History of Yoga
Yoga is more than 10,000 years old. The earliest mention of the contemplative tradition is found in the oldest surviving literature Rig Veda, in Nasadiya Sukta. It dates back to the Indus-Saraswati civilization. The Pashupati seal from the selfsame civilization shows a figure sitting in a yogic posture, further corroborating its prevalence in those ancient times.
However, the earliest mention of the practices that later became part of yoga are found in the oldest Upanishad, Brihadaranyaka. The practice of Pranayama finds a mention in one of its hymn and Pratyahara in Chandogya Upanishad.
The first appearance of the word “yoga” with the same meaning as we know today, perhaps happens for the first time in Kato Upanishad, a mukhya or important Upanishad, embedded in the last eight sections of the Katha school of Yajurveda. Yoga here is seen as a process of inner journey or ascent of consciousness.
The famous dialogue, Yoga Yajnavalkya, (found in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad), between Sage Yajnavalkya and the learned Brahmvadin Gargi mentions asanas, numerous breathing exercises for cleansing the body and meditation. Gargi has also spoken about Yogasanas in Chandogya Upanishad.
Vratya, a group of ascetics mentioned in the Atharvaveda, emphasized on bodily postures, which may have evolved into Yogasanas. Even Samhitas mention munis, kesins and vratyas, various ancient seers and sages who practiced rigorous physical deportments to meditate or do tapasya.
Yoga as a concept slowly emerged and has an elaborate mention in Bhagavad Gita and in Shanti Parva of Mahabharata.
There are more than 20 Upanishads and Yoga Vasishtha, which predate Mahabharata and Bhagavad Gita, where Yoga is stated to be the union of mind with the Supreme Consciousness.
These are some basics points for yoga beginner’s:
1. Discuss your goals: “Beginners should not get bogged down by the different schools of yoga, but should concentrate on finding an experienced teacher who can guide them on this journey,” says Mr. Jajoo, who has been teaching and practising yoga for nearly15 years. He suggests word of mouth over apps that promise to send a teacher to your doorstep. “Don’t hesitate to get reviews from existing students. Discuss your goals and expectations, so that everyone is on the same page.”
2. Weight loss is incidental: Be wary of those who tout yoga as the answer to diabetes and a cure for other illnesses or, use the practice as a weight-loss tool. “Losing weight is incidental,” says Syamla Monie, who trained at The Yoga Institute in Mumbai, which was founded in 1918 and focusses on classical yoga. Ms. Monie has been practising “classical householder’s yoga” in Mumbai for 20 years and shows her students how to integrate the practice with day-to-day activities.
“Yoga is not about showing off your headstand or contorting your body. The instructor should be for the well-being of his or her students. Only if people devote time to their physical and mental health can they take care of their family,” she says.
3. Don’t hide your health problems: The relationship between an instructor and a student is one that is built on honesty, much like a doctor or a patient. Mr. Jajoo advises people to discuss their health problems.
For instance, if you have a bad knee or a weak back or are prone to migraines, you should tell your teacher in advance. Some asanas can provide relief; others can exacerbate the problem. He gives the example of shirshasana or the headstand. “A trained yoga therapist will know that a student with cervical spondylosis should not be allowed to attempt shirshasana. But the asana is known to help people prone to migraines. A yoga therapist should be able to modify an asana to suit a person’s needs.”
4. Go slow: Hatha yoga practitioner Ratna V. does not introduce new students to complicated series such as the surya namaskar, which has at least 12 steps, immediately. “Students have to learn how to hold each posture correctly, and the right breathing techniques. Even in a group class, a teacher should be able to spot a student who is struggling with a pose and correct them gently,” she says.
5. Do not ignore meditation and pranayama: Pranayama exercises your lungs, helps you become more aware of your body and is a vital part of yoga. Here, too, teachers should exercise caution. Some of the breathing exercises should not be taught to beginners or people recovering from a laparoscopy or other surgeries, say experts.