July 26th, 2010
Yoga has become a popular form of exercise and stress management in the United States, for professional athletes, individuals on a weight-loss mission, and anyone who wants to explore the holistic benefits of combining strength training, flexibility, and deep breathing and concentration. But even though this ancient practice has become a mainstream form of exercise and relaxation, there is still a lot you probably don’t know about yoga. Whether you’re in nursing school and want to know more about yoga’s health benefits and risks, or you’re curious about the history of yoga, keep reading.
- There are 19 types of yoga: The most common type of yoga taught in the United States is hatha yoga, which is a foundational type that teaches breathwork, postures and meditation. Other types focus on chanting and prayer, detox, strength, endurance, and total lifestyle habits like vegetarianism and non-violence.
- Yoga may be 10,000 years old: Actual records of yoga can be traced back 5,000 years, but because yoga was passed down orally or on delicate leaves and that were destroyed, many researchers believe it is much, much older.
- Patanjali — one of yoga’s most important figures — was a physician: While yoga was first explored and recorded by priests and mystic seekers, Patanjali, who is one of the most important figures in yoga history and is called “the father of yoga,” was actually a physician. Patanjali wrote down 195 sutras for explaining how yoga should be used in everyday life to achieve enlightenment and a moral life in a text called The Yoga Sutra.
- There are four periods in the history of yoga: These are: pre-classical, classical, post-classical and modern. During the pre-classical period, yoga was being developed in Northern India by the Indus-Sarasvati people, and then by Brahman priests. This is when yoga was recorded in texts and scriptures. The classical period saw the organization of yoga into the eight-limbed path philosophy that still holds today, while the post-classical period explored the idea that the physical body led to true enlightenment, a severe departure from pre-classical ideals. In the modern period, yoga spread to the West, when Swami Vivekananda visited Chicago in 1893. Hatha yoga became the preeminent form of yoga here.
- Yoga poses and meditation are inspired by Buddhist influences: In the earliest periods, yoga was practiced as a form of healing and path to self-discovery. Buddhist influences during the 6th century B.C. turned the focus towards meditation, too, and incorporated the practice of postures and poses.
- Yoga’s eight-fold path to a better life: Patanjali’s eight-fold path is described in The Yoga Sutra. The eight limbs are yama, or social behavior; niyama, or inner discipline and responsibility; asana, or posture of yoga; pranayama, or energy force that flows through us when we breathe; pratyahara, the withdrawal of senses during meditation; dharana, concentrating on a single image or point; dhyana, meditating without an object or distraction; and samadhi, or absolute bliss.
- Yoga’s original language is Sanskrit: The oldest literary language of India, Sanskrit is also the language of yoga. The word yoga actually means yoke or union, and is translated from the Sanskrit word “yuj.”
- Your yoga experience is always changing: Some people might think practicing yoga for years or decades is boring because all of the poses are the same. But yoga’s philosophy is built around the idea that your experience or relationship with the yoga poses is constantly changing. This experience is based on your physicality as you become more flexible and balanced, and also your spiritual relation and ability to meditate while doing yoga.
- Yoga may interfere with natural growth: The American Yoga Association doesn’t recommend that children under the age of 16 years old perform yoga positions, because they may hinder natural growth. And while they can experiment with breathing exercises and stretching, they should not hold their breath while doing so.
- The number of yoga poses is disputed: In The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga, Swami Vishnu-devananda explained 66 official postures for yoga, and 136 variations. Other yogis have suggested that there are more official postures, or even an infinite number of positions.
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