Nope, Contrary to popular belief It did not always involve spandex clad hippies sucking on a smoothie while arguing the intricacies and implications of a violet colored aura. Yoga had much more savage roots. The origins of the Sanskrit word yoga means yoke (the wooden frame that is placed on the shoulders of a beast of burden, such as an oxen so as to till the earth before the planting of crops) and was first mentioned in the ancient Hindu texts the Upanishads.
Nothing to see here just a couple of oxen doing yoga.
In later hindu texts it was described as an ancient vedic science designed to remove the yoke which represented reality, from its practitioners shoulders allowing them the experience of universal oneness or Samadhi (enlightenment). The best way i have found to describe the state of Samadhi that every (Sadhaka) practitioner strives to attain would be that of a molecule of water suddenly realizing it was not just a molecule of water but also the endless expanses of the ocean itself. The practice of yoga in this period was solely for the purpose of achieving samadhi. It Included a complex philosophy an ethical code of conduct, a requirement for (Dhyana) meditation, performing (Pranayama) breathing exercises, and performing (asanas) postures.
The ancient Indians believed the entire universe was made of energy and that everything in it from the plants, animals, objects, our bodies and the mother earth herself carries and transmits (shakti) energy. Sadhakas believed that the various postures they took up during meditation would act as transmitters to better receive these universal energies to their chosen (Chakras) energy centers. The yoga of the past was not done as a form of exercise but had much deeper spiritual meaning.
Even some of Hinduism’s most prolific deities were Yogis. Foremost amongst these divine practitioners is Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva symbolizes chaos and the universe’s destructive energies. His avatars were supposed to destroy evil and bring balance to the universe. If that’s not bad ass enough for you lord Shiva went by titles like the (Mahadev) supreme god, the roarer, the god of the hunt, the god of the storm, (Neelkanth) the blue throated one and Cosmic Yogi any of which would make an apt name for a teenagers rock band, get on it kiddos! He was often symbolized in statues and imagery as a well muscled tribal savage with a blue throat holding an evil looking (Trishul) trident in one hand a (Chillum) clay marijuana pipe in the other, while sporting a short tiger skin skirt long dreadlocks and a serpent coiled around his neck. Just describing that made me spout a few more chest hairs.
That was not what i saw when i typed yoga in my Instagram search bar
Another Notable divine practitioner of Yoga would be the legendary Monkey god Hanuman. Hanuman was one of the protagonists main allies in the Hindu epic of the Ramayana, an almost lord of the rings esque tale set in what is mordern day south India and Sri Lanka. Contrary to popular beleif Hanuman was said be a Vanara (a hairy ape like jungle dwelling people) and not an actually a monkey. He was said to be a revered general of the Vanara army and fearsome warrior. Hanuman was supposedly an ardent practitioner of Bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga has been called “love for love’s sake” and “union through love and devotion.” Bhakti yoga, like any other form of yoga, is a path to self-realization. Hanuman was said to be a member of the Kshatriya (warrior) caste and also took a vow of (brahmacharya) celibacy. A warrior monkey that practiced the yoga of love but could never make love. The ancient Indians world view was filled with dichotomy and was never black and white. Just like the evolution of yoga everything was not as simple as it seemed.
Hanuman was also considered the god of the grapplers and like most grapplers he was clearly on that good stuff. Shout out to Jon Jones biaaaatch!
Now that we have ascertained the origins of yogic practice we can begin to examine what made it evolve into the form we know today. Hatha yoga a set of postures (asanas) combined with breathing techniques dates back to the 1500s, BUT! HOW CAN THAT BE?! you scream as your organic, eco friendly and ethically made yoga mat spontaneously combusts. Wasn’t asana practice the foundation of pre vedic physical culture? Haven’t Indians been balancing on their hands with one foot behind their head since the dawn of time? Well nope. Yoga as you know it today is a combination of traditional Hatha postures that practitioners used to hold for hours while they meditated, along with the strength exercises adapted from traditional indian (mallakhamb) gymnastics.
