Yoga, the latest rave across the world, comes from the root Yug, Jug which means to align.
It is the same root as for the word “Yoke” which is used to align bullocks to pull a cart.
Yoga – Yug/Jug – Yoke – Join
The root of the word Yoga and its practice, lies in India.
Yoga is not just exercise or postures.
Yoga, as the name suggests, is the practice by way of which mind, body and breath are aligned to achieve a state of harmony with each other and to become homogeneous with the cosmic consciousness – a state that brings with it a sense of freshness, energy and calm, a sense of balance of the various senses and emotions.
The extent of harmony and balance maintained, defines the depth of insight the Yogi has gained.
In a simplistic form, it is a structured combination of
- Asana – exercise postures for the body,
- Pranayama – regulating energy through control of the breath and
- Dhyana – meditation for the mind,
along with maintaining physiological, psychological and sociological hygiene through Yama (control / abstinence), Niyama (adherence) and other guidelines.
Daily activities as Yoga
In our life, the various activities that we perform are also various aspects of Yoga. For example,
- When we greet each other with Namaste, it is Anjali Mudra.
- When we sit down on the floor to eat, the sitting position is called Suhasan, one of the asana, postures of Yoga
- After eating, the asana, posture that is suggested for easy digestion is Vajrasana
- The sleeping posture is Shavasana. The act of sleeping with awareness is known as Yoga Nidra
The common punishment asana is called Palikarsha. In Hindi it is called Baski and in Tamil Topukaranam. It is the act of crossing one’s arms and holding the opposite side ear lobes and performing situps.
Mistakes usually happen due to lack of knowledge and awareness. The Palikarsha posture stimulates the nadi, nerve which helps enhance neuron cells, their perfect connectivity and thus improves knowledge acquisition and transfer process within the body. It also helps to internalize whatever is learnt and to become more aware.
Like this, every simple activity is linked to one of the yogic postures or the other.
Child – An Expert in Yoga
Yoga comes to us naturally right from our childhood.
Many of the different poses that a child does in its antics are yogic poses. As we grow from childhood into youth, we need to continue our practice of Yoga.
Children bending their bodies in play like Yoga Asanas
Yoga as a structured practice by the adults can be traced to India to beyond 7100 years ago at the very least.
A 7100 Year Old Structured Practice
The general opinion is that Yoga is 5000 years old. But we can see the trace of Yoga even during Ramayana times, 7100 years ago. Yoga was a specialized practice then too and hence must date to times before Rama as well.
The antiquity of Yoga can be ascertained from the fact that Rama’s Spiritual Guru, Vasishta, counselled and groomed Rama’s mind through the treatise Yoga Vasishta. One of the longest texts in Samskrt after Mahabharata, Yoga Vasishta forms an important text for Yoga and Advaita Vedanta (Non duality).
Vasishta imparting Yoga Vasishta to Rama – An Illustration on Art of Living CD Cover
Rama’s birth datable to 5114 BCE, makes Yoga Vasishta and the concept of Yoga, atleast 7100 years old.
From the timeless Veda, we can see that Indians have been in the habit of this continuous practice to keep both mind and body fit. Antiquity can be seen both in art and text.
In art, we can see a continuity of Yoga practice right from Mohenjodaro and Harappan times in the form of terracota Yogic posture figurines.
As far as texts go, across the times, illumined minds have given structure to this practice, through a large body of texts, thereby giving Yoga practice, a breath of fresh air every few generations.
Rishi Patanjali and Yoga
Rishi Patanjali, one of the earliest pioneers of Yoga was born in the land known today as Afghanistan.
An idol of Patanjali
When Rishi Gonika was praying to Surya, Sun with cupped hands – an Anjali Mudra, a yogic posture, a baby fell into it. The child was thus named Patanjali, meaning one who fell into cupped hands.
