Definition of yoga and basic elements of yoga
Yoga is a type of practice for the body and mind. Throughout history, there were created different branches, or shall we say, types of yoga. Today, we can say there are six branches or types. The first type of yoga, which is at the same time most common today, is Hatha yoga. This yoga branch has the main goal of priming the body and the mind.
The second yoga branch is the Raja yoga, which practices the “eight-limbed path” and involves meditation. Then there is the Karma yoga, through which one can rid themselves of selfishness and negativity. Bhakti yoga is a branch that works on acceptance, tolerance, channeling emotions in a positive manner, and becoming devoted. Jnana yoga is a type of yoga through which one can acquire wisdom and intellect. Finally, the last branch is Tantra yoga, a path of rituals and ceremonies.
A part of the yoga practice that is also popular is something we call chakras. The literal translation of this word would be “spinning wheels”. They represent certain spots of energy, feelings and the physical body. It is believed that if a certain chakra is blocked, it can lead to physical issues or health problems.
There are seven different chakra spots: Sahasrara- the “crown chakra” that represents the state of consciousness, Ajna- the “third-eye chakra” that represents a point where important energetic streams meet, Vishuddha- “throat chakra”, related to speech, hearing and metabolism, Anahata- “heart chakra” related to complex emotions, compassion, unconditional love and similar, Manipura- “navel chakra”, related to personal power, fear, digestive system, anxiety and similar, Svadhishthana- “pelvic chakra”, tied to reproductive organs, and Muladhara- “root chakra” related to food, sex, and sleep.
A brief history
To this day, there are many uncertainties when it comes to the history of yoga. Because the oldest texts about yoga were transmitted orally from person to person, there are many wholes in our knowledge about this practice.
One thing that we are absolutely sure of is that the roots of yoga date back to 5.000 years ago. It originated from the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, and was much, much different from the yoga we know today.
The first period that is important for yoga is the Vedic period, which was important because that is when the four ancient sculptures, Vedas, were created. The two most important things that characterized the Vedic yoga were ceremonies and rituals that were supposed to help the mind exceed its limitations.
The next period that is important for yoga is the pre-classical period. It is then that the Upanishads, the 200 Vedic texts were created. It shows three ideas: Brahman- the reality in the universe, Atman-self, and the connection between these two. After Upanishads came the Bhagavad Gita (Lord’s Song), the oldest yoga scripture. The Bhagavad Gita teachings include the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, karma yoga (action), and jnana yoga (wisdom).
These ideas were initially from the Upanishads, where teaching involved ritual sacrifice. Even though that it was one of the most popular texts written in Hindu, almost nothing out of it remained a part of yoga we practice and know today.
The pre-classical period is followed by the classical period of yoga. 2000 years ago, Yoga Sutras was created. It represents several Sanskrit texts which are considered as the very foundation of the classic yoga. Fulfillment and peace are two main goals the Yoga Sutras teaches its readers. The founder of Yoga Sutras is also the creator of the eight-limbed path, which represents the steps one has to take in order to reach enlightenment, also known as Samadhi. The eight “limbs” are: Yama (social ethics), Niyama (personal ethics), Asana (postures), Pranayama (life force), Pratyahara (turning the senses inwards), Dharana (one-pointed focus), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (merging with the self).
In the post-classical period, which was in the 19th century, the practice of yoga traveled to the West, and then moved on to the East. It is believed that it was in this period that many gurus and guides traveled to the West, and probably brought this practice to their countries. The post-classical period is known for Tantra Yoga, a practice featuring different procedures that should cleanse the mind and release us from the bond with physical existence. In the post-classical period, Vedic ideas were rejected, and instead, the body was now the main way of reaching enlightenment.
Some important people that greatly contributed to the post-classical yoga are Swami Sivananda, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who is remembered the most for the creation of the Transcendental Meditation.
Is Yoga Recommended for Any Age?
One reason why a lot of people hesitate to do yoga is that they think they are already too old for it. Some delay the start of practicing yoga even if they have already heard its many benefits because they are afraid that they no longer have the flexibility they had many years ago.
The misconception that they are no longer that flexible may make them think that they can no longer do the complex poses required by this practice. However, the truth is yoga is for everyone regardless of age. This means that one can never be too old, or too young to practice it and enjoy its numerous benefits.
The teenage years can be quite tumultuous as it is the time when a person can get overly sensitive about body image. Also, it does not help that hormonal fluctuations and peer pressure add up to their already crippling anxiety.
If a teenager can manage to stick to a yoga practice throughout their high school years, then he can rein in his stress and somewhat take control over his anxiety and handle schoolwork much better.
Starting to practice yoga while you are still in your twenties can set you up to follow a yoga-based lifestyle. The neat thing about yoga is that practicing it while still in your twenties can lead to an entirely new and healthy lifestyle.
On the other hand, if you are concentrating more on furthering your career, you can use yoga to ease the stress that you experience every day.
During your thirties
People who are in their thirties are commonly starting to settle down and start their own families. It is also the time when most people start having children. If you are a thirty-something mom, practicing yoga can help you cope with the stresses of pregnancy. It is also a great, low-impact workout that can help prevent you from getting too heavy.
This is the time when your muscle mass will start to decline (by as much as one percent per year). With that said, it is even more beneficial to do yoga regularly. It is because this practice can maintain your healthy muscle mass.
Women will start having problems with declining bone density during this age. Aside from that, it is also the time when menopause will start to hit. Men, on the other hand, will need to work on their mental fortitude as well as their physical strength and vitality. Yoga can help in such areas. It does not only improve or maintain your muscle mass but also contributes to boosting your mental fortitude.
Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you are already too old for yoga. Note that regardless of your age, yoga will work for you. It can provide you with benefits that are right for your age.