"The mind acts like an enemy for those who do not control it."
- The Bhagavad Gita
When one begins to study the history of yoga, you begin to realize that this story cannot be told without the study of the history of India itself.
Similarly, you cannot truly understand the history of India without a deeper study of the dominant religion, Hinduism.
Yoga is as old as the Gods of India themselves, spanning thousands of years past the oldest known written records of the Indian subcontinent, the Vedas.
But like the great tree yoga has become, bearing fruit for millions over millennia, the roots stretch not only deep, but wide.
The most valuable connections come from the heart, and consequently, there would be no real way to start this story without a deep sense of gratitude.
Gratitude for those who gave the first blueprint for transcending the ego and looking inward rather outwards for the answers to the hardest questions.
So, who started Yoga? And when?
No one knows the answer to either question (at least literately), but the answer is woven into the fabric of Hinduism itself.
The first Yogi, it is said, was Lord Shiva himself. Lord Shiva is one of the the most important Gods in Hinduism, with over 1000 names.
He is known as "the destroyer" as well as the "auspicious one" and there are many tales of him throughout Hinduism, and I could easily write a post on him alone.
He's so fascinating, I just might.
However, in regards to Yoga itself, there are two important traits of Shiva that, despite so many names and interpretations of this deity, remain constant and quite relevant to our discussion. The first is that Lord Shiva is always depicted with the third eye directly in the center of his forehead, and the second is the serpent around Shiva's neck.
Let's start with the serpent.
It's not a coincidence that in the old testament, in the first story of Genesis, that Adam and Eve were tempted by a serpent.
The serpent represents the ego in this story. And as you will see, the ego is not the enemy.
However, like all bodily systems, and just like all chakras, the ego must be balanced.
This is how the story in Genesis was written (or at least translated into English)
"Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, `You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"2
The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,3
but God did say, `You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'"4
"You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman.5
"For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."6
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.7
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.8"
It is clear that in this story, the serpent represents the ego, and specifically the negative, or "lower self" aspect of it.
The truth is, the ego is NOT the enemy. We all NEED an ego. An ego is our sense of self identity, and it's very hard to function without it.
We need an ego so we don't get exploited in this world. According to psychologists, if we don’t have an ego, we could become mentally ill.
On the other hand, of course, is that an overactive ego could also cause problems too, like narcissism or an exaggerated sense of self importance.
It can cause us, just like the story of "Adam and Eve," to think that WE know best. This is self deception, hubris, and arogance, all derived from an inflated ego and sense of self.
The finale of this biblical tale ends with God's punishment of both Adam and Eve having to "toil" or work hard for the rest of their days as well as the loss of innocence.
However, through this loss of innocence, there is also rebirth, and Adam and Eve are reborn at a higher level of consciousness. They now know the difference between good and evil, and although riddled with hardships, they can now choose their own destiny.
How does the biblical story of Adam and Eve relate to Lord Shiva and his Serpent?
In both, the serpent represents the ego.
However, with the serpent around Lord Shiva's neck, as he is depicted, his consciousness has ascended and is mastered, through understanding the importance of balance.
All Yogi's understand the importance of balance, and this both spiritual and physical.
However, in the history of Yoga, it was the "spiritual" part of Yoga that came first, perhaps thousands of years earlier.
The poses and the physical part of Yoga did not arrive after the spiritual and philosophical parts, and were largely meant to reinforce the spiritual teachings. The first classical Yoga teacher, Patanjali, created one of the first philosophical teachings on them nearly 2,000 years ago in the famous writings, Yoga Sutra.
Yogajournal explains this further, "The Indian sage Patanjali has been credited with the collation of this oral tradition into his classical work, the Yoga Sutra, a 2,000-year-old treatise on yogic philosophy. A collection of 195 statements, the Sutra provides a kind of philosophical guidebook for dealing with the challenges of being human."
The Yoga Sutra largely focuses on concentration and meditation, and is very differenly focused on Yoga poses, which are largely derived from the much more recent school, known as Hatha Yoga.
The pineal gland, when open, represents true vision and clarity. It is the ultimate form of enlightment.
This yogic tradition still lives with us today, and we realize that just like the quantum world, our life is about balance. Just like the ego.
It is one of the most important lessons to learn on the path towards spiritual development and enlightenment, necessary for anyone who truly wants to master Yoga at its core.
Mastering poses is necessary, but not sufficient.
And just as the Eygtian book of the dead states "If you die before you die, you will not die when you die," in reference to the death of the ego, and just as Hermes of ancient Greece states to "know thyself," to truly master yoga....
....is to master yourself.
"It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then, the victory is forever yours. It can never be taken from you, not by angels or demons, haven or hell." - Buddha