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Respecting the Roots of Yoga

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

This practice that we love so did not start with us. It has a history.

Knowing the history will help us understand the practice.

Knowing the history will help us show respect for the practice.

Knowing the history will help us honor the creators of the practice.

As a history teacher AND a yoga teacher, you know this topic is my jam. I always knew it would be a big undertaking, because it's not just as simple as "In 2700 BCE yoga was created." There is a whole process to learning about history and cultures in general, and yoga's history is a very long and complicated one.

This will be the first of several blog posts teaching the history and meaning of yoga. This first post will be about setting a tone of respect for yoga, while also balancing the reality of our modern world.

Before we begin the process: I come to you with this information as a yoga practitioner, yoga & history teacher, and a lifelong learner. I am not an expert, I did not grow up immersed in yogic culture. I am passing along the knowledge I have acquired after six years of studying yoga. Thank you for learning alongside me!

Let’s dive in.


Respecting the History of Yoga

Yoga originated in India. Its presence is seen in the ancient scriptures of the religion Hinduism (1500's BCE), written in the language of Sanskrit. Buddhism was born from Hinduism (500's BCE), so yoga is also seen in Buddhist traditions. Yoga is also an entity of its own. The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali (200's CE) was the first text outlining yoga as we know it today.

Knowing this, we can respect that:

  • Yoga came from India.

  • The original language of yoga was Sanskrit.

  • Yoga originated in the East*, and not in the West.*

  • For some, yoga is a part of their religion/deep spiritual tradition.

  • There are texts from which yoga comes from, and we can access those texts today

*East: India and other parts of Asia.

*West: America, Europe, Australia, among others.


Respecting the Larger Picture of Yoga

For many in Western culture, yoga is a form of physical exercise. It has become commercialized as leggings, shapes, and “Namastay All Day.” However, the physical practice (asana) is only mentioned a handful of times in the Yoga Sutras! The Sutras mostly focus on the other elements of yoga, referred to as the “Eight Limbs”. The other parts of yoga include guidelines for treatment of others, ways of acting/thinking, breathwork, and meditation. All of it rooted in the belief that “We are all One”.

Knowing this, we can respect that:

  • When we practice the poses, it is only one part of this practice.

  • Looking to the larger picture of yoga helps us understand it more.


Respecting the Symbols and Words of Yoga

We see these symbols a lot. On yoga clothing, jewelry, and in yoga studios. We’ve likely also seen the image of the Buddha in the same manner, and in yoga studios. All of these symbols have deeper meanings that go along with yoga, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others.

There are many words that we hear in a yoga class, but perhaps the one we associate most with is “Namaste." Namaste its a greeting most typically used in Eastern cultures. It means “bowing to you” and is an indication of oneness between two people.

At JFY we often say: “The light in me sees the light in you. In sharing these things, we are one.” In the West we have come to use this at the end of a yoga class, but it is not the only application of it. It can also be used quickly as a way to say “hey, I see you! And I see me in you!”

Knowing this, we can respect that:

  • The symbols/words we see/use with yoga carry larger meanings.

  • We can work to understand the meaning of these symbols/words to use them appropriately.


Living Yoga in the Modern World

Our current world is quite different than when Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras, so it’s no wonder that sometimes we struggle to understand how to “live” our yoga. The last thing I want is for you to leave thinking “oh wow yoga is so big and complicated, I’m not doing it right.” It takes time to learn; there is no one right way. We must give ourselves grace as we go. As Maya Angelou said: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I have had to say this to myself alot over the years. Here is just one example:

At the start of my yoga teaching career, I looked to famous yoga teachers for inspiration. I saw the way they marketed themselves, which meant - fancy poses, Lululemon clothing, and picturesque backgrounds. I followed in their footsteps. Sadly, the reason I did was not always in line with the practice of yoga. It never really felt right for me, but I struggled to find a way to balance it all.

Here is my current marketing thought process:

I have pictures taken of me doing something I love. I use the picture in my marketing, and this marketing allows me to reach a larger audience, thus bringing yoga to more people. I do not rest there. I show respect to the practice by continually researching, learning, and listening about yoga. I continue the process, hoping more people will be reached.

I’m sure there are some people who look at my marketing and think it’s all about “me.” At the beginning there was more of that than I’d like to admit. But the more I took my yoga to heart, the more that “me” part disappeared. And truly, it’s a lovely feeling (that's the yoga working).

There are a ton of more examples, and I'm sure you have some of your own. We move along, doing the best we can, learning, living, with grace. Wherever you are in your journey, I see the same in you as in me. Thank you for being here with me as we go!



p.s. stay tuned on Wednesdays for more in this blog series!

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