The Roots of Yoga: From India to China

I’m a yoga teacher. So not surprisingly, I was drawn to everything Indian, and studied at an ashram in India. Now, I’m completing my yoga therapist training. I still love everything Indian. I can wrap myself in a sari, have several sets of bindhi, and know how to make some mean cauliflower pakoras with cilantro chutney. But as I complete my yoga therapy studies (http://thenamastecounsel.com/whats-yoga-therapy/), I’m being drawn farther east. How do you say China in Sanskrit?henna hands

People associate yoga with India, and rightly so, as the multiple branches of yoga originated in that subcontinent 5,000 years ago.  While people may recognize Tai Chi or Xi Gong as having Chinese roots, few would categorize yoga as being Chinese.

In reality, although hatha yoga has become Westernized over the last 100 years, within yoga therapy, the roots are both Indian and Chinese, and they complement each other very well.  That shouldn’t be all that surprising, as in the ancient Mahabharata, there are several references to China, and The Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) left the Indian subcontinent to settle in China more than 2,000 years ago.

I’m not the only one making the connection between China and yoga. In History of Yoga and Tantra,  Geoffrey Samuel explores the Chinese roots of the chakras, tantra and Kundalini.

hindu puja ceremony

Furthermore, Yin Yoga, which is Taoist, is closer to the original hatha yoga than the Yang practices that fill the lion’s share of yoga sessions these days in the United States. Yin Yoga clears the meridians, similar to acupuncture, through compression and stretching of poses that are typically held for three to six minutes each. In Yin Yoga, the muscles are relaxed, and the body’s skeletal structure holds one in place in the postures that are practiced on low to the ground (yin).

“According to Chinese tradition, daoyin exercises, attested BCE, were devised to make the joints supple in an arthritis-prone cold/wet environment,” says Koenraad Elst who has MA degrees in Sinology, Indology and Philosophy, and a doctorate in Hindu studies. 

Taoism and Buddhism share a long history in China, and clearly, both have connections to yoga. As early as the second century,  Taoism focused on meditation and breathing which are the tenets of yoga. A few centuries later, Taoism included rituals, which could be viewed similar to the Hindu pujas. Finally, Taoists tend to be vegetarians, which is one of the key principles in yoga: Ahimsa.

silent meditation

As late as the 19th century, novelties were added to the array of hatha yoga techniques, partly under the influences of British military drill. Particularly the standing techniques are mostly late additions. Consider hatha yoga a modern innovation.”

A review and comparison of the Chinese roots of yoga therapy, and Ayurveda, will be explored in my next post. The Two As: Acupuncture and Ayurveda.

 

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