By Charlie Hubbard

Yoga History

As a US expat working in Singapore I have come to like the beginning of the New Year most. Singapore celebrates both the western and Chinese calendar new year. Two New Year celebrations! What’s not to like about that?

Two opportunities to take stock and make changes, improvements!

My purpose in coming to Singapore is to be part of an initiative to make Singapore a regional center for training Hot Yoga, many of whom are thinking about how the business of teaching yoga should work. We are suggesting a paradigm shift, a change in belief about some old ideas, returning Yoga to its global heritage.

Global heritage? Everybody knows that Yoga is from India. It is, right?

Without a doubt, Yoga has been a spiritual and physical expression of Indian culture for centuries. The original meaning of the word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit “yuj” meaning “to yoke”. Early Hindu spiritual texts called sutras refer to a tribe of people coming in from the north to the Indus valley around 2000 BCE. What was remarkable about the people is they had harnessed oxen, yoking them together as work animals transforming farming. They were the high tech leaders of the day influencing early Indian civilization.

Originally meaning “yuj/yoga/to yoke, the deep metaphorical meaning of “Yoga” today is so complex it represents India itself. But what about Yoga postures?

While Indian spirituality uses Yoga as a metaphor often in the early texts, there is no mention of physical postures until the Indian sage Pantanjali mentions them, only briefly, around 200 BCE.

There is an image of a man doing “plow pose” carved on the wall of an ancient temple in Egypt. It dates to 3000 BCE, one thousand years prior to the earliest historical reference in India. Prior to being known as Egypt, the region was called Kemet. In North Africa, there exist today followers of Kemetic Philosophy, including postures we know as Yoga.

Tao Yin:

Sometimes known as Dao Yin, there are artefacts from Changsha, China showing the presence of Tao Yin around 300 to 200 BCE, around the same time Pantanjali was writing the Yoga Sutras on the other side of the Himalayas. Tao Yin is a pre-cursor to Qigong and promotes physical postures to be held in stillness with focused breathing for the purpose of physical fitness and a calm state.

The many expressions of physical postures we have come to know as Yoga today have grown remarkably in the last four decades mostly in the US and Europe. While there are many claims to authenticity in Yoga, a careful look at history will show it is a worldwide somatic phenomenon that has spontaneously emerged in cultures around the world over the centuries.

Practicing Yoga postures frequently and vigorously creates both physical and mental fitness, a state of calm that for many are profound. It is no wonder many have claimed it as their own. But in our modern, interconnected global community today the practice of Yoga postures are showing us our common humanity: we are all physical beings. It works for all of us.

Multiple systems of Yoga instruction have evolved. With much diversity in their ideas of what Yoga is and what postures, if any, are important (some Yoga disciplines are purely contemplative) these systems have some commonalities. They are almost always led by a charismatic guru with his own version of philosophical and spiritual advice. Some are charlatans. They all claim individual authenticity.

Currently, there are thousands of Yoga studios around the globe. Most are small studios, many run by women — and many with visions of future growth here in Southeast Asia of Hot Yoga studios guided by our proven, time-tested system of twenty-six postures. While acknowledging the contribution and value of guru led systems of the past, our paradigm is a secular system led by local teachers carefully selected for dedication to their own practice and committed ethical leadership in the worldwide, growing phenomena that is Yoga today.