Mallakhamb in itself is an interesting practice that has existed since the 1100s. It was an ancient form of bodyweight training popular amongst the mud wrestlers (pehlwans) and common folk of the time. Most of the mind numbingly impressive feats of strength and balance performed by the yogis of today would have been considered to be a mere warm ups for an average loin cloth clad Malkhamb practitioner of the day. Oh yeah did i forget to mention. They did their exercises and postures on a wooden flag pole or a rope suspended from height in front of a crowd.
Do i even need to caption this? or is this funny enough?
Here wait i have one. All that while he was farting to the tune of the Indian national Anthem.
Nah not that funny pretty crude actually….
Fuck it i’m just going to leave this up here as a reminder to never try and outdo the majesty of a Mallakhamb practitioner.
Asana practice in Yoga as we know it used to be part pole dancing and part wrestler strength and conditioning exercises? The idiot who wrote this must be insane! I know, I know it sounds too far fetched to be true even for me. So for all you non believers of this savage tale about the origins of hot chicks in geometric patterned tights doing the splits while their boyfriend begrudgingly takes their picture for social media, I have a reference from the Encyclopedia of Indian Physical Culture, for you! “Yogik Body-Postures have been treated as health-giving exercises from ancient times in India. Breath-control (Pranayama) is the key to these exercises. These exercises should first be practiced and steadied out on the ground. When the performer has gained thorough control over these, he should try them on the top of the Pillar, with the help of an instructor. To practice these on top of the Pillar really requires remarkable skill and courage. The feats are greatly appreciated by the spectators”(Mujumdar 359-360).
An Aghori Sadhu deep in his personal practice.
This secretive sect of Shiva worshiping yogis smear themselves with the ash of cremated bodies and engage in cannibalism and necrophilia, all after a refreshing 90 minute bikram class.
Other than the Hatha postures monks used to hold for hours, days and sometimes months on end while they breathed rhythmically, or the gymnastics power moves of the Mallakhamb another cornerstone movement of modern yoga is the body weight flow sequence known as the Surya Namaskar (Sun salutation). An adapted exercise from the traditional wrestlers Dand (Hindu pushup) and Baithaks (Hindu squats) the surya namaskar is a graceful controlled series of movements that is done in most yoga classes around the world today. Let’s take a gander at what the Encyclopedia of Indian Physical Culture has to say about the surya namaskar. “Of all the exercises, Indian and foreign, intended to impart health, strength, and longevity, the Surya Namaskar Exercise is the first and foremost. The principal organs which keep the body fit are the brain, the spinal cord, the stomach, the heart, the lungs and the respiratory organs, All these organs and others as well are fully developed and strengthened by Surya Namaskars. If the Surya Namaskar Exercise is scientifically done daily and regularly with proper diet and rest by men and women, old and young, there will be no danger of any disease attacking them. They will enjoy superb health and strength throughout the span of their life. The Surya Namaskar Exercise also makes a body beautiful and with Dands and Baithaks added to it makes it graceful” (Mujumdar xxiii).
And this is what the Mallakhamb practitioners have to say about sun salutations. Point taken sir, point taken.
Alrighty alice our trip down the rabbit hole has nearly come to an end and like the sneaky little cheshire cat that I am I can’t help but leave you fucks with one last morsel in relation to the evolution of yoga and its roots. The diversity and unpredictability of Indian culture shines thru in one of its greatest gifts to the world, and im not talking about prata. If you chose to smear the ash of cremated bodies on your skin and sit in lotus pose for hours on end stirring only to take an occasional toke from your clay marijuana pipe or if you are an elephant pant wearing hippie balancing another elephant pant wearing hippie on your feet, you are both Yogis! A quote from the legendary pioneer of modern yoga to urge you guys to set off in your own path to enlightenment instead of following tradition for traditions sake.
“ If you have learnt something really well then the way you express it will not be the same way you learned it “ ~Guru Krishnamacharya
Mujumdar, DC (ed.). Encyclopedia of Indian Physical Culture. 1950.
The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali