I went to Om Culture (the Bhakti Lounge!) to see Jo Leffingwell’s Slide Show and Lecture on the Brief History of Yoga. Amazingly, in one and a half hours, we went through 5000 years of history!
It was wonderful to see Jo Leffingwell again! Long long ago (17 years ago?), I used to take asana classes and workshops with her. She doesn’t teach hatha yoga anymore. These days, at 64 years of age, she focuses on teaching the Yoga Sutras and she focuses on meditation. She brought a wealth of information and long time study of yoga philosophy to tonight’s presentation.
The words that stick in my mind from this evening’s lecture are, “We are part of an unbroken chain of a 5000 year old tradition.” I love this! I love being a part of this chain. Yoga is an oral tradition passed from teacher to student and I am a part of this tradition!
I also loved the explanation of what yoga does: “Yoga lifts us out of the ordinary perception of how we view life.” Who wants the ordinary when you can have the extraordinary? Yoga is an awakening to what it means to be fully human. The mind (citta) awakens through the practice of yoga. Yoga is an awakening to what it means to be in this world.
I was already aware of the ancient civilization thriving in the Indus Valley near modern day Pakistan, in a city called Harappa. I knew about the 5000 year old terracotta figurines depicting yoga asanas found in the ruins of Harappa. What Jo put in perspective for me was the historical setting of Harappa. The last ice age ended 10,000 years ago. And so 5,000 years ago, there was this advanced civilization thriving in the Indus Valley which was a wet marshy rich area still being fed by the melting snows of the Himalaya. This culture thrived in such wonderfully fertile land. It is easy to see how yoga and meditation could grow from such a culture. The valley eventually dried up and the Indus Valley civilization died out. Eventually, the city ruins were covered by sand, only to be rediscovered by a British archeologist in the 1920’s.
She went on to discuss Buddha, or Siddharta as he was called when he was still a prince. Buddha was a yogi! Siddharta became a yogi at the beginning of his journey of awakening. As a prince he led a terribly sheltered life and later, outside the palace walls, he encountered old age, illness, and death. He was pained by the idea of suffering and his search to put an end to suffering led him to his yoga practice and his eventual awakening. At first, he went to extremes and went so far as to starve himself. He nearly died of starvation. Luckily, he didn’t die. He concluded that he had to figure things out by striking his own moderate path and all his practices and teachings are grounded in yoga!
At the end of the slide show presentation/lecture, Jo mentioned how yoga continues to evolve. It continues to evolve in the medical world through research on its benefits. Physical Therapists use yoga asanas to help their patients overcome various physical problems. The DVD Yogawoman shows how yoga can help various communities, including those in prisons, the disenfranchised, the obese, the abused, etc, to become whole again.
I left the presentation prouder than ever to devote my life to the powerfully healing, transformative, and wholesome practice of yoga!