Thursday, June 21 is International Yoga Day— a day of celebration, practice, and intention setting. What better way to celebrate our yogi journey than gaining a deeper understanding of our roots, the benefits of our practice, and ways to further expand our practice?
A Brief History of Yoga
The term “yoga” first appeared in ancient India’s earliest known transcripts, the Vedas. These scriptures date back to the beginning of the Vedic period, or 1500 BCE. The Vedas are written in Vedic Sanskrit, and are the oldest writings of Hinduism literature. In the Vedas, “yoga” actually refers to the yoke one would use to attach to animals pulling a cart or chariot. It is also often used to describe a warrior dying and going to heaven, carried by a chariot to reach the gods. By 3rd century BCE, the term “yoga” was being referenced more commonly in the religious scriptures of various religions, including Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. In Buddhism, yoga was referred to as Yogachara, and involved eight steps of meditation. In ancient times, yoga was a practice of religion and meditation, rather than being viewed as exercise as we do now.
Core Values of Yoga
It wasn’t until 5th century, AD, when yoga began to take a more developed concept. Until this point, yoga was based more upon meditation and religion than exercise, as we know it today. It was at this point that several core values were established:
– Analyzation and awareness of one’s own self.
– Uplifting and expanding one’s consciousness.
– Utilization of yoga as means of achieving transcendence.
Various Schools of Yoga
500-1500 AD brought about various schools of yoga, marking the expansion of yoga as a practice for a wide variety of interests.
Bhakti Yoga: A more religious based type of yoga focused on living a life of love and devotion to God. This type of yoga is considered a spiritual pathway within Hinduism.
Tantra Yoga: A type of yoga that emerged around the 5th century, which outlined new yoga ideology through the Tantras of the medieval era. The goal of yoga outlined by these scriptures is self-deification: to become the deity that is the focus of your practice.” Today, we associate Tantra with sex and sexuality —this is due to the Tantric belief that if yogis had sexual relations with yoginis, or women they believed embodied the Tantric Goddesses, they would reach a transcendent level of consciousness.
Hatha Yoga: The closest to what we now know as “yoga,” Hatha Yoga combines breathing patterns, meditation, and bodily postures to form Asanas.
In the early 1890s, Swami Vivekanda, a Hindu Monk touring Europe, brought knowledge of yoga and Hinduism to the West world. More specifically, Swami Vivekanda shared the Yoga Sutras, which describe what he believed to be the main traditions of yoga. These texts urge the reader to focus on one singular thing, rather than the many issues and topics we are often consumed by. As a result, corporate yoga tends to focus on the teachings of the Yoga Sutras.
In the 1960s, Hatha yoga took off in the United States, becoming popular with young Americans. Later, the health benefits of yoga would be shared with the public, causing another surge in popularity in the 1980s. This surge in popularity marks the first time yoga was practiced solely for the physical benefits, rather than the spiritual benefits.
The popularity of yoga has only increased in the last twenty years. As more people dive into practicing yoga, more and more health benefits are revealed by research studies, resulting in even more people being interested in the practice. We can expect the yogi community to continue to grow here in the US in coming years, and more benefits to be revealed to us over time.
Flexibility: One of the most obvious benefits of yoga, improved flexibility, can improve all aspects of your life. You may not be able to reach your toes when you first begin your yoga journey, but you’ll notice after each class, it gets a little bit easier. Soon, you’re able to reach further, both mentally and physically, than ever before. If you suffer from joint pain, you may also notice it begins to alleviate as you delve deeper into your practice. Increased flexibility helps bring the body into alignment, promoting general health and wellbeing.
Strength: When you spend time at the gym lifting weights, you gain muscle mass, but likely at the expense of flexibility. When practicing yoga, you build muscle strength and flexibility at the same time, expanding your ability to perform more complex yoga postures.
Heart Rate: Practicing yoga can lower your resting heart rate, increase endurance, and increase your oxygen uptake during exercise, allowing you to safely exercise for a longer amount of time.
Awareness: Awareness, both within and without is an essential part of yoga practice. Your mat is your mirror, revealing the different ways you act, both good and bad, and providing you a way to manage your emotions.
Inner Peace: Through our practice, we learn deep breathing patterns. The act of focusing on your breath and breathing intentionally brings about a sense of focus and serenity as it calms your nervous system.
Self Acceptance: Yoga is a noncompetitive activity which actively encourages positive thoughts and practices. As there is no good or bad way to do yoga, only what is, you come to accept yourself in whatever state you are in.
Expand Your Practice
With a wide variety of yoga, meditation, and movement classes, SunWater Spa is the ideal location for expanding your practice. Allow us to join you on your yogi journey and experience new teachers, styles of yoga, and spiritual practices with us. Let’s delve into our practice and celebrate International Yoga Day as a community!