A New Look, At An Old Practice

Do you do yoga?  A lot of us here at CPM do, and most of the time it hooks people.  I notice that many people have misconceptions about yoga, but after trying just one class they start to understand what yoga is all about.  I’ve done yoga for a while now, and my first exposure to it was through P90X (good old Tony Horton).  I’ve practiced yoga for several years now, but I’ve never really known anything about yoga, where it came from, or how it has evolved.  I decided I should look into this, and what I’ve found is interesting.  Lets take a look at yoga and see what we learn.

Modern Day Practice

The yoga we practice today is, historically speaking, a new invention.  To me, modern day yoga is best summed up as breath + movement + mindfulness.  Though yoga has been around for a few thousand years, this evolution of it is considered brand new as well as the focus on strength and flexibility we see today.

Present day, we’re obsessed with what everyone else is obsessed with, fitness.  Most present day yoga is focused on fitness, improving flexibility, and stress relief.  Through it’s iterations, yoga has maintained the philosophical nature of the historical practitioners.  “Practicing” yoga is realizing that you’re choosing to spend time in the service of becoming a better person.  It’s not about flashy moves, high skill strength or gymnastics, or being a “super-flexi.”  As long as you are paying attention to what your body is saying (mindfulness) and focusing the breath, you’re doing it correctly.

Yoga Origin

Yoga survived time, and time is often a hard element to survive (think anyone will remember P90x in the 22nd century?).  It’s been around for thousands of years.  As nearly as I understand it, the earliest evidence of yoga was located in what is present day Pakistan.  The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word for yoke.  Ancient Vedic priests performed elaborate physical rituals to connect the physical world to the divine in search of Brahma (Brahma is the ultimate ground of all being).  Just like the ox is attached to the plow via a yoke, the priests (via yoga) attempted to attach the spiritual world to the physical world.

Over time, the Vedic way regressed, and the idea of atman started spreading.

Enter Yājñavalkya, a philosopher whose ideas are attributed to the development of what is considered the core of contemporary yoga practice (the physical postures linked with meditation and breathing).  Through Yājñavalkya’s philosophy, we see initially that yoga was not about physical exercise or making us feel better about our lives.  Rather, yoga intended to be an attack of the ego.  In this day, yoga was a full time job, a ritual that over time taught the yogi to destroy his normal consciousness (and the attached errors and delusions) and replace it with the discovery of his/her purusha or essential self.

Heavy philosophical stuff, no?  It gets even better.

Iteration 1

Around the second century BCE, we learn of Patañjali.  Patañjali compiled and curated the yoga philosophies and practices of the time.  This work became The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali which is arguably the foundational text of yoga practitioners.  Patañjali identifies the eight fundamental aspects or “eight limbs” of raja yoga practice:

  • Yama – morality
  • Niyama – self-purification
  • Asana – posture
  • Pranayama – breath control
  • Pratyahara – sense control
  • Dharana – intention
  • Dhyana – meditation
  • Samadhi – absorption/contemplation

This is the system known as “ashtanga” (finally a word we might be familiar with!) yoga.  Patañjali believed that by practicing all eight limbs of yoga, we can experience kaivalya: the perfect detachment of our soul from the material world, leading to eternal happiness.

So the yoga we think of today (crazy poses, balancing on one hand, etc…) is just one part, the asana.  Patañjali’s system focused yoga more into a philosophy, not an exercise routine, and in fact was limited to mostly static seated poses.

The more intense poses, or those from Hatha yoga, did exist, and had existed since the time of Yājñavalkya, however athleticism wasn’t the primary concern of the Hatha Yogis.  Hatha yoga remained a small subset of the larger raja practice until many centuries later.

The Modern

As the story goes, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya‘s father introduced him to yoga early in life, specifically Hatha yoga.  Tirumalai practiced Hatha for close to 30 years, and traveled to Tibet to study under one of the few remaining hatha masters, Sri Ramamohana Brahmachari.

After 7-ish years of study under Brahmachari, Tirumalai mastered some pretty cool stuff (pulse stopping to be included) as you can imagine, and would demonstrate it publicly which garnered some attention to hatha yoga.  This type of guru/student relationship has a long history in India, and often concludes with the student offering payment to the guru at the end of his/her tenure.  Sometimes, the guru accepts the completion of a special request, if warranted, as payment.  In this case, Brahmachari requested that Tirumalai marry, have children, and teach yoga.

This wasn’t an easy pill to swallow for Tirumalai, because he was already appointed to several high-profile religious and educational positions via his family’s lineage.  To teach yoga was a serious downgrade in status for him.  Nonetheless, he honored his master’s request.

Tirumalai Prevails

Tirumalai works himself into a position teaching under the ruling maharaja of Mysore, and opens a yoga school.  There, he develops a new hatha yoga emphasizing building strength and increasing flexibility, combined with the traditional asanas and pranayama.  He even adds in some movement from British gymnastics, and adapts his routines for each individual student.

Today we know this to be ashtanga vinyasa yoga, or pretty much anything with the words “Power,” “Flow,” or “Core.”  A few small offshoots have come from some of Tirumalai’s pupils, but his main contribution was taking a practice which before was for a monk or ascetic and making it available to millions of busy people around the world.

Yoga has a cool history.  From the almost “punishing” rigor of its beginnings to the amazing strength and athleticism of today or just the 30 minute lunch class by a busy person looking for some peace, yoga is what you make of it.  I leave you with this thought, a quote from Tirumalai’s son T.K.V. Desikachar:

“You do yoga so you can live your life, not the other way around.”

Less Philosophical

This workout is going to be tough.  It’s a chipper, meaning you chip away at it or it chips away at you.  Since most of us tend to error on the light side (you know who you are) when there are DB movements on the board, grab 1 size heavier than you “think” you need and adjust from there.  There will be lots of DBs laying around, so if you need lighter ones you can find someone to share with.

The trick for me in these tough workouts is basically, pay attention to what you are doing.  Practice a little of the Pratyahara and Dharana from yoga, meaning focus on you and what you’re doing.  Set micro goals, and by micro I mean things like “put hands on ground” for burpees and “step off box” for box jumps.  Micro goals are powerful, and keep you focused.

A scaled version might be in order – 2 rounds @ 33 reps of each.  See you all in the AM!

The Oboard Says…

Mid Week Madness:
66 DB Deadlift
66 Box Jump
66 Alternating 1 Arm KB Swing
66 DB Thrusters
66 Pullup
66 Burpee
66 Double Under

Posted by: Stets