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Evolution of Yoga and Yoga Styles

Technological progress of last centuries created misbalance, which caused people think more about their body and soul. So, recent interest in ancient oriental philosophies and practices is not accidental, as it suggests people’s desire to restore harmony in their lives. The word “yoga” stopped to be exotic to most people and turned into a brand that implies an attempt to be not only physically fit but also acquire peace of mind.  Having a history thousands of years long, yoga has naturally transformed during this time. Its proponents have adjusted it to contemporary needs and created a number of unique styles. Because of this, it is totally perfect and up-to-date system, where each person can find a variety and approach that will suit them best – and this is the major keys of success that yoga has today.

Defining yoga, it is worth saying that it includes a broad range of practices united by the same philosophy. In fact, it is a set of spiritual, psychic, and physical practices developed in several branches of Buddhism and Hinduism. Their main purpose is to acquire an ability to master the psychic and physiological functions of one’s organism in order to achieve the sublime state of mind and spiritual perfection. In a narrower sense, yoga is one of the six orthodox schools in Hindu philosophy. The original aim of yoga is to change the way people exist in the world, relationship with different aspects of this world and with themselves. The main styles of yoga are hatha-yoga, raja-yoga, djnana-yoga and bhakti- yoga. In the context of Hindu philosophy Yoga usually means raja-yoga, which is described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Many ancient sacred scriptures discuss yoga, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika  and Tantra. There can be quite different purposes when practicing yoga – beginning from physical fitness to Moksha – break of rebirths cycle. In the West, however, the term yoga usually stands for hatha-yoga, which is mostly a set of exercises aimed at developing one’s body.

The history of yoga dates back to ancient times. The term was first mentioned in Rig-Veda,  an ancient Hindu piece of literature. Some of excavated stamps found in the valley of the Indus river, images of people in yoga asanas were discovered. The estimated age of the relics refers them to the period between 3300 and 1700 year BC. The researchers believe that the Indus Valley civilization that existed in the territory in this epoch practiced some form of yoga as a sacred ritual or meditation. It is also very interesting that not only people but also deities were depicted in yoga asanas, which confirms their religious purpose.

One of the most significant records of yoga history, philosophy and practice is Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Estimated to have been written around the second century BCE, this text contains 196 sutras, which are statements about the essence of yoga and the main steps of yogi practice. It classifies Raja Yoga into several devisions, including Kriya Yoga, Karma Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. Raja Yoga, to which the whole writing is devoted, mostly focuses on altering human mind, reducing a flow of thoughts and achieving a blessed state by means a number of instruments including asanas, meditations, kriyas and pranayama, special breathwork.  Kriya Yoga, or Karma Yoga, is related to humble work in alignment with one’s dharma without being closely attached to the results of one labor. This practice develops patience, discipline and philosophical state of mind, which are essential to make progress in any practice. This is why newcomers to monasteries or ashrams often start not with meditation or philosophy but with physical labor for the sake of community like washing the floors. Beside patience, it is also aimed at reducing the sense of personal importance and arrogance. A newcomer should accept an idea that his previous achievements do not matter and start being a disciple, absorbing knowledge with interest like a child.

Another aspect of yoga described in Yoga Sutras is Kriya Yoga. It is a direction in yoga, which is based on the techniques of pranayama and chakras opening. It dates back to ancient India, but then it was lost because it was kept secret for a long time, which resulted in having no followers. Although based on ancient sacred texts, it received its development only in the nineteenth century, when a modern teaching and practice was created by Lahiri Mahasaya. He was a disciple of Babaji, an India saint, after meeting whom he left his job as an accountant to devote himself to spirituality. Knowledge of Kriya yoga is specific because it should be passed directly from a Guru to a disciple. Kriya Yoga aims at making Prana- natural energy- circulate freely in a human body. This is only possible by means of balancing chakras and releasing tensions. The reason for tensions is emotions, which have been repressed or habits of wrong thinking. Every chakra is responsible for a certain function of existence. While lower chakras deal with matters of survival, higher ones tend to cover the spiritual spheres. In case a person has a fault in a certain aspect ( and all mortals do actually), it reflects on a chakra functioning in a bad way, or being closed. Failure of one element in a system causes improper work of the whole system, which is made up from body, mind and soul. There are two basic approaches to improve the situation, which are used by Kriya yoga in particular: either to work with a body to unblock chakras or with a spirit to eliminate the reasons for this block. The best variant is naturally to use both approaches, which should result in a more harmonious and quality living.

