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5 Things you (probably) didn’t know about Yoga

East vs. West

Secrets on YogaIn this age of unprecedented globalization, the cultural gap between the east and the west is ever shrinking. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t still learn from our fellow humans across the planet. In this blog series, we’ll take a closer look at a few divisions of Eastern medicine. This week…YOGA. Here are 5 things you (probably) didn’t know about yoga.

1. It’s Ancient.

Yoga is one of the six āstika (“orthodox”) schools of Hindu philosophy that originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. Up until a hundred years ago, however, many Western scholars thought that Yoga originated much later, closer to 500 B.C., around the birth of Buddhism. But then, in the early 1920s, archeologists discovered the so-called Indus civilization—the largest civilization in early antiquity. In the ruins of the big cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, excavators found depictions engraved on soapstone seals that strongly resemble yogi-like figures.

2. It’s A Process.

When we speak of ‘yoga’ in the west, we’re really speaking about only one of the 8 steps in the classical yoga process. Outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (widely considered the preeminent ancient yoga guide), here’s a quick guide to all 8 ‘limbs’ of yoga.

Yama – Focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life, Yamas are essentially practices that we know collectively as the Golden Rule.

Niayama – Niyama has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Think attending church, saying grace before meals, and developing personal meditation practices.

Asana  - Asanas are the postures practiced in yoga–again, what we in the west typically think of when we think of yoga.

Pranayama – This fourth stage is all about breathing. Embrace techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process, and recognize the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions.

Pratyahara – The fifth limb, pratyahara, calls us to rein in our senses by making a conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli.

Dharana – As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or concentration. The idea is to think about one object and nothing else.

Dhyana – Meditation, the seventh stage of yoga, is an extension of dharana. However, where dharana practices one-pointed attention, dhyana quiets the mind and in that stillness produces few or no thoughts at all.

Samadhi – This eighth and final stage should be a state of ecstasy. At this stage, we come to realize a profound connection to the Divine and an interconnectedness with all living things.

3. It’s For Everyone.

Young or old. Svelte or husky. Woman or man. Experienced or newbie. Theist or atheist. It doesn’t matter what your demographics are or where your skill set lies, anyone can embrace yoga as a way to improve the health of your mind and body. Even Jane Fonda, queen of the aerobic craze of the 1980s has embraced yoga in her twilight years. Just this month she released a DVD called Prime Time AM/PM Yoga for Beginners.

4. It’s Trendy.

In the 1960s, western interest in Hindu spirituality reached a peak (remember the Beatles trip to India?), along with it came a heightened interest in yoga. A second “yoga boom” followed in the 1980s, as Dr. Dean Ornish famously connected yoga to heart health, legitimizing yoga as a purely physical system of health exercises unconnected to a religious denomination. Since 2001, the popularity of yoga in the USA has been on the constant rise. The number of people who practiced some form of yoga has quintupled in the last decade from 4 million (in 2001) to 20 million (in 2011).

5. It’s Possibilities Are Endless.

With hundreds and hundreds of poses, you can keep your yoga routine fresh, fun and challenging. Try this easy-to-use sequence builder from Yoga Journal and create a custom routine built just for you. Print it out or email it to yourself for viewing on your smartphone or tablet, and your living room will be an instant yoga studio.

Try a beginner’s class in your hometown, or search YouTube for hundreds of at home routines for every skill level. Doctors agree that a regular yoga routine is great way to improve the health of your mind and body.

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