The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’ which means ‘to unite’, ‘to yoke’ or ‘to join’. Yoga is a spiritual discipline which focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body. It is a science and art of healthy living.
One of the great deities of Hinduism is Lord Shiva. He is the Adi Yogi and is honored by his devotees as the personification of Yogic perfection and the benefactor of Yogic science to mankind.
If one wants to know and understand the origins of Yoga, they need to first look at Lord Shiva who is the Supreme consciousness behind the universe. The numerous Yoga Asanas known and unknown all have a connection to Lord Shiva and have been derived from his movements. Shiva is the master of Yoga. He is usually seen in the Padmasana (Lotus Pose) surrounded by animals. Even his dance movements as Nataraj, reflect various Yogic postures.
Many of Lord Shiva’s representations depict signs of complete Yoga mastery. His eyes are half-closed in meditation, while his third-eye is open on his forehead which is the eye of wisdom. The crescent moon on his forehead is the symbol of knowledge and mystical vision. The snake coiled around his neck symbolizes the Kundalini energy that is present in all of us. The River Ganga cascading from his matted locks symbolize everlasting purification.
It is believed that Lord Shiva first conveyed his knowledge of Yoga to his spouse, Parvati. Later, for the good and benefit of mankind, he imparted the science of Yoga to seven Rishis who passed on the knowledge to the rest of humanity. These seven were known as the Saptarishis who spread the philosophy of Yoga to mankind.
Many Yoga traditions originate from Lord Shiva and He is honored as the original guru of Yoga. Shiva symbolizes the calming and balancing effect of all Yoga practices.
Yoga Philosophy is best and well described in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Though Yoga was being practiced in the pre-vedic period, Maharishi Patanjali systemized and codified the existing Yogic practices, its meaning and its related knowledge.
Maharishi Patanjali is believed to have lived in the 2nd Century BCE. Maharishi Patanjali is said to be the reincarnation of Adishesha, the 1000 head serpent who is said to support Lord Vishnu. As per legend, he fell in the form of a serpent into the hands of a virtuous woman named Gonika, who was praying for a son. It is believed that the serpent was none other than Adishesha, who reincarnated as Patanjali.
Another legend states, a long time ago Munis and Rishis approached Lord Vishnu to help them find a cure for people suffering from mental and emotional illness and impurities like jealousy, anger, greed etc. Lord Vishnu, who was lying on his 1000 head snake, Adishesha, gave the Rishis and Munis Adishesha, who took birth as Maharishi Patanjali. Hence Patanjali came to earth to impart the knowledge of Yoga. This came to be known as Patanjali Yoga Sutras.
Another legend says that once while watching Lord Shiva dance, Adishesha was unable to support the weight of Lord Vishnu. Upon asking the reason for this, he was informed by Lord Vishnu it was because of his harmony with Lord Shiva’s state of energy owing to the practice of Yoga. Realizing the benefits of Yoga, Adishesha decided to be born amongst human to impart the knowledge of the great art. Hence he took birth in the form of Patanjali.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a comprehensive book where Maharishi Patanjali describes the 196 sutras on the theory and practice of Yoga. In the book, Patanjali defines Yoga as having eight components or stages Astanga (eight limbs). These eight limbs in Yoga are Yama (abstinence), Niyama (observances), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breathing exercises), Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (the highest state of consciousness). The eightfold path of Yoga shows the way to live a better life through Yoga.