Anjali to Surya
Rishi Patanjali had his education at Takshashila University, the premier centre of advanced learning then, which is near present day Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Takshashila was a sought after centre for higher studies in Yoga, Ayurveda among many other subjects.
Takshashila Ruins of today
Patanjali Rameshwaram Connect
Rishi Patanjali attained his Samadhi in Rameshwaram in South India.
Rama installs Rameshwaram Lingam
Rameshwaram is one of the hallowed places of India, where Rama installed and worshipped a Shiva Lingam, before his battle with Ravana.
More on Rama installing the Lingam at Rameshwarm in our book ‘Historical Rama’.
Rama praying to Shiva Linga Rameshwaram Temple Historical Rama
Rameshwaram – A Jyothir Linga
The Lingam at Rameshwaram is one of the 12 Jyothir Lingas. We discuss the significance of Jyothir Linga and Rameshwaram in our book ‘Understanding Shiva’.
It is in such a holy place that Patanjali lived, practised and propagated Yoga and eventually attained samadhi.
Rishi Patanjali Samadhi, Rameshwaram
Patanjali Yoga Sutra
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra composed by Rishi Patanjali, which goes back by many millennia, has been a forerunner and guide for the practice of Yoga in all these years. Traditional Yoga as in Yoga Sutra is about meditation and mantra (OM-pranava). Asana had a secondary role. Yoga must lead to meditation and Samadhi to achieve its true goal of self-realization.
Patanjali Yoga Sutra being explained by H.H.Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder, Art of Living
Rishi Patanjali recorded, systematized and expounded Yoga through the entire stretch of land from north-west Afghanistan, where He was born, to Rameshwaram in south-east India, where He attained Samadhi.
Thus the structured practice of Yoga was not limited to north India alone, but has stretched from north-west India to south-east India, covering the whole civilization of India.
Shiva is referred to as Adi Yogi, represented as a bodily form, Shankara.
Indus Valley Pashupathi Seal
Probably one of the earliest representations, can be found in the Harappa – Mohenjodaro seal of Pashupathi, where Shiva or Pashupathi is shown seated in a Padamasana pose with all the animals surrounding Him.
Pashupathi seal from Harappa
A very interesting archaeological find in Denmark, of a very ancient bowl, at a place called Gundestrup, throws new light on Pashupathi and His following. This bowl, now called the Gundestrup Cauldron, bears in one of its panels, an image very similar to the Pashupathi seal unearthed from the Harappa – Mohenjodaro sites.
Gundestrup cauldron, Denmark, Unearthed in 1891 Dating back to 150 BCE & Pashupathi
Indo-Euro Yogic connect
This shows that this yogic form was prevalent not only to the Indus Valley sites but even to far away Denmark in North Western Europe.
Krishna – Yogeshwara
Sri Krishna was an exemplary Jnana Yogi. Krishna also speaks about other Yoga such as Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.
The Gita Upadesha was given on 22nd November, 3067 BCE. How we have conclusively arrived at this date, is discussed in our book, “Historical Krishna”.
Gita Upadesha Historical Krishna
This implies that Krishna and His Upadesha, counsel on Yoga are historical and real.
This means that Yoga and it benefits are also real.
This positions Yoga as not just exercise postures, Asana, but as knowledge, action, devotion, all coming together, to verily become a harmonious way of life.
Yogasana and Namaz Postures
There are interesting similarities between Yogasana Postures and the Muslim practice of Namaz.
Namaz Postures have their equivalent names and poses in Yogasana as can been in this chart.
Similarities of Yogasana and Namaz Postures
The similarity of Yogasana and Namaz Postures shows unison. For, Yoga itself means to unite, to come together.
Yoga Travels World Over
This structured practice of Yoga has now travelled and become popular world over as one of the preferred forms of keeping body and mind fit with one move.
Yoga to Near West
A look into the past shows that even Sufi saints from the Near West, Sultans and Mughal kings have interacted with Yogis, with an open mind inorder to learn of the good aspects of Yoga from its master practitioners.
