always be unknown.
Modern yoga is thought to have evolved in the past five thousand years. Typically associated with ancient Indian culture, yoga is mentioned in the Mahabharata and in the most famous of Hindu scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita. These writings are among the most influencial “textbooks” of yoga.
The Bhagavad Gita chronicles the teachings of Lord Krishna as he instructs a young warrior. These teachings include discussion on bhatiki yoga, karma yoga and jnana yoga among others. Together, all styles of yoga are combined to create fluidity between the soul, the body and the mind.
The Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali are considered the first presentation of the technical forms of yoga positions. These sutras or threads are thought to date back 2500 years or more. Included in the text are the most prominent yogic practices and the Ashtanga or eight-limbed system. Each limb of the system represents an achievement in yoga.
Cleanliness, posture, ethics, sense withdrawal, breath control, concentration, meditation, and oneness, are all represented in Ashtanga Yoga. For many centuries, yoga was passed down as an oral tradition. Ashrams or hermitages were located in secluded forests hidden from the average person. Each teacher allowed only one student to learn yogic principles and the knowledge passed slowly from generation to generation.
In the late 16th century, yoga began to evolve from a more spiritualistic practice to the modern version that is commonly taught today. This new version of the yogic principles concentrates on developing a healthy, strong and flexible body, with less importance placed on spiritual development.
The interest in yoga declined steadily until the emergence of several prominent teachers or yogis. In the late 1800s, Indian gurus combined yoga styles to create a practice which appealed more to the new generation. Gone were the lengthy meditative practices and in their place, a new physically challenging yoga emerged.
Today’s yoga incorporates ancient meditation styles and poses with modern marketing techniques. The exercise industry incorporates yoga into a healthy physical activity for weight-loss and blood pressure reduction.
The practice of yoga has traveled the world and become popular with almost every culture imaginable. Yoga studios and teachers are available in almost every nation and especially in the Western world.
This combination of Eastern philosophy and Western marketing has created a yoga that is vastly different from its humble origins. Evolving in its appeal to the masses has allowed yoga to stand beside modern exercise techniques as an equal.
The Art of Yoga Encompasses a Surprising Variety of Styles
With their distinct differences, yoga styles vary according to what is being accomplished during the class. A beginning yoga student might be overwhelmed by the style choices presented when choosing a class. Having an overview on the most common forms of yoga is an excellent way to get an idea of the type of yoga that suits you.
- Ashtanga or Power Yoga is the most commonly taught form of yoga practice. This style includes a series of poses that are repeated in a particular order during the class. The poses are changed rapidly and the forms flow into one another. This type of class is quite physically demanding as there is no real rest between forms. Ashtanga yoga is primarily a physical class although breathing and meditation exercise are incorporated at the end of the forms.
- Iyengar yoga is a style that is concerned primarily with body alignment. These classes incorporate objects like blocks, straps or yoga blankets to help align a body for a particular pose. The poses are held for much longer periods of time than in the Ashtanga style. Breathing and meditation are a larger part of Iyengar classes. This style of yoga is hugely popular all over the world and its instructors have the one of the highest levels of education.
- Kali Ray Triyoga incorporates the flowing forms that are common to Ashtanga yoga and the meditative practices of several other styles. This style combines posture, focus and breath control to create a program that is systematized by level. Kali Ray Triyoga allows a student to work at a level that he or she chooses. The poses can be tremendously challenging or can be modified for students with physical difficulties. Kali Ray Triyoga is popular with both elderly students and the very young due to its flexible styling.
- Viniyoga is a style that allows a yogi or yoga instructor to work with one student at a time. This individual attention requires the instructor to create a personalized program for each student. The yoga class is designed to benefit a student because it is tailored for her alone. Private classes are often more expensive than group classes, so Viniyoga is not as widely practiced as some of the other styles.
- Kripalu yoga is similar to Viniyoga in that it is tailored to individual students. This style allows the student to work according to her own body’s limits. Emphasis is placed on body alignment, proper breath and then coordinating the breathing with the movements. Kripalu yoga is practiced in classes of several students, but each student moves at an individual pace. The courses are divided into stages. The first stage allows the student time to learn the pose and body alignment. The second stage emphasizes holding each pose for an extended period of time.
Although yoga styles vary, the essence of yoga resides in each style equally. No matter which style you choose, yoga is a beneficial addition to any life.