What Is the History of Yoga?
The origins of yoga are shrouded in the mists of time. The ancient wisdom known as "the supreme science of life" is believed to have been revealed to the great sages of India several thousand years ago.
Yoga is an ancient system of physical and mental practices that originated during the Indus Valley civilization in South Asia. The fundamental purpose of yoga is to foster harmony in the body, mind, and environment.
Yoga professes a complete system of physical, mental, social, and spiritual development. For generations, this philosophy was passed on from the master teacher to the student. The first written records of the practice of yoga appeared around 200 BC in Yogasutra of Patanjali. The system consisted of the eightfold path or Asthangayoga.
In the West, several schools of yoga are popular and use some or all limbs of Asthangayoga described by Patanjali. The eight limbs are as follows:
Yama: rules for successful living in society
Niyama: techniques for managing and purifying self
Asaana: posture techniques for physical and mental balance (what most people think of as yoga)
Pranayama: breathing techniques for physical and mental balance
Pratihara: techniques for detaching the mind from the senses for mental balance and calm
Dharana: concentration techniques for mental balance and calm
Dhyana: meditation techniques for mental balance and calm
Samadhi: ultimate advanced meditation techniques and psychic procedures attained after regular practice for universal consciousness
The process involves the arousal of the Kundalini Shakti, or serpent power, believed to be located at the base of the human spine. As one practices the various techniques, this power/latent energy rises through a series of centers or Chakras corresponding to various endocrine glands. When this power reaches the highest center, which is associated with the hypothalamus gland regulating the hormonal secretion of the endocrine system, control over the hypothalamus results. In this way, secretion of hormones from various endocrine glands can be regulated. This mechanism may explain the importance of yoga as a stress management technique.
For more on yoga terms, see Yoga Glossary of Terms.