There are many gifts that India has given to the world and yoga happens to be one of them. Part traditional meditation practice, part health and wellness discipline.Yoga is something that continues to mystify people and attract many into practicing it.
In celebration of what this practice has done for many individuals, there are several interesting and unknown facts about Yoga that you should know about.
1. The Name
The word “yoga” is taken from a root word in Sanskrit called “yuj”. This word has many meanings but its closest modern interpretation is “unity”. Since yoga is all about unifying the mind, body, and spirit, it’s safe to say that its name is quite accurate.
2. Many Schools, One Goal
Like any philosophy or ideology, there are various ways to interpret the tenets of yoga. As a matter of fact, there are approximately 196 separate schools of yoga all around the world. This includes the Raja (Royal) Yoga, the Ashtanga Yoga, and the Bikram Yoga, among several others.
Despite all the differences in interpretation, all of these schools of thought in yoga promote the same thing: connecting one’s mind, body, and spirit to the infinite cosmic oneness that moves around the universe.
Living in 150 BC, Patanjali was a revered Indian sage who wrote several aphorisms on how to practice the different Yoga Sutras. Many of his teachings would become the core tenets of the entire philosophy and would elevate Patanjali as the Father of All Yoga.
However, what many do not know is that yoga existed long before Patanjali was born. He didn’t create the practice, only consolidated many different practices, paving the way for what yoga is today.
4. Yoga Meets the West
In 1893, the Hindu leader Swami Vivekananda made a speech in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. This was the very first instance that the western world encountered yoga.
However, its modern boom can be credited to four fabulous gents from Liverpool. When The Beatles were introduced to yoga during their Indian trip, they eventually added some of the philosophies into their work and lives. Some of their yoga-heavy songs include ‘Across the Universe’, ‘Norwegian Wood’, and ‘Let it Be’.
5. Yogi or Yogini?
Practitioners of yoga are often called yogis. This is only half-right. The truth is that all male practitioners of yoga are called yogis, while the female practitioners are given the additional suffix of “ni” therefore yogini.
This is simply a linguistic distinction, since both yogi and yogini are deemed to have the same rights to practice yoga. That being said, female practitioners are relatively new to yoga, as it was generally a male-exclusive practice in India until 1937 with the first yogini, Eugenia Peterson-Labunskaya, aka Indra Devi.
6. The Swastika
The symbol often affiliated with Hitler’s Nazi party, the swastika, is not even of Norse origin. In fact, the swastika never appeared in Europe prior to Adolf Hitler’s election as chancellor.
The swastika is actually derived from an ancient symbol depicting the Hindu god, Surya. It was a symbol of light and good fortune, a far cry from its co-opting and reversal.
In ancient times, yogis believed that the human body only has a finite amount of breaths. This is why they espoused the notion to control breathing so that you don’t waste any.
The belief has since died down with the rise of modern science and a better understanding of the human body. However, controlled breathing remains an important practice in Yoga even today.
8. The First Book
Some of the first book can be traced back to India in 1500 BC and is known as the Rigveda. The first of many Vedas, the Rigveda contains thousands of hymns and mantras of the Sanskrit ideology and were prepared by ancient yogis.
The book remains a highly sought-after literary piece for many yogis and yoginis today and is revered in yogic philosophy. It also remains a highly popular work of ancient Indian literature alongside the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Ghita.
9. The Origins of the Yoga Mat
In ancient times, yoga practitioners would use simple materials for mats such as kusha grass or animal skin rugs. When it reached the rest of the world, people improvised with towels and cotton mats.
It was in 1982 when Angela Farmer began using carpet underlays as rudimentary yoga mats while teaching yoga in Germany. Soon after, her father contacted the manufacturer and had some carpet underlays cut to size.
These would become the first “sticky” yoga mats that every practitioner would use for their sessions. The design has barely changed since the 1980s, remaining a vital piece of equipment that every yogi and yogini uses in their practice.
10. Yoga and the Stone Age
To say that Yoga is an ancient practice is a bit of an understatement. Experts believed that Yoga was practiced way before that, specifically during or at the end of the Stone Age.
One of these ancient links is the fact that yoga seems to share many elements with an ancient proto-religion, shamanism. Both focus on one’s connection to their surroundings, both feature restraint and meditation, and both aim to help a person transcend their physical limitations.
This is not to say that yoga and shamanism are directly related. It may be that the first ancient yogis took the teachings of ancient shamans and created their own beliefs out of that. Either way, it’s safe to say that yoga has been with us for several millennia now and is showing no signs of going away.
Hope you enjoyed these fascinating facts on yoga. Don’t hesitate to share them with your friends as you explore the physical, mental, and spiritual journey that this practice entails.