The History and Modern Application of Yoga

To some people, the word ‘Yoga’ is something they assume to be a foreign type of ‘yogurt’, maybe a German version of Yoplait. ‘Yoga’, however, is not food for one’s appetite, but rather nourishment for the mind, body, and spirit. Modernly, many people may think of yoga as just a fad, but they couldn't be further from the truth: yoga if a lifestyle that has been utilized for thousands of years by millions of people, and it becomes ever more popular day after day.

True, there is a dichotomy in the community. To some yoga is a good stretch, to some a form of exercise, and to others, it is a spiritual practice. The face of the matter is that it can be used for any of those purposes, as its history is deeply rooted in spirituality, but also in physical health. One great example is how yoga can teach a person how to breathe properly, as not knowing how to breathe correctly makes it near impossible to pull off certain poses, or asanas, which are various angles one holds their body at for prolonged periods of time.

The Origination of Yoga

There are some questions in life that may never be fully answered, like “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Or, where does yoga originate from? Luckily, scholars are able to shed a bit of light on the history of yoga more than the chicken dilemma.

The practice of yoga originates from the Eastern hemisphere of our world, likely from a civilization called the Indus-Sarasvati which existed in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. In the world’s oldest existing texts, the Rig Veda, what we know as yoga was practiced as a spiritual ritual. It was a way to connect with enlightenment, awareness, and realization of God. The Rig Veda is written in ancient Sanskrit, and was thought to have been passed on solely by word of mouth for ages. In modern times, it would be as if the only way someone could access “The New Testament” was to hear it and memorize it, and then pass it on verbally to the next inquiring mind.

The Modern Application of Yoga

Over the course of centuries Yoga evolved from merely being the practice of understanding the world, to understanding oneself, to adding the physical poses encompassed in Hatha yoga, which is now what is popularly followed in yoga studios the world over. Yoga is also a form of meditation, much like chanting mantras in silence or the act of doing the same action continuously. Like religion, there are many types of Yoga, and different kinds suit different people or purposes, but can all be equally fulfilling.

Yoga is universally beautiful. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how strong or flexible, whether you’re male female or completely confused about your gender identity; yoga knows no race or culture. Yoga is for anyone interested. Though the practice of Yoga began in the East, it has blossomed among the west as well, much like meditation or alternative medicine. All over the world there are “baby Yoga” classes, where toddlers learn all the cool ways they can bend.

This is important as children grow up, because practicing Yoga greatly improves a person’s range of motion. This is how I first came to practice Yoga. As I grew up I had multiple injuries to my knees. Dislocations, hyper flections, torn ligaments and so on. As a way to stretch out my legs, I began doing low impact yoga. It came naturally to me because as I looked at the various poses I realized that I’d been doing “Yoga poses” my entire life but I just thought it was comfortable to sit certain ways. Once I started posing and holding the poses on purpose, I found that it was quite a work out, and has since become a staple of exercising for me. In fact, a number of months ago, I had reconstructive surgery on my left knee, and practicing yoga has helped my rehabilitation immensely.

Though holding one of your hands in the air, and holding your other arm out to the side as one leg has its foot touching the other’s knee while standing might not seem very relaxing, being a tree has its benefits, such as knowing what serenity feels like.

The Real Benefit of Yoga

As we've learned, yoga is used for many reasons and has evolved over time. Apart from stretching out sore muscles, it can build new muscles that may be neglected during exercise. My favorite part about yoga is the added flexibility I’ve gained (because who doesn’t love a flexible romantic partner?). If you haven’t given yoga a shot at changing your outlook on life, ask yourself: why not? When all is said and done, what’ve you got to lose by increasing your flexibility, testing the endurance of your muscles, and toning up any areas of your body that you might find “problematic”? Seem like doing yoga is a win-win activity.

This piece was contributed by Benjamin Johnson, a beginning yoga student and author.