Yoga Talk Podcast 5: Where Did These Poses Come From?

with Yoga International

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Where did all of these poses come from? Are they really “thousands of years old”? Kat and Michael take a look at asana history! 


How old is yoga?        

And what are we talking about when we ask this question? Asana? Meditation? Yoga as a philosophy? The first use of the word “yoga”?

So What about Asana?

  • Pashupati seal C. 2500-2400 BCE
  • Yoga Sutra Asana Sutras—Out of 195/6 sutras, only 3 are on asana (2.46-2.48)
  • What even is a yoga pose? What’s its function? What are you trying to do with it?
  • We loved (and recommend!) Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice by Mark Singleton (Oxford University Press, 2010) 

The Hatha Yoga Texts 

  • What is hatha yoga?
  • 84 classic asanas/asanas in hatha yoga texts
  • Hatha yoga, in its systematized form, emerged in India around the 6th century CE
  • Hatha Yoga Pradipika (“Light on Hatha Yoga”) compiled by Svatmarama between 6th and 15th century CE); expounds upon asana, pranayama, shatkriya (cleansing techniques), and samadhi 
    —HYP says that Shiva taught 84 asanas, and that 4 are essential (HYP 1.35-1.36)
    Highlights 16 asanas total
  • Gheranda Samhita (late 17th century CE)
    Highlights 32 asanas
  • Shiva Samhita (somewhere between the 15th and 18th Century CE)
    —Names 84 asanas and describes 4
  • Great Source: Richard Rosen’s Original Yoga: Rediscovering Traditional Practices of Hatha Yoga (Shambhala, 2012)

Modern Postural Yoga

  • Tirumalai Krishnamacharya 
    —Often referred to as “the father of modern yoga”
    —Notable students: B. K. S. Iyengar, Patthabi Jois, Indra Devi, T. K. V. Desikachar
    (If you’re an asana teacher, the odds are incredibly strong that you’ve been at least indirectly influenced by one of these teachers.)
    —Did the Ashtanga series originate from the Yoga Korunta? (And does it matter?)
  • How We Got Here: Where Yoga Poses Come From by Alanna Kaivalya 
  • B. K. S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga
    ​—Names 200 asanas 
  • ​Poses in the Ashtanga series 
    —The Primary series, Intermediate series, Advanced Series A, B, C, and D 
    —Kat talks about how she found out that a lot of the poses that she thought “sprung up out of the blue” in the past few years were actually from the advanced Ashtanga series.

We're Still Making Up New Poses All of the Time
—Humble Flamingo 
Chamatkarasana/“Wild-Thing”/“Flip the dog”

Importance of Using Sanskrit Names and Correct Transliteration

  • Why pronounce (or try to pronounce) the Sanskrit correctly? Does it make a difference? What is the view, path, and fruition of speaking clearly? Is there “merit” in speaking and enunciating with mindfulness?
  • Addressing cultural appropriation and colonialism 
  • Fabulous article: Naming Names: Should Yoga Teachers Use Sanskrit? by Colin Hall
    (Also check out Colin Hall's article on YI): Yoga Mats: Are They Really Necessary?

Connection Between Asana and Mythology
Great Sources: 

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