Intangible Cultural Heritage of Asia and the Pacific

Woman doing yoga in ruined ancient temple with columns, Hampi, Karnataka, India © Marina Pissarova, kr.123rf.com

The Healing Art of Yoga

Yoga is a traditional practice from India that focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body. It is also known as the art and science of healthy living. Yoga is a combination of postures (called asanas), breathing techniques (called pranayama), relaxation, and meditation.
The word ‘yoga’ is derived from a Sanskrit word, which means ‘to unite’. Hence, the practice of yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with that of the universal consciousness, signifying a perfect harmony between the mind and body as well as man and nature. Yoga is also commonly understood as a therapy or exercise system for health and fitness, but the goal of yoga is far-reaching. Yoga does not adhere to any particular religion or community; it has always been approached as a path for inner wellbeing. The power of yoga is in its simplicity; the combination of movements creates a physical, mental, and spiritual syncopation.
It is assumed that yoga is a 5,000-year-old Indian body of knowledge. Yoga had its origin in India long before the first religion or belief system was born. According to the yogic lore, Adiyogi, the first yogi (yoga practitioner) transmitted the science of yoga to his seven disciples or the Saptarishis. Adiyogi had demonstrated 112 ways through which mortal beings can surpass their limitations and achieve their ultimate potential. Adiyogi’s offerings were carried to different parts of the world by these seven enlightened sages. There has been mention of yoga in Hindu mythology Mahabharata and Hindu religious scriptures like Vedas and Upanishads. But yoga is not limited to any religion or faith, mention of yoga can also be found in Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism1

A meditating Indian woman © rawpixel, kr.123rf.com

NOTE

1. https://www.siddhiyoga.com/history-of-yoga Last accessed on August 13, 2020.
2. https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/yoga-01163 Last accessed on August 13, 2020.

 

Though yoga was being practiced in the pre-Vedic period, the great Sage Maharshi Patanjali compiled and systematized the then existing practices of yoga, its knowledge through his yoga sutras. After Patanjali, many sages and yoga masters contributed greatly for the preservation, development, and dissemination of the yoga through their documentation of the practices.
One of the interesting facets of yoga is that traditionally in India it was transmitted using the Guru-Shishya model (master-disciple) with yoga gurus as the main guardian of skill and knowledge. Nowadays, there are opportunities to learn yoga from Ashrams or hermitages, schools, community centers and social media. Over the years, yoga has gained popularity worldwide and is well-accepted as a traditional process of healing. Yoga was inscribed in the UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 20162.
Regular practice of yoga has a plethora of health benefits, both physical and mental. Yoga has been known to improve energy, vitality, metabolism, respiration, circulatory health along with reduction of extra weight, and protection from injury. Yoga helps in increasing brain activity, rejuvenating the nervous system, circulation of blood and bodily fluids. As the world battles the pandemic on a war-footing, India’s traditional system of yoga has been established as a means to boost immunity, improve overall health and well-being. Not only is COVID-19 a virus that is infectious and can spread but so are emotions of fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and panic. This can prompt mental issues like stress and despondency that can influence one’s physical wellbeing and this is why embracing the traditional practice of yoga can be immensely helpful. The practice of yoga asanas and meditation fortifies the immune system by lowering stress hormones in our body. Apart from this, yoga conditions the lungs and respiratory tract, stimulates the lymphatic system by removing toxins from the body, and ensures the optimal functioning of our organs.
The postures of yoga help us to reduce joint pain and muscle tension. there are a lot of yoga poses that can help us to manage our blood pressure level. Yoga also teaches us to regulate our breathing, which can make a person feel relaxed and at peace during these times of crisis. and the best part is yoga can be practiced anywhere and at any time because it does not require any equipment. The postures of yoga are in sync with nature, for example: suryanamaskara is sun salutation; there are postures resembling that of movements of animals like matsyasana (resembles the fish), ustrasana (camel pose), bhujangasana (cobra pose). Yoga can be practiced by an individual of any age and even by people suffering from ailments, rather yoga postures cater to people with specific ailments. It is interesting to notice that how an age-old tradition from India has such relevance in contemporary times. Yoga brings its own flavor and benefits to the table, and it provides us with a holistic sense of health, which is especially required during these times.