A Little Bit of Yoga History, Part 1

Understanding yoga #1

This term began with quite a few newer yogis but even though many had done some yoga before, I realised there was still a lack of understanding about the history of yoga – stuff I often (mistakenly perhaps) believe lots of people just know! I guess sometimes that is what happens when the thing you do/are becomes second nature (certainly, this is true for the “tech-spert” in my house who tells me he can’t possibly dumb the language down any more when I continue to look at him blankly while he is explaining something…).

Anyhow, bearing this in mind, I thought I’d share a few, short posts over the next week or so, to give you a sense of what and where we are coming from and a little bit of background.

“Vinyasa” basically means “dynamic exercise”, and most modern vinyasa style practises are based on Astanga yoga. Physically, Astanga yoga was the style that ended up being taught by Sri Pattabhi Jois, one of three yoga masters who more or less introduced yoga to the West maybe 50 or so years ago. The other two were BKS Iyengar and TKV Desikachar. These three men shared a teacher, Sri T Krishnamacharya (who happened to be Desikachar’s father). Although all these yoga charyas have since passed, their teachings live on.

Astanga Vinyasa is a standard set of postures that we move in and out of using the breath and even the beginners series is not for the faint- hearted! It can be incredibly challenging – and in some ways not particularly helpful – for a modern, Western, stiff-hipped body. Apparently, the sequence was originally designed for 14 year old Indian boys so that perhaps that gives you some idea, bearing in mind the age of the average “yogi” attending classes around the world is about 40 plus.

Traditionally, Astanga Vinyasa was taught “Mysore style”. Mysore is the location of Pattabhi Jois’ yoga studio in India. All international students who apply for instruction must be prepared to commit for a period of three months. Commitment to the practise and respect for your teacher are of the utmost importance. In the beginning, your teacher probably sees and understands your body better than you do. This is because you probably identify more with your ego – as we all do in the beginning! Physically, you might only be capable of doing three or four poses and so must practise humility above all else. Your teacher observes and only when you have mastered a pose, will you be offered the next one…

I’ll leave it there for today and include this short video of Jois. Practise, practise, practise. Show up! Begin with asana, do what you can and you will find the body becomes stronger and stronger, The stronger the body, the stronger the mind, but we must be disciplined. Yoga is a method, a lifestyle not just a physical activity. We start with the physical, but the physical exists to cleanse and tone from the inside out…