Yoga practitioners often ascribe ancient traditions to the practice of yoga. And it is true, there is an ancient tradition of yoga well documented over thousands of years.
BUT - the physical practice of yoga perhaps isn't as ancient as we think. In any typical western yoga class, we do yoga postures, putting outselves in all sorts of twists, bends and sometimes inversions. We stay there, trying to focus on our breathing and settle our minds. But this is a curious thing...
The history of modern physical yoga postures isn't perhaps what we think. Possibly only originating from 100 years ago when gymnastics and yoga met in India. It is true, some of the postures can be found in a text dating from around the 14th Century, but many of the postures we practice in a class today are perhaps relatively modern. Some claim that the Yogis noticed how popular gymnastics was and how appealing the physical form was and cleverly incorporated some of the ideas blending them with yoga practices to encourage people to give it a go.
Interesting, and there is some credible evidence to suggest it is true. But does it really make any difference if it is 100 or 10,000 years old? Surely what matters is that if you give it a go, it should leave you feeling better and over time help support your health and life. It should stand on its own two-feet. Does it need the justification of some ancient authenticity?
Mark Singleton authored the book "Yoga Body. The origins of modern posture practice" by Oxford University Press. It depicts the rising of the physical form of yoga that we see in most yoga classes in the west. And it tries to provide some context about where it came from. He provides compelling explainations challenging some of the apparent myths of where this ancient and timeless practice originates.
A good blog post providing more context about Mark's book and modern yoga practice is here.
But hopefully it doesn't matter if it is authentically ancient or not. Yoga can still be experienced through your posture practice without the addition of romantic origins. Your practice should help you develop strength and stability, physically and mentally, and connect with yourself and the world around you. Over time you should start to notice that you are more compassionate, more self-aware and less selfish that will ultimately benefit those around you. Your practice helps you develop space for self-enquiry. Yes and along the way you may find yourself fitter, stronger, leaner and more toned.
So maybe a yoga class isn't an ancient tradition, but it sure does help you feel better about things and is a great support in life.