Ashtanga Yoga, mentioned in Yoga Sutras, also has its ancient form and contemporary revival. It is the basis for any form of Raja Yoga today, and has eight steps to perfection – four of them being lower and the other four higher stages. They are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Daharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. Yama and Niyama are the first two stages of yoga according to Patanjali. They are the main guideline to people wishing to start their way in yoga. Yamas are a set of faults that are banned strictly; it is analogous to Christian deathly sins. The word Yama also refers to Hindu God of the dead, in fact he used to be the first man who died and turned into a deity. His function is to accompany the souls of dead people to the realm of death. Yama contains five statements, which in fact are warnings against unworthy behavior and way of thinking. Ahimsa is the first rule to follow, which means ban of violence. No living being can be hurt, so this is why traditionally yoga supports vegetarianism. However, the word Ahimsa has a broader sense too; it does not only rejects physical violence against other people and creatures, it should also be understood as nonviolence to one’s own self, including body and soul. Hence, many yoga instructors underline that practicing asanas should be based on the principles of love and respect to one’s own body, which is achieved through treating one’s body as a temple for one’s soul. Despite yoga’s asceticism, this type of asceticism is different from the one that some Christian schools suggested, when body was denied as being inferior to spirit. Yoga, in contrast, is a harmonious unity of the two, and though some of bodily practices might be severe and require discipline and patience, it is made clear that a body is treated as an essential instrument in achieving spiritual perfection.

Speaking about Yamas, there are more of them that should be discussed in a detail. Satya is another Yama which means integrity,  being truthful in all ways, by words, behavior and thought. As other rules, it also refers to being honest to oneself, that is avoiding to break one’s one rules and moral values. Asteya means that one should not desire other people’s things; it focuses on the ban of stealing or even of wanting to possess something that does not belong to us. In this aspect, yoga is in alignment with Buddhism and Hinduism, which claim that desires are the main cause of human suffering. It does not suggest that one should have no desires but rather that one should not be attached to them. When a person is too attached to one’s desires, he or she is not happy with what they possess now, it is a never-ending hunger that can never be satisfied. Hence, they become slaves to their own desires, which certainly cannot bring happiness. Brahmacharya is another Yama which is quite a global rule suggesting that one should always be aware of being part of the Universe, also keep faith to one’s spouse and avoid sexual contact when single. Kshama is a rule that means being patient and letting time bring result instead of wanting it all and now. Hence, it is closely related to being content with what is available right now. Dhriti is an ability to reach one’s goals despite temptations and fears, it is a person’s decisiveness to be a winner in a struggle with himself. Daya is heartiness, it is a commitment to overcome all negative feelings and become compassionate. Arjava is being sincere and eliminating lies. Mitahava is avoiding overeating and being vegetarian. Shaucha is a habit of being clean in body and mind.

Niyamas are ten commandments that Ashtanga Yoga ascribes to everyone to do them as part of work at one’s spirit. In fact, they go in alignment with Yamas, as they virtually repeat the same principles in a different way. Hri is being humble, and accepting one’s wrongness or misbehavior. Santosha is being happy with what life makes available at the moment without asking more, which potentially leads to dissatisfaction and a state of a thirst that can never be tamed. Dana means being able to share or give away in an unselfish way, to sacrifice. Astikya is a strong faith in the righteousness of one’ chosen path, Guru and his teaching; a person has to take a decision once and not hesitate in future. Ishvarapujana is a daily communication with God, gratitude, prayer, devoting one’s time and energy to him and understanding that he is the primary source of all existence. Siddhanta shravana is passing knowledge and receiving it through sacred saints from people who are senior in a school. Mati is learning under guidance of Guru, ability to be a disciple. Vrata is keeping one’s commitment to God, being truthful and responsible about daily worship and following the rules. Japa is singing matras.  Tapas is accepting polarities and being physically adaptable to them, such as to cold and heat.

Hatha Yoga is a division of yoga that is probably the most popular today, hence historically this form of yoga appeared to be most flexible to fit into a contemporary industry of fitness. Apparently, some of its sacred meaning has been lost as many treat yoga asanas mainly as physical exercise, while pranayama is used as anti-stress breathwork technique. Yet, many yoga instructors say that such desacralization of yoga does not cancel its effectiveness, as asanas work all the same to change one’s mind and lift one’s spirit. Hence, even if a person starts practicing yoga as a mere bodywork, asanas influence in such a way that interest in a spiritual aspect arises naturally.

In conclusion, it is worth saying that yoga is an ancient art and practice of self-development that Hindu civilization has left humanity as heritage. Yet, this heritage is not a set of dead artefacts, but a totally effective system that is adjustable to contemporary lifestyle. Based on ancient schools of Kriya Yoga, Ashtanga and Hatha Yoga, modern schools have appeared as a merge of old elements into a new vision. Ashtanga Yoga remains an ethical basis that guides yoga proponents today, while Hatha Yoga is a popular activity today to keep fit and emotionally balanced.