Yoga; History and Mythology.
The history of yogasanas as a physical, mental and spiritual culture goes back into the depths of time. Its mention is found in the oldest known literature of mankind, the Vedas, which are full of spiritual wisdom, composed by realized rishis and sages of that time. It is believed by some that the science of yoga is much older than even the Vedas.
In archaeological excavations made at Harappa and Mohanjodaro in what is now Pakistan, many statues have been found depicting Lord Shiva and Parvati (his consort) performing different yogasanas. These ruins were once the dwelling place of people who lived in the pre-Vedic age, even before the Aryan civilization flourished in the Indus subcontinent. According to tradition and the scriptures, Lord Shiva is the founder of yoga, including asanas. He created all the asanas and taught them to his first disciple, Parvati.
It is said that there were originally 8,400,000 asanas, which represent the 8,400,000 incarnations every individual must pass through before attaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death. These asanas represent progressive evolution from the simplest form of life to fully realized man. It is believed that by doing them a person can bypass all these lives in one life and step out of the deterministic progress from one life to the next.
Throughout the centuries these asanas have been modified and reduced in number by the great rishis and yogis so that there are now no more than a few hundred known. Of these only eighty four are discussed in detail, and only thirty or so are commonly thought of as being useful to .
Lord Shiva is supposed to be the symbol or embodiment of the supreme consciousness. When the individual soul is liberated from the bondage of the world, they achieve the state of pure consciousness. Parvati is regarded as the mother of the whole universe. She is the embodiment of supreme knowledge. By her grace a person becomes liberated (mukta) and is united with the supreme consciousness. It is said that out of love and compassion for all her children she imparted her secret knowledge in the form of the tantra shastras. She is the mother aspect representing the great energy which lies dormant in all of us. This great energy (shakti) is also known as the kundalini.
Tantra is a combination of two words, tanoti and trayati which mean respectively 'expansion' and 'liberation'. Therefore, tantra is the science of expanding the consciousness and freeing it from its limitations. Yoga is an offshoot of tantra. We cannot separate yoga from tantra; both come from Shiva and Shakti. Consciousness and matter cannot be separated; both supplement each other just like fire and its heat.
Tantra is the way for ordinary people to free themselves from the limitations and bondages of the world, while still being able to enjoy earthly things. In tantra, first one must know the limitations and capacities of one's body and mind. After this, tantra prescribes techniques for expanding the worldly consciousness into divine consciousness, and then into pure liberated consciousness. Various asanas, pranayamas, mudras and bandhas are practised to purify the body, mind and consciousness. It is clear that the same techniques of yoga have their sources in tantra.
The first historically recorded exponent of yoga asanas was the great yogi Gorakhnath. In his time the science of yoga was not popular but Gorakhnath taught all the asanas to his close disciples. The yogis of that time tended to live far from society in the mountains and forests, where they led a life of seclusion and austerity, getting all their support from nature. Animals were the great teachers of these yogis, for they lived a natural life free from disease and worldly problems. Animals do not have a doctor or drugs to cure their ailments; nature is their only helper. Many yogic techniques were developed by studying the creatures of the forest. Is it any surprise that yoga is such a natural and effective system of curing disease?
Now, in this modern age, yoga is starting to spread all over the world; its knowledge is fast becoming the property of everyone. Many doctors and scientists are advocating the practice of yoga. Leading people are realizing that yoga is not only for sages and ascetics who have renounced the world and gone into seclusion; it is for everyone.