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Ancient Yoga v's Modern Yoga - What's the difference?


The word Yoga is first mentioned in the Vedas which are sacred Indian texts that are 5,000 years old. In Sanskrit, Yoga translates as "union, to join together, that which brings you to reality". Traditionally, Yoga was a group of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines that were taught to purify the body and mind. These practices were created to foster self-development and self-realization to reach ones highest individual consciousness in order to unite with Universal Consciousness (God).

Classically, there were different ways to seek this union - each system was a complete path by itself. A few examples are: Bhakti Yoga, the devotional path (prayer, chanting, singing, dancing); Karma Yoga, the service path (selfless action); Jnana Yoga the intellectual path (study of sacred texts, introspection, discussion); and Raja Yoga, the royal path (journey to personal enlightenment through the path of self-discipline and practice).  'The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali', written in 500 BCE-200 BCE, was the first time the eight limb path of Yoga was codified, and it remains the basis of Yoga practice today. 

Yoga was bought to America for the very first time by Swami Vivekananda in 1893. He equated Raja Yoga with 'The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali', and in time Raja Yoga became synonymous with Yoga. Whilst other Westerners and Indians came to the USA with the spiritual teachings of Yoga, it only really took off in the 1960's when Richard Hittleman introduced Yoga to millions of Americans through his easy-to-follow books and TV show 'Yoga for Health'. Although Hittleman was himself a spiritual seeker, he shaped a modern interpretation of Yoga in the Western World, emphasising the physical postures (asana) for fitness benefits. Hatha Yoga is an umbrella term for the many different forms of Yoga (such as Ashtanga and Iyengar) that have emerged in the Twentieth Century and is essentially the pairing of poses (asana) with breathing techniques (pranayama) with the purpose of advancing the Yoga practitioner to health and well-being through deeper self-awareness. Today, Yoga is a mainstream global exercise hailed by modern medical studies to improve cardio-vascular fitness, flexibility, balance, reduce stress, anxiety and pain. The benefits of modern Yoga are clear, but it is important to acknowledge that traditional Yoga from the East was at its heart more elaborate and had a spiritual purpose. 

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