The more you get into the practice of yoga, the more you may be curious as to how it all began and what it all means since it is quite the opposite of many other types of exercise, where you typically want to push yourself. Yoga is more about calming yourself and taking it slow. Regarding its origins to Ancient India, does that mean the poses are prayers to Hindu gods?
Yoga poses are not prayers to Hindu gods, but some pay respect to Hindu gods. Although, there are only a handful of this instance since most are influenced by nature or different animals like the Tree Pose. However, the Warrior Pose is influenced by a Hindu deity, Shiva.
If you are curious to learn more about the practice of yoga and its origins, this article will discuss how it started, what the poses represent, and if yoga itself is a religion. So, before you become concerned that you can not do yoga without unintentionally paying respect to Hindu gods, you should keep reading to find out what the poses represent and why it doesn’t have to have any religious ties if you do not want it to.
Yoga is a spiritual, mental, and physical practice that was first practiced in ancient India. It originated as one of the six schools of Hindu philosophical traditions, but as you find in western culture, it is frequently used as a form of exercise and a way for people to destress and relax. However, some people may find it as having a spiritual or religious meaning for them, but this is completely up to the person practicing the yoga.
Nonetheless, that is not how yoga began as it was more so used to form a union between your body, mind, and spirit with the overall goal being to clear your mind, deepen your connection with your body, and center the spirit and mind. However, depending on the type of yoga and who is leading the practice, there can be different meanings of yoga and how it is practiced.
So, you may actually find yoga to mean something to you on a spiritual level, but it could also be a way for you to just simply workout or find some time to be with your thoughts.
In North America and some other parts of the world, yoga is typically practiced in a yoga studio with a class as a form of working out. A certified yoga instructor leads the group through different poses depending on the type of yoga. Some of the different types of yoga that may be practiced include:
- Hatha Yoga is a form of beginner’s yoga.
- Yin Yoga is a slower style of yoga that holds poses for longer.
- Kundalini Yoga has a main focus on reducing stress.
- Vinyasa Yoga is a common form of yoga that has a rhythmic flow.
- Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga consists of a series of 6 poses.
- Bikram Yoga is a form of hot yoga that has strict rules as to how to practice it.
- Restorative Yoga is a slow, relaxing practice.
- Power Yoga is a more active yoga style that is faster paced.
- Prenatal Yoga is for pregnant women.
As you get more into yoga, you may find and connect with its religious and meditative roots. However, it doesn’t have to mean something religious, depending on how you practice and experience it. With that said, there is little to no ties to religion in western cultures’ version of it, but it still has strong meditative roots.
Many of the yoga poses we see today were created and influenced by the elements of nature, such as trees, moon, or birds. However, some were actually influenced by Hindu deities from the Hindu and yogic culture from Ancient India. These poses specifically pay respect to the specific deity and all they stand for. However, as we mention more later, doing this pose does not mean you are practicing the Hindu religion.
If you are curious about the poses that are influenced by nature, here are some of the examples you may be familiar with, along with how they originated:
- Tree Pose or Vrksasana is a pose that is done on one leg, with both hands stretched above the head. Like a tree, this pose encourages you to extend yourself deep down, just like the roots of a tree. Like the beauty and wisdom we find in nature, this pose mimics the strong, sturdy trees rooted in its ability to stay upright while still flowing and moving with the winds gusts.
- Mountain Pose or Tadasana is a basic standing pose based on being stable, solid, and balanced. This pose encourages you to act like you are the mountain, one that is tall, steady, and expands to great lengths.
- Eagle Pose or Garudasana is done with your legs crossed while in a squat, and much like an eagle, you have to be strong and regal while holding the pose. With a lot of patience, focus, and stability, this pose represents how you cannot let challenges stop you from going amongst your life’s journey.
- Crane Pose or Bakasana is another pose that was inspired by a bird. This pose is done by balancing on your hands. In order to do this, you have to remain very focused, with your eyes straight ahead, much like how a crane must do this when it is catching prey.
- Cobra Pose is done on the ground while pushing yourself up with your arms and hands. This pose is meant to make you feel refreshed as you shed any parts of you that no longer serve you, much like how when a cobra sheds its skin feels refreshed.
- Cow Pose or Bitilasana and Cat Pose or Marjaryasana are two poses that are done interchangeably. This pose incorporates the stretch a cat typically will make with its back arched, while the cow pose gets you to reach your head up to the sky and pull your stomach to the ground.
- Corpse Pose or Savasana is as simple as it gets as all you have to do is lay down flat on your back. This pose is typically done at the end of your practice, and while calling it a corpse pose may freak you out, it is meant to help heal your mind, body, and spirit. As you breathe deeply and relax on your mat, it is meant to rejuvenate you as you take some time to rest and refresh yourself.
As you can see, many of the yoga poses are based on the things we experience within our lives. They are strongly based on things found in nature, so even if you do not incorporate the true meanings of each pose throughout your practice, you now know where they come from.
On the other hand, a handful of poses were influenced by and created to pay respects to Hindu deities, which will be covered in more detail below.
The Hindu Pantheon, a book written in the early 1800s, is a representation of the Enlightenment. Within the Hindu Pantheon, each member represents a part of human existence or something else found in the cosmos.
Other deities represent other aspects as well. However, Shiva is considered the grandmaster of yoga as he is the Lord of Asana practices. Many of the movements you would do in practice are based on the movements that Shiva has done.
The son of Shiva, Virabhadra, is the reason the Warrior Pose exists. It is said that when Shiva became upset after his wife had passed away, he had torn out locks of his hair, which then turned into his son, a powerful warrior which the pose now embodies. When the Warrior pose is in practice, it is meant to symbolize defeating ignorance and the ego.
