What is Yoga?

yogaEveryone has heard the word yoga, but how many of us know what it really is. Oh I know , its some kind of exercise. Well yes and no. To understand Yoga we have to know its history, so that we can understand it and hopefully incorporate it into our lives.
Although archaeological evidence goes back to 3000 B. C. with yoga figures appearing in stone seals, scholars have traced its existence back to the Stone Age, It started out as a community oriented activity and then turned into individual practice.
If we go back to the Vedas sacred scripture and the basis for modern day Hinduism, we find the oldest known recorded teachings called Vedic Yoga. These teachings are characterized by rituals and ceremonies designed to help the individual surpass the limitations of the mind. Vedic people relied on Yogis to help them live in divine harmony. Yogis were also gifted with the ability to see beyond reality through their intense spiritual practice and give helpful advice and insights.
Yoga shares some characteristics not only with Hinduism, but also with Buddhism. Buddha taught the importance of meditation and the practice of physical postures. Siddharta Gautama, the first Buddhist to study Yoga, achieved enlightenment at the age of thirty five.
Later around 500 B.C. , the Bhagavad Gita was created and is the oldest known Yoga Scripture. The Gita says that, to be alive means to be active and in order to avoid difficulties in our lives our actions have to be benign and have to exceed our egos. The belief is that the body is a temple, and the Yogis attempted to use Yoga techniques to change the body and make it immortal.
Yoga was introduced to the West during the early 19th century. It was first studied as a Eastern Philosophy and began as a movement for health and Vegetarianism around the 1930’s. By the 1960’s there was an influx of Indian teachers who expounded on Yoga. Among them was Maharishi Mahesh who popularized Transcendental Meditation. Another was Swami Satchitananda who introduced chanting and Yoga to Woodstock. Yoga Bhajan started teaching Kundalini Yoga in the 70’s. Up to this day, Yoga has taken on many styles and variations and continues to proliferate and spread its teachings across the boundaries of cultures .