Yoga to Far West
The visit of Swami Vivekananda to US in 1893 was a kick off point for Yoga in the modern international arena. Yoga kicked off and spread as a big in the US and worldwide.
Yoga to the East
Yoga went to the East from India along with Buddhism more than 2000 years ago, for Dhyan, meditation lies at the heart of Buddhism.
A sitting example is at the west entrance of Wat Phra Kew, the main temple attached to the Grand Palace at Bangkok, Thailand, in the form of a bronze statue popularly called “The Hermit Doctor”.
The locals refer to this statue as their patron of medicine, an Indian hermit Jivaka, who gave them Yoga and herbal medicine and hence offer prayers and other offerings here, to get cured of illnesses. This Jivaka was none other than the personal physician of the Buddha.
This statue at the front of the temple is placed on a stone pedestal, with another pedestal in front, bearing a stone mortar and pestle – an indication of how he practiced medicine with herbs, he used to grind.
Jivaka, Patron Hermit of Yoga and Medicine, Wat Phra Kew, Grand Palace, Bangkok
Further more, many Yoga postures can be seen displayed by statues in the gardens of Wat Pho, the temple adjacent to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, which houses the Reclining Buddha and is home to the original Thai massage. Housing many plaques with inscriptions on the pressure points in the human body, this temple from a long time has been renowned as a study centre for Ayurveda including Thai style of massages and Yoga.
Statues depicting Yoga Postures at Wat Pho Temple in Thailand, Bangkok
The statue, 2nd from left in the 2nd row, just under the large leafed plant can be seen
doing Pranayama, breathing exercise, with his hands on his waist
Yoga, Now a Global Brand
It was Paramahamsa Yogananda and then Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Sri. Krishnamacharya, Sri B.K.S.Iyengar, their disciples and Gurus such as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev, who have literally taken Yoga to the world.
World Yoga Day
His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar gave a clarion call to have an World Yoga Day declared, to raise awareness of keeping mind and body fit through Yoga.
The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi in his address to UN Assembly in September 2014, made a request to formalize a World Yoga day. The UN body adopted this resolution and passed it with a overwhelming majority in December 2014.
The world now has a new day to observe and celebrate – A World Yoga Day!
June 21st of every year, which is the day of Summer Solstice, i.e. the day when the Sun is seen longest in the sky, the day when daylight is maximum, was declared by UN on 12th December 2014, as World Yoga Day.
It is an apt day to be chosen as a World Yoga Day for every Yoga session typically starts with Surya Namaskar, the reverence to the Sun. What could be a better day than a Summer Solstice, the day when the Sun is in its peak to revere and celebrate the connection between our body and the Sun. It is the connection which drives the very metabolism clock in our bodies.
What is even more amazing is that, the proposal from India to the UN, to declare June 21st as World Yoga Day was seconded and co-sponsored by an unprecedented number of 175 nations out of 193.
This is indeed a remarkable feat. Normally, so many countries coming together in the UN General Assembly to pass a resolution for a commemorating day is rare.
For the 1st time so many nations have unanimously voted for a declaration in the history of UN General Assembly and that too within a record 3 months of the proposal having been put up in September 2014.
This in itself is proof of the universal acceptance of Yoga.
The popularity of Yoga and universality of Yoga, is what led so many countries to come together to jointly announce a World Yoga Day.
- unity of mind and body;
- thought and action;
- restraint and fulfilment;
- harmony between man and nature;
- a holistic approach to health and well being.” ,
were the words with which India described Yoga and garnered this support.
No wonder then that people across the globe, across times have therefore held and continue to hold Yoga in high respect and demand. The need for Yoga and the benefits of Yoga are as universal, as is our breath and our desire to be in union with the divine.
Yoga is a universal offering from India which has the potential to align all bodies and minds, across the world, towards the common goal of self realization, oneness, unity and peace.