Yoga is a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practised for health and relaxation. Yoga’s history has many places of obscurity and uncertainty due to its oral transmission of sacred texts and the secretive nature of its teachings. The early writings on yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves that were easily damaged, destroyed or lost. The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old old. Yoga’s long rich history can be divided into four main periods of innovation, practice and development. Pre-Classical Yoga: The beginnings of Yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures
Post-Classical Yoga: A few centuries after Patanjali, Yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment. They developed Tantra Yoga, with radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. This exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body centered practices led to the creation of what we primarily think of yoga in the West.
Hatha Yoga. Hindu Mythology is fascinating and exciting, and its link to yoga may provide a pose with emotional purpose to pair with the physical asana and mental relaxation. We all do yoga for different reasons-to feel peace, to find joy, to improve muscle function, to gain health, etc. and knowing a few stories behind the poses might give you a little extra enjoyment in your yoga practice Some Yogic tools for mental health and wellbeing: Tools to induce psycho-physical harmony: Asanas (static postures), Kriyas (systematic and rationale movements), Mudras (seals of neuromuscular energy) and Bandhans (locks for neuromuscular energy) gently stretch and strengthen the musculoskeletal system in a healthy manner. They improve mobility and flexibility of the different joints and groups of muscles. There is also concomitant improvement in the systemic function such as respiration, circulation, metabolism, digestion and elimination. A general sense of health and well being is also promoted by these aspects of Yoga that help release feel good hormones like endorphins and encephalins. Tools to balance emotional volatility: Swadhyaya (introspection self analysis), Pranayama (breathing techniques for control of vital energy), Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal), Dharana (intense concentration), Dhyana (meditational oneness) and Bhajana (devotional music) stabilize emotional turmoil and relieve stress and mental fatigue. They bring about an excellent sense of emotional balance that is vital for good health. Group work also enables achievement of emotional balance essential for good health. Development of appropriate psychological attitudes: Yoga encourages us to step back and take an meta-cognitive, objective view of our habitual patterns of behaviour and thoughts. This enables us to cope better with situations that normally put our bodies and minds under strain. Patanjali emphasizes the need to develop following qualities in order to become mentally balanced human beings (Bhavanani, 2011). He emphasizes Abhyasa (relentless positive self effort) and Vairagya (dispassionate attitude) along with Ishwara Pranidhana (acceptance and humility of the universal plan). He provides an antidote to the stress pandemic by suggesting change in our inner perspective through Pratipaksha Bhavanam (adoption of the contrary attitudes in the face of negativities). He advises us to develop clarity of mind (Chitta Prasadanam) through adoption of four conscious attitudes: namely Maitri (friendliness towards those who are at peace with themselves), Karuna (compassion for the suffering), mudita (cheerfulness towards the virtuous) and Upekshanam (indifference and avoidance of the evil). Contemplation, relaxation and meditation: There are a great many Jnana Yoga and Raja Yoga techniques of relaxation and visualization that are useful (Giri, 1976; Bhavanani, 2008). Other practices such as Trataka (concentrated gaze), Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana as well as Dhyana may also be utilized. Relaxation is a central element in Yoga as it is the body’s own way of recharging its cells and helps to ease physical, emotional and mental tensions. We can facilitate our own healing when we are relaxed. In fact, we often unintentionally retard our inherent healing mechanisms when we are tense and uptight. Choice is ours to make! Enhancing spiritual awareness: Yoga is the best way for us to consciously evolve out of our lower, sub-human nature, into our elevated human and humane nature (Giri, 1995). Ultimately, this life giving, life enhancing and life sustaining science of humanity allows us to achieve in full measure the Divinity that resides within each of us. Swadhyaya, satsanga (spiritual gathering), bhajana sessions and Yogic counselling are important aspects of Yogic living We need to realise that “Oneness” is health whereas “Duality” is disease. We cannot remain lonely, depressed and diseased if we realize that we are part of a wonderful, joyful and harmonious Universe. Spirituality is the personal connection we feel with our own inner being. This can be strengthened greatly through conscious introspection and self inquiry. When we begin to understand the oneness manifest through all forms of life, we manifest gratitude, respect and love. Our life becomes one of selfless service (nishkama seva) for humanity. At that point, we start to radiate joy, love and wellbeing (tejasvi). Relieving suffering and pain: In the Bhagavad Gita (VI:23), Yoga is also defined as ‘Dukkhasamyogaviyogam Yoga Samjnitham’, the conscious disassociation from union with suffering (Chidbhavananda, 1984; Bhavanani, 2013). Yoga improves pain tolerance and provides an improved quality of life. It can be safely said that Yoga helps us endure conditions that it may not be able to cure. This is vital in end life situations where it is important that the patient has a sense of improved quality of life during their final days and moments on earth. Yoga can also benefit caretakers of such terminal patients who are under great stress themselves as it enables them to realise that we fulfil ourselves best as human beings when we help others. Health and happiness are your birthright, claim them and develop them to your maximum potential (Giri, 1995). This message of Swamiji Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj is a firm reminder that the goal of human existence is not health and happiness but is Moksha (liberation). Most people today are so busy trying to find health and happiness that they forget why they are here in the first place. Yoga is the best way for us to regain our birthrights and attain the goal of our human existence.