Has Yoga lost its roots?
Derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, Yoga means union of the individual consciousness or soul with the Universal Consciousness or Spirit. Yoga is generally seen as an exercise form wherein the body is stretched, twisted and turned, but this is a very superficial take on this noble spiritual journey.
Its origins can be traced back to the 5000 years ago. Yoga’s history has many gaps and unexplained events and uncertainty due to its process of transmission which was orally, of sacred texts and the secretive nature of its teachings. The early writings on yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves obviously couldn’t stand the test of time. The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old. Yoga’s long rich history can be divided into four main periods of innovation, practice and development.
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 songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures. The most renowned of the Yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, composed around 500 B.C.E. The Upanishads took the idea of ritual sacrifice from the Vedas and internalized it, teaching the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga).
In the pre-classical stage, yoga was a mishmash of various ideas, beliefs and techniques that often conflicted and contradicted each other. The Classical period is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtras, the first systematic presentation of yoga. Written sometime in the second century, this text describes the path of Raja Yoga, often called “classical yoga”. Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an “eight limbed path” containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment.
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 the means to achieve enlightenment. They developed Tantra Yoga, with radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence.
Yoga’s relevance in today’s world
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters began to travel to the West, attracting attention and followers. This began at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, when Swami Vivekananda wowed the attendees with his lectures on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions. In the 1920s and 30s, 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 holy Ganges River.
Modern health applications of Yoga
Apart from the spiritual goals, the physical postures of yoga are used to alleviate health problems, reduce stress and make the spine supple in contemporary times.
While the practice of yoga continues to rise in contemporary American culture, sufficient and adequate knowledge of the practice’s origins does not. According to Andrea R. Jain, Yoga is undoubtedly a Hindu movement for spiritual meditation, yet is now being marketed as a supplement to a cardio routine. This scope “dilutes its Hindu identity.” Contemporaries of the Hindu faith argue that the more popular yoga gets, the less concerned people become about its origins in history. These same contemporaries do state that while anyone can practice yoga, only those who give Hinduism due credit for the practice will achieve the full benefit of the custom.
International Yoga Day 21st June
To bring back Yoga and to impart more knowledge of its roots in India, International Yoga Day or simply Yoga Day, is celebrated annually on June 21 and was declared to be internationally recognized by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on December 11, 2014. Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice or discipline that originated in India. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his UN Address suggested the date of June 21, as it is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and shares special significance in many parts of the world.
United Nations Declaration
On December 11, 2014, India’s Permanent Representative Asoke Mukherji introduced the draft resolution in UNGA. The draft text received broad support from 177 Member States who adopted the text without a vote. This initiative found support from many global leaders. A total of 175 nations co-sponsored the resolution and had the highest number of co-sponsors ever for any UNGA Resolution of such nature.
When proposing June 21 as the date, PM Modi said that the date was the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, having special significance in many parts of the world. From the perspective of yoga, the summer solstice marks the transition to Dakshinayana. The first full moon after summer solstice is known as Guru Poornima. Shiva, the first yogi (Adi Yogi) is said to have begun imparting the knowledge of yoga to the rest of mankind on this day and became the first guru (Adi Guru). Dakshinayana is also considered a time when there is natural support for those pursuing spiritual practices.
Following the adoption of the UN Resolution, several leaders of spiritual movement in India voiced their support for the initiative. Founder of Isha Foundation, Sadhguru, stated that “this could be a kind of a foundation stone to make scientific approach to the inner well-being of the human being, a worldwide thing. It’s a tremendous step for the world. Founder of Art of Living, Ravi Shankar lauded the efforts of Modi, stating that “It is very difficult for any philosophy, religion or culture to survive without state patronage. Yoga has existed so far almost like an orphan. Now, official recognition by the UN would further spread the benefit of yoga to the entire world.