What is Yoga? | Shades of Yoga

Yoga is about being able to do cool yoga poses in expensive yoga clothes to take nice pictures for social media….just kidding.

When I walked out of my first yoga class, I knew I would be connected to yoga forever. Yes, it was a physical practice, but I also felt a shift energetically. When I say energetically, I mean mentally & emotionally different. Like when you feel the presence of someone you love around you. Yoga made me feel more connected to my body and to my bind. I started to go a little deeper into yoga to discover all that amazing things that it had in store. I quickly realized yoga was more than just being able to touch your toes or stand on your head. It was much…. much more than that.

This word and practice of yoga has been for more than 7000 years. That’s quite a long time if you think about it. So, you may be thinking wow people have been practicing this these poses for all that time. Not so fast, the physical practice of yoga did not come into the world until the late 1800s and early 1900s. So, what was happening from 3000 B.C to the 1800s?

The beginning of yoga can be traced back to the Vedic period time. During this time, the teaching of yoga was shared only with those who were considered pure and fit. This relationship between the teacher and the student was lifelong. The student lived in the guru’s house and served him lovingly as part of his family. The word yoga meaning, to ‘yoke’ or ‘bind’ during this time references the attempts of the practitioner to find union and unity with the Divine essence of life. This period is considered dualist, meaning ultimate reality can only be found outside of us. So the main purpose of yoga during this time was to attain self-realization, enlightenment and the liberation of the individual soul.

2500 BCE to 200 BCE became known as the pre classical period of yoga. A dialogue on the nature of being and fate of the soul was created and known as the Upanishads. This period was non-dualist, meaning the ultimate reality could be found within each one of us. This could be shared in a group now. A group of students could gather around a guru and listen to the yoga teachings. The goal of yoga was self-realization and self-awareness.

The Classical Period of yoga began around 200 BCE – 300 BCE. During this period, Patañjali wrote about the eight folded path of Ashtanga yoga known as the Yoga Sutras, which is something you will learn a great deal about in the Shades of Yoga 200 Hour Teacher Training. Patañjali says, “yoga is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind” or “yoga is to steady the mind.” There was still no physical practice of yoga during this period. All that was practiced was meditation and pranayama (breath). This period was again, dualist, meaning the divine was only outside of us.

Finally, the post classical period of yoga begins around 1000 CE – 1700 CE. Yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They began to embrace the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment. They created tantra yoga to cleanse the body and the mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. This tantra movement arose from influence of Buddhism in India. In the late 1800s and early 1900s Yoga was introduced in the West. This is really when the physical practice of yoga was introduced, known as Hatha Yoga.

Though that may have seemed like a lot of history, that is just a summary of the history of Yoga and where it came from. These teachings from thousands of years ago have been shared for centuries, written down and modified thousands of times. These various teachings and types of yoga embody what yoga truly is. Through a yoga teacher training you will dive into this history and teaching of yoga learning that yoga is more than just a down dog on your mat.

Now that we have touched a little on the history of yoga, let’s talk about the eight-folded path of yoga. During the classical period, Patañjali, the father of yoga, created this eight-folded path of Ashtanga Yoga known as the Yoga Sutras. These yoga sutras were a way to gather all of these yoga teachings that had been only taught orally into a standardized system. This eight-folded path was a process for the yogi to follow to be able to achieve samadhi, where the yogi releases the ego and is absorbed into oneness with the divine.

The Yoga Sutras include this eight-step process:

  1. Yama – ethical practices
  2. Niyama – personal observances
  3. Asana – postural practice
  4. Pranayama – breathing technique
  5. Pratyahara – internalization of the senses
  6. Dharna – concentration
  7. Dhyana – meditation
  8. Samadhi – Bliss

So, before yoga was brought to the western world and focused solely around the physical asana. Yoga was about the yogi achieving Samadhi, bliss, mainly through meditation, breathing and self-observances. Yoga was not about being able to stand on your head for hours or put your foot over your head.

I know when I first started taking yoga classes, I was mainly focused on the physical practice. As I continued to deepen my practice though, I did notice a shift in my energy. When I regularly practiced my meditation and my breathing, my days were different. My mood was brighter, my body felt lighter, what used to irritate me didn’t bother me as much. Subtle shifts from my yoga practice is what led me to continue sticking with and finding myself wanting to learn more and more where this practice came from.