Some other Hindu deities that have influenced common yoga poses are:
- King Dancer or Natarajasana was dedicated to the god Shiva, whose dance symbolizes the cosmic energies that show us the ups and downs of life.
- The Splits or Hanumanasana was created as a dedication to the Monkey god Hanuman. This pose is all about being selfless, showing dedication and devotion just as Hanuman did in his life.
- The Side Plank Pose or Vasisthasana was influenced by one of the most accomplished and enlightened people in Hinduism, Vasistha. Vasistha was one of the seven great Rishis making them who was one of the sacred Rig Veda writers, a hymn from ancient Indian times. It is also said that Vasistha had a cow that granted any wish they wanted.
- The Seated Spinal Twist or Ardha Matsyendrasana represents the Lord of the Fish, Matsyendra. He was said to be a real man born in 10th Century CE and was almost idolized by Buddhists, who believed him to be an incarnation of the bodhisattva of compassion. He was born under odd circumstances. After being swallowed by a huge fish, he grew wise as he listened to Shiva’s yogic teachings.
- The Eight Angle Pose or Astavakrasana was named after another beloved enlightened being, Astavakra. During his time in the womb, his father had cursed him to have eight bends throughout his body, so he was born deformed. Through this pose, you are reminded that you must face it using perseverance, strength, and patience, no matter what obstacles you have to overcome in life.
As you can tell by the Warrior pose and the other poses that were created because of a Hindu deity’s influence, are more so representative of the journey and life lessons the deity has gone through and much less about the deity themself. While you can carry these meanings with you throughout your yoga practice, this is completely up to you and what you want yoga to mean to you.
Although, as you now have become aware that yoga has a lot of ties to the Hindu deities, it is also important you know that yoga itself is not a religion. Yoga is more so meant to be a path to enlightenment, as it gives you the opportunity to create a mind, body, and spiritual connection. However, it is more common outside of India for yoga to be mostly used as a posture-based exercise.
While it does remain a very spiritual practice for many, you may wonder why it is so connected with the Hinduism religion. Below we will clarify everything you need to know.
Yoga is connected to the religion, which is Hinduism, but it is also connected to other religions, Jainism, and Buddhism. The sacred mantra that is shared by both Hindus and Buddhists during meditation, which you are most likely aware of, is “Om.”
The sound that the mantra “Om” creates is supposed to be an echo of the harmony within the universe. Yet, this is not a religious term. It is more simply a feeling you have tied to other people. So you do not have to be religious to say it.
Additionally, you do not have to be religious or Hindu for that matter to do yoga, which has never been the case. While it originated as having a deep connection to those religions, it has transformed into a self-growth practice that allows you to reflect on who you are and what you were meant for in this life.
Yoga within the Hindu religion is basically where you could say this ancient practice of movements began with its long history starting in The Upanishads, a collection of Hindu scriptures. These scriptures talked about meditation and shared different kinds of techniques so people could grow closer to themselves.
The scriptures explained how each person is bigger than the individual they believe themselves to be, relating each person to being just a drop in the ocean, with the ocean representing the universal spirit.
The main purpose of yoga for Hindus is to achieve a state of stillness and clear the mind. These beautiful teachings of Hinduism still echo throughout the true spirit of yoga today, where it is all about connecting with who we are deep down.
The connection between yoga and Buddhism is the practice of being mindful. When it all began, the Buddha was one who practiced yoga frequently and later in life guided others to do the same.
As the Hindus believe, the Buddhists believe yoga provides a break from reality where one can quiet their mind from all the chaos outside of them. You may recognize this as something your yoga instructor encourages you to do during your practice as you want it to be as calm and relaxing as possible.
If you are a Christian, you may have read plenty of different things about if you should be doing yoga or not, due to it being claimed to be a Hindu spiritual exercise. However, this is not the case.
If you are Christian and want to practice yoga, you do not have to worry about which religion you practice to do so. For many people in Western Culture, yoga is completely separate from any religion and is overall considered a way for the mind and body to strengthen its connection, allow you to move your body, and even give you a moment to connect with whatever religion or spirituality you believe in.
It should be noted that while you do not have to practice yoga as a way to pay respect to Hindu deities, you may still feel closer to your inner self, which is one of the main reasons yoga was developed in ancient India.
Although yoga is not bad for anyone and is not strictly related to any religion, whether you use it to find some peace or stretch out your body, it is not a religion nor only a specific religious practice.
Yoga poses are not prayers to Hindu gods. While they may have originated as a way to pay respect to Hindu deities, yoga in western culture is less associated with these specific origins and more related to its origins, the practice of mindfulness and stillness.
With yoga being a practice to bring union to the mind, body, and spirit, you may have even wondered if it is a religion. However, this is not the case either. While it may have connections to Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, these roots do not dictate what it has to mean to you.
If you are worried that if you do yoga, you are practicing Hinduism or going against your own religion, you do not have to as it is more of a way to connect with yourself on a deeper level, get in some movement, and get some much needed quiet time to relax.
- Look4ward: Most Popular Hindu Deities and Their Relevance in Yoga
- Wikipedia: Yoga
- Yoga Journal: Yoga as a Religion?
- Look4ward: Yoga Traditions: From Ancient Scriptures To Modern Practice
- Yoga Medicine: Types of Yoga
- Live Strong: Spiritual Meanings of Yoga Postures
- Chopra: Uncover the Symbolism inn 10 Common Yoga Poses
- Yoga Moha: Animal Yoga Poses
- Yoga Journal: Lord of the Dance Pose
- Oxford: The Bodhisattva of Compassion
- Ekhart Yoga: 6 Sacred Yoga Poses
- Yoga Clicks: Is Yoga a Religion? A Beginner’s Guide
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