In the modern world, the South Asian art of yoga has expanded to all corners of the globe. While it is now a popular form of exercise and meditation, this has not always been the case.
Male yoga practitioners are known as yogis, and female yoga practitioners are called yoginis. Both practiced and taught yoga long before any written account of yoga came into existence.
Over the next five millennia, yogis passed the discipline down to their students, and many different schools of yoga developed as the practice expanded its global reach and popularity.
The “Yoga Sutra,” a 2,000-year-old treatise on yogic philosophy by the Indian sage Patanjali, is a guidebook on how to master the mind, control the emotions, and grow spiritually. The Yoga Sutra is the earliest written record of yoga and one of the oldest texts in existence and provides the framework for all modern yoga.
Yoga is well known for its postures and poses, but they were not a key part of original yoga traditions in India. Fitness was not a primary goal. Practitioners and followers of yogic tradition focused instead on other practices, such as expanding spiritual energy using breathing methods and mental focus.
The tradition began to gain popularity in the West at the end of the 19th century. An explosion of interest in postural yoga occurred in the 1920s and 1930s, first in India and later in the West.
To convey its spiritual message and guide sessions, yoga often uses the imagery of a tree with roots, a trunk, branches, blossoms, and fruits. Each “branch” of yoga represents a different focus and set of characteristics.
The six branches are:
- Hatha yoga: This is the physical and mental branch designed to prime the body and mind.
- Raja yoga: This branch involves meditation and strict adherence to a series of disciplinary steps known as the “eight limbs” of yoga.
- Karma yoga: This is a path of service that aims to create a future free from negativity and selfishness.
- Bhakti yoga: This aims to establish the path of devotion, a positive way to channel emotions and cultivate acceptance and tolerance.
- Jnana yoga: This branch of yoga is about wisdom, the path of the scholar, and developing the intellect through study.
- Tantra yoga: This is the pathway of ritual, ceremony, or consummation of a relationship.
Approaching yoga with a specific goal in mind can help a person decide which branch to follow.
The word “chakra” literally means spinning wheel.
Yoga maintains that chakras are center points of energy, thoughts, feelings, and the physical body. According to yogic teachers, chakras determine the way people experience reality through emotional reactions, desires or aversions, levels of confidence or fear, and even physical symptoms and effects.
When energy becomes blocked in a chakra, it is said to trigger physical, mental, or emotional imbalances that manifest in symptoms, such as anxiety, lethargy, or poor digestion.
Asanas are the many physical positions in Hatha yoga. People who practice yoga use asanas to free energy and stimulate an imbalanced chakra.
There are seven major chakras, each with their own focus:
- Sahasrara: The “thousand-petaled” or “crown” chakra represents the state of pure consciousness. This chakra is located at the crown of the head, and the color white or violet represents it. Sahasrara involves matters of inner wisdom and physical death.
- Ajna: The “command” or “third-eye chakra” is a meeting point between two important energetic streams in the body. Ajna corresponds to the colors violet, indigo, or deep blue, though traditional yoga practitioners describe it as white. The ajna chakra relates to the pituitary gland, which drives growth and development.
- Vishuddha: The color red or blue represents the “especially pure” or “throat” chakra. Practitioners consider this chakra to be the home of speech, hearing, and metabolism.
- Anahata: The “unstruck” or “heart” chakra relates to the colors green and pink. Key issues involving anahata include complex emotions, compassion, tenderness, unconditional love, equilibrium, rejection, and wellbeing.
- Manipura: Yellow represents the “jewel city” or “navel” chakra. Practitioners connect this chakra with the digestive system, as well as personal power, fear, anxiety, developing opinions, and tendencies towards an introverted personality.
- Svadhishthana: Practitioners claim that the “one’s own base” or “pelvic” chakra is the home of the reproductive organs, the genitourinary system, and the adrenal gland.
- Muladhara: The “root support” or “root chakra” is at the base of the spine in the coccygeal region. It is said to contain our natural urges relating to food, sleep, sex, and survival, as well as the source of avoidance and fear.