the Real Roots of Yoga

by Frank Martin

The roots of yoga have been a hot topic over the years. We’ve seen museum exhibits about the history of yoga, there’ve been dozens of books written about the history of the practice, the Yoga Sutras and the Gita. This endeavor is made incredibly difficult, by the fact that most everything that once existed of the teachings and the historical beginning have been lost because the teachings existed in an oral culture and what little was written down was written on perishable materials.

Finding yoga’s historical roots is an endeavor that will likely never be resolved, though really, we should ask ourselves how important it even is. Forgetting history, lets look at our own practice. Traditionally, the foundation of the practice, the very first Yama of the eight limbs of Patanjali is Ahimsa, non harm. The practice on a personal level begins with a rejection of the harm inherent in living in the world. The rest of the Yamas and the entire rest of the system, grows out of that desire and reinforces it.

My students, as recovering addicts have known and still know pain in a very real way, psychologically and physically. My goal, and I’d argue the goal of any serious practice, has little to do with being able to do the traditional form of any pose. I’m much more interested in helping them to be present enough to follow along and be free of suffering for that hour and fifteen minutes they’re in the class. If they can do that, if any of us can do that, we’ve found the root and goal of yoga practice in a way much more meaningful than knowing who first came up with the teachings however many thousands of years ago.