Yoga as a spiritual practice dates back a long way, right back to around the sixth century BC in India. It was not as we know it now, a collection of specific poses, but rather it was a meditative breathing practice aimed at spiritual development. Today, yoga has been embraced by the west as a means of physical exercise, with mental and spiritual dimensions. Some of the yogic strains have morphed into things like ‘hot yoga’ and ‘yogilates’; but what were the original lineages?
Yoga is mentioned in the Rigveda, which is an ancient collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns. The word ‘yoga’ is derived from the root ‘yu’, which means ‘to combine or join’. The sense of the word ‘yoga’ developed over time, as all words, generally, do; and in many ways it has come to mean ‘the science of’ in terms of its application to what we understand the practice of yoga is all about. The first appearance of the word ‘yoga’ in its modern sense is in the Katha Upanishad, from the third or fourth century BC; and it refers to the ‘steady control of the senses’ in meditation to achieve a supreme state. Yoga is a Hindu philosophy and one of the six astika schools of Hinduism.
Ashtanga yoga, which is often called ‘Raja yoga’, which means ‘yoga of the kings’, emerged out of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali; and these are considered to be the foundation scriptures of classical yoga. Hatha yoga is a later form of yogic practice, from the first millennium AD, and it focuses on using the body/mind to build strength through establishing and holding postures. Gorakshanath is thought to have popularised Hatha yoga in his Goraksha Samhita text in the eleventh century.
Tantric yoga sees the impact of Buddhism on yogic practices and this emerged late in the first millennium, as well. Utilising both Buddhist and Hindu texts, Tantric yoga employed visualised mandala arrangements and sexual techniques. It charted the chakras and the route of energy through and around the human body.
Swami Vivekananda was one of the first Hindu teachers to actively promote yoga to a western audience ; he toured Europe and the US in the 1890s. Vivekananda was from the Ashtanga School of yoga; which became Raja yoga. The most popular form of yoga in the west in the twenty first century is associated with Hatha yoga and its asanas. These are the postures that devotees of the exercise form seek to perfect in body, mind and spirit, here at ACM Group we are mindful of the past which directs our future ambitions.