The oldest reference to the term yoga in ancient Indian treatises can be found in the Katha Upanishad, where there is a reference to controlling the senses. Besides the Upanishads, there are numerous references to yoga in the Bhagvad Gita, which was written around the same period as the Upanishads (500 B.C). A more detailed understanding of yoga, can be found in The Yoga Sutras, which were written by Patanjali around 100-200 B.C. These texts help one understand the evolving concept of yoga. Patanjali’s writing also became the basis for a system referred to as ‘Ashtanga Yoga’ (eight-limbed yoga) as we know it today. Yoga is one of India’s greatest gifts to the world. Shalini Parekh, a yoga expert, says it is essentially an integration of physical and mental exercises designed to balance the mind, body, and spirit. “Yoga is a combination of various asanas or physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation.”
In India, yoga was propagated more as a spiritual practice and a way of life; however the West has embraced it more as a physical exercise, though in recent times the spiritual aspect is also gaining popularity. With time yoga has evolved and been interpreted in various ways. The interpretation has led to the formation of many schools. One of the forms is Raja yoga or Ashtanga yoga (Patanjali yoga), focusing on the analysis and control of the field of human Consciousness. Astanga Vinyasa yoga, different from Patanjali’s Ashtanga, can trace its origins to the Yoga Korunta texts compiled by Vamam Rishi, and was developed by K. Pattabhi Jois in modern times. Astanga Vinyasa yoga is an aerobic, muscle-shaping, physically demanding workout. Hatha yoga another popular form, especially in the West, was developed by Yogi Swatmaram, a 15th century sage.
Hatha yoga tries to balance mind and body via physical postures or asanas, purification practices, controlled breathing, and the calming of the mind through meditation. Kundalini yoga, which concentrates on psychic centres or chakras in the body to generate energy, is also widely practised. There are other forms like the Iyengar School, which is an offshoot of Hatha yoga and concentrates on holding postures for a long time.
The heart of any yoga practice is the performance of the asanas, each of which has specific physical and mental benefits. Surya Namaskar or sun salutation, which is a series of twelve asanas is by far the most popular asana that most yoga practitioners perform. Sonal Ahuja, yoga instructor at Clay, a wellness centre in Mumbai says that yoga asanas help to ensure an even distribution of bio-energy, or life- force, which calms the current state of mind. “A practitioner of yoga faces life not as a victim, but as a master, who is in control of his or her life situation. Asanas balance the respiratory, digestive, excretory and reproductive systems perfectly. The equilibrium in the body then brings mental peace and enhances intellectual clarity. ” Yoga can also work as a form of alternative medicine as plenty of practitioners believe that it can prevent a number of diseases and maladies. Regular practice can help diverse ailments such as diabetes, blood pressure, digestive disorders, chronic fatigue, arthritis and asthma. Whether you want your body to be fit or you want to get rid of stress, yoga can provide solutions for all your problems. To lead a holistic and healthy lifestyle there is nothing quite like adopting this way of life.
New Age Yoga
Acroyoga is another form of yoga that has been gaining popularity. The foundation of acroyoga lies in yoga, acrobatics and Thai massage. The main objective is to build trust and enjoy doing the exercise. Dance yoga combines yoga with dance and students dance in and out of classic yoga poses to music.
The result is a flowing movement, which allows for greater freedom of expression while still providing a full body workout. In the mid nineties, a physician named Madan Kataria developed something called laughter yoga, in which laughter is combined with some basic yoga exercises.