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Yoga means to yoke or union. Depending on your goals, that can mean different things. If you focus more on the spiritual aspect of yoga then it might mean union with God or if it’s physical for
you then it might be yoking mind and body. That’s the great thing about yoga, there aren’t any limitations. It doesn’t require you to believe in a certain god or religion, and most teachers will not
even touch the spiritual part of yoga. So it’s possible to practice yoga purely for the mental and physical benefits.
It is commonly believed that yoga started around 1500 B.C.E. Archeologists found carved images of men sitting in a lotus position in the Mohnjo-Daro region in India which were dated around this time. Yoga has its roots in Hinduism, part of the Vedas. The Hindis believe that all paths lead to God, which is why yoga is all encompassing; you just focus on what you believe while practicing. There are yogis (practitioners of yoga) who believe if you practice yoga you must practice all aspects of it. However, if you feel that a part does not fit with your religion or beliefs then it is not necessary to practice that part. Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son (Krishnamacharya is considered to be the father of hatha yoga), stresses the need to strip yoga of its Hindu trappings, so that it remains a vehicle for all people.
In regards to the asanas, poses, two thousand years ago the asana repertoire consisted of limited number of seated poses. Now there are well over a thousand, most come from T. Krishnamacharya in the 1920’s by observing British gymnastics, Indian wrestling and martial arts. Some poses are named after old Hindu legends. Take Hanumanasana, monkey pose (the splits) for example, which came from gymnastics. Hanuman literally means “having large jaws.” Hanuman, a figure in Hindu mythology, is the semi-divine chief of an army of monkey warriors in India’s great epic, the Ramayana. As the son of the wind God, Vayulor (or Pavana), Hanuman is able to fly. This pose then, in which the legs are split forward and back, mimics Hanumans famous leap from the southern tip of India to the island of Sri Lanka. There are new poses or variations of old ones being added to the list all of the time, which is why there are so many. The names of the poses are said in Sanskrit, the classical Aryan language of ancient India. Some teachers only say them in English, but for one pose there might be 5 English translations of the Sanskrit name. Obviously this can cause some confusion when trying out different styles of yoga and different instructors.
The tacit message Krishnamacharya’s teaching provides, is that yoga is not a static tradition. It is a living, breathing art that grows constantly through each practitioner’s experiments and deepening experience.
Yogajournal.com – Krishnamacharya’s Legacy, by Fernando Pages Ruiz
Yoga, A Yoga Journal Book, text by Linda Sparrowe
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