There is little or no information regarding the exact period and place where yoga originated. While the earliest reference of yoga can be found in ancient Indian manuscripts that date back to 3000-1200 BC, later, archeologists have discovered seals belonging to the Indus Valley Civilization (2700 BC) which depict pictures of humans seated in yoga postures. In fact, to this day, the Bhagavad Gita (Song of God), a part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, and Yoga Sutras composed by Patanjali are considered to be the best ancient texts on yoga. Although the two manuscripts are different and they talk about yoga in different ways, both the manuscripts offer excellent synthesis of accessible knowledge and practice of yoga.
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Incidentally, although Bhagavad Gita is a part of the epic Mahabharata, it was composed around sixth century BC during the time of Lord Buddha. The Bhagavad Gita is considered to be a hypothetical verse, which is rich in descriptions and representation. In its entirety, this Hindu manuscript brings forth different meanings of the term yoga to the reader. Yoga is explained here as preserving a balance both in accomplishment as well as in disappointment, talent in deed, the ultimate secret of life, the producer of the utmost felicity, tranquility, detachment from the manifest universe and demolisher of pain.
According to the Bhagavad Gita, one does not require to renounce the material world or his individual responsibilities to seek and obtain serenity and enlightenment. Contrary to many other preaching, the Bhagavad Gita emphasizes that one may simultaneously continue with his responsibilities in life as well as cultivate the spiritual practice. Such valuable advises have made people in India accept and value the Gita as their daily guide. Significantly, even Mahatma Gandhi has claimed to have obtained both comfort and resource from this ancient scripture. Notwithstanding the contents and value of the Bhagavad Gita, the first methodical imagery of the philosophy and practice of yoga was found in Patanjali's 'Yoga Sutras' (also known as the threads of yoga) that was written some time between the second century BC and fourth century AD. The methods and path described by Patanjali in 'Yoga Sutras' is also often known as the Raja Yoga literally meaning the royal pathway.
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The four books on yoga include concise adages, distillations of the quintessence of yoga teaching as it had been passed on orally from one generation to another since the ancient times. The definition of yoga, according to Patanjali, is 'calming the restiveness in an individual's mind'. He emphasizes that the quieting of the intellect is not only the objective of yoga, but also its technique. Yoga preached by Patanjali in 'Yoga Sutras' is founded on eight fundamental principles also known as the eight-fold path or 'astanga yoga'. The 'astangas' or 'eight limbs' of yoga includes yamas, niyamas, pranayama, asana, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
It is important to note that according to the moral rules of Patanjali's 'Yoga Sutras', the rudiments of yoga exercises or practice are the 'yamas' (restraints) and the 'niyamas' (disciplines). These moral laws, particularly non-violence and non-greed, constitute the nucleus of the practice of the yoga postures or asanas. This approach in Patanjali's 'Yoga Sutras' is contradictory to the present-day sports philosophy that says 'no pain, no gain'. Incidentally, unlike the values and principles of yoga, success, manifestation and consequences have come to gain more prominence in the sports philosophy today and this is in fact inflicting damage both to the sportspersons as well as sports.
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In yoga, yamas, denoting fetters, are the common ethical values that preside over our responsibilities in the society and they also govern our associations with others. In all there are five yamas - truth, chastity, non-violence, non-stealing and non-greed.
In his 'Yoga Sutras', Patanjali says that the practice of yoga asanas and breathing exercises begin with non-violence in though as well as action. When we consider the violence and aggression spread across the world today, Patanjali's preaching becomes all the more important and relevant. His advice to practice non-violence becomes more imperative today than ever before. Coming back to yoga, injury caused during the practice of yoga is not only an outcome of violence and aggression in the mind and action, but also of great concern. Again, even if there is no injury during practice, one must always look out for any mark of force or might. By being alert during our yoga practice, we are able to identify if we are violent or wounding in our personal lives. This approach provides us with a prospect to change hostility or violence in our lives through yoga practice.
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The ethics of non-stealing and non-greed are intimately associated with one another and also to non-violence. While non-greed denotes just having as much that one requires, non-stealing pertains to theft as well as having a yearning for others' property. While talking of practicing yoga asanas, these characteristics are seen as aggressiveness and belligerence in the asanas - it may mean that we are forcing to perform an asana that we may not yet be ready to do or an act of challenging either others or ourselves. At some time or other, we all are annoyed with us. Hence, it is important that we are reminiscent of the fact that the practice is an ongoing procedure of progress and that getting into the posture is not our ultimate aim. We must also remind ourselves that accomplish a position at the cost of harming our bodies is worthless. It is also true that there is no gain in competing against oneself, others or even images of postures in a book. We must always remember that it is always not an unproblematic lesson to be able to take care of ourselves and value our bodies.
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Patanjali teaches virtuousness or chastity through its text 'Yoga Sutra'. Although a very small number of students in the West pay much importance to chastity, Patanjali's teachings make us reminiscent of saving up our vitality and to take note of our association with others - especially the manner in which we handle others and how we are touched by them.
It must be mentioned here that yoga requires us to be honest to ourselves. It also teaches us to be true in all our words and actions. At the same time, it is important to realize everything about us - who we are and where we are. It must always be remembered that the body never tells untruths and the postures we perform depicts our assets and flaws. The body also tells us about our talents and drawbacks. Our bodies also mirror our perfect mental condition and tell us when we are looking inwards and when we are detached or unsound. It would be interesting to note that practice of yoga postures brings to the fore our best and worst sides, which we may have otherwise been over-looking, ignoring or denying. At the same time, yoga enables us to recognize as well as admit our thorny feelings such as rage, desolation, apprehension and sorrowfulness and help us to find ways and means to work with and in the course of them. In fact, the spirit of yoga lies in the fact that it helps us to tolerate our entire self - both good and bad. Always remember that practice of yoga requires us to face ourselves truthfully as well as with compassion.
It is pertinent to always keep in mind that being honest to oneself means being the true self. At the same time, liberation is the sovereignty of not being traditional or conventional. Let your real self emerge from captivity and flourish after the outer stratum has been unpeeled. The real you may be amusing, gloomy, stupid, offensive, fuming, calm or whatever, but you are definitely liberated through the practice of yoga.