You and your friends may already do yoga for health and fitness reasons, but for more serious practitioners there’s a lot more to it. Yoga is a chance to learn more about Buddhist psychology; an entire fascinating history and culture.
If you’ve never heard, below are some additional aspects of yoga that you might not be familiar with. You’ll soon learn that there’s a lot more to it than just boosting your physical flexibility.
You might think of yoga as a modern fad that started sometime in the 1990s, but the art form traces its history back more than 5 millenia to northern India. The word “yoga” first appeared in the “Rig Veda” — an ancient, sacred text — all that time ago, one of four (and the oldest) “Vedas” or sacred texts written in Sanskrit.
Over the years, the art form was refined and perfected by sages known as “Rishis” who put down their work on paper in a collection that came to be called the Upanishads. Yoga now forms one of the six main schools of philosophy in Hinduism, but has also become deeply connected to Buddhism through things like meditation practice.
A Deep but Simple Core Philosophy
The main guiding principle behind yoga can be summarised thusly: the trinity of mind, body and spirit is intertwined and cannot be separated. Yoga’s practitioners and teachers work within the realms of mental discernment, being more self-aware, increasing one’s spiritual knowledge and creating some detachment from the world’s goings on and “higher matters.”
There are clear connections to Buddhism where there is at the heart of yoga’s philosophy a belief that ignorance of our spiritual selves is a source of our suffering. Furthermore, curing this ignorance can be done at least in part through practicing yoga.
A School of Many Thoughts and Practices
While the core beliefs of different yoga practices and types are founded in that same philosophy, the actual number of practices and beliefs form a vast tree. Some common paths on which practitioners choose to focus include:
- Sankhya dualism – understanding the fundamental difference between consciousness and matter
- Tantra – a more modern take on the Vedic spiritual practices focused on the body’s own sensations
- Bhakti – translates to “devotion” or “love”; a simple and direct method to pursue unity of body and spirit
- Hatha – a form of yoga focused on having a strong and flexible physical body
- Raja – a form of yoga focused entirely on being able to concentrate and focus the mind
The list goes on, in fact. Yoga, as it turns out, is an integral part of an entire way of thinking and structuring one’s life.
A Vehicle for Sanskrit
The more unfamiliar terms that you may have heard a yoga instructor use such as “asana” (seat or pose), “shanti” (peace), or “asha” (hope) are not marketing-friendly buzzwords, but rather ancient Sanskrit terms that have carried over into the international practice to help people maintain connection to the real meaning behind Yoga’s philosophy.
Sanskrit is the foundation for many of India’s native languages, and is one of the oldest languages in the world. The good news is that to practice yoga properly, or even appreciate its depth, one doesn’t require any deep knowledge of understanding of Sanskrit, but getting to know the proper terms and what they mean does help to add depth to one’s yoga practice.
More Than Just Physical Fitness
And so now we can see why Yoga is much more than just a way to improve muscle strength and gain flexibility in the body. Through learning the dozens of poses, as well as breathing techniques and guiding spirituality and philosophy that guides the entire thing, we can gain a whole new outlook on life.