The history of Yoga dates back thousands of years in ancient India. Excavations of the Indus valley have revealed intact ceramics about 5000 years old showing depictions of yoga postures.
So what is yoga? There are several definitions of yoga, but most commonly, it means to yoke together mind, body, and spirit. In its essense, yoga is a system of techniques used for spiritual unfolding. Though not a religion, yoga developed alongside Hinduism and Buddhism influencing and being influenced by both, but it actually predates them. The first cohesive text on yoga, the Yoga Sutras, was compiled by the sage, Patanjali, who is regarded as being the patron of yoga, around the 2nd or 3rd century BC. Yoga continued to develop until about the 14th century AD around when it is believed that the influence of the Islamic conquest of India suppressed its development somewhat.
Initially, yoga was not really a physical practice, but was more to do with quieting the mind so as to bring about the peaceful state of consciousness called Samadhi by applying meditative techniques and mental discipline. Later, physical postures were added to the practice as they enabled the ancient yogis to be both relaxed enough to easily enter this meditative state, and gave their bodies the strength and resilience needed to sit in meditative postures for long periods of time. This physical form of yoga is known as Hatha Yoga. In recent times, this form of yoga has become more popular and spread to the Western world. There are now many kinds of Hatha Yoga, some of the most popular styles are;
This was developed by BKS Iyengar. Postures tend to be held for relatively long periods of time, 1-5minutes, and strict emphasis is placed on correct alignment. Props like belts and blocks are often used as aids in achieving the postures. Iyengar was taught by his guru, T Krishnamacharya.
Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga
Developed by another student of Krishnamacharya, K Pattabhi Jois, this is an energetic and athletic style of yoga where the focus is breathing in an intense rhythmic way known as Ujjayi breathing. Each movement is done in time with the breath, and the postures are linked together by flowing movements. Ashtanga is practiced in fixed sequences of which there are six series of increasing difficulty.
Power Yoga was derived from Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga. Ujjayi breathing is still used, but there is no fixed sequence, hence it lends itself to more creativity. Emphasis tends to be on strength building and flexibility. There are other similar styles of yoga such as Vinyasa flow and Hatha flow.
This style of yoga, developed by Bikram Choudhury, is a set sequence of 26 postures, each performed twice, and two breathing exercises. Bikram yoga is performed in a humid heated room.
Based on the teachings of Swami Sivananda, which were summarised by Swami Vishnudevananda, this is a traditional style of yoga in which postures, meditation, pranayama, and chanting are practiced.
Vinniyoga was developed by TKV Desikachar, the son of T Krishnamacharya. In Vinniyoga, the practice and postures are adapted to the student according to their needs.