History of Yoga – Part 1

Yoga refers to all the practices of our Tradition that enable us to engage more intimately with ourselves, each other and our world.  And this that we might know greater joy and learn wisdom. — Kushal Magar

My years of learning with the Nepalese jhankri Kushal Magar in the foothills of the Bengal Himalaya offered very much more than could be presented within the confines of a book like Limitless Sky.  

In addition, for commercial reasons the original text submitted to the publisher had to be cut by a third. Over the coming weeks, I shall therefore share a more of Kushal’s teachings as sequential blogs, beginning with his introduction to the history of yoga, which led to my own research.

As he said to me in introduction all those years ago, “Today I introduce you to our Hatha Yoga of Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath … so here begins the mastery of your body-mind.”

Kushal's scarlet temple


All knowledge is in the body, all gods are in the body … for it is self-knowledge that is the cause of happiness and liberation for mankind— Jñanasankalini Tantra

I had limited knowledge of yoga.

All I knew for certain was that the term described an ancient, predominantly masculine Indian tradition of physical positions, breathing and meditative techniques.  I had also learnt that all yoga is Hatha Yoga, irrespective of whether it has then been repackaged as Iyengar, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Bikram, and so forth, for twentieth-century consumption.

I had attempted a preliminary investigation for myself over the years, turning to books that presented the same, standard Vedantic orthodoxy, even when crammed with glossy pictures of skinny, bendy, celebrity practitioners.  I had also attempted to explore yoga practically by attending a variety of classes filled with either chatty cake-bakers or an intimidating set of competitive, circus-worthy gymnasts.  Neither option had convinced me it was a physical regime I would ever wish to adopt, unless it was to increase my social circle or decrease my middle.

In the company of Kushal Magar, however, I was willing to put aside my preconceptions.  My first question was, therefore, straightforward: “Jhankri-dajoo, what exactly is the point of yoga?”

Kushal Magar touched first his heart, then mine to mark new teaching.

Hatha Yoga describes a system of practical skills refined by generations of our ancestors that can lead to liberating insight,” he began.  “Skills that enable us to challenge and change the dualistic viewpoint through which most of us limit ourselves all our lives long. And this, of course, that we might live and love more effectively, justly and joyfully.”

“Dualistic viewpoint?”

“All those ordinary judgements and assumptions – good and bad, right and wrong, ugly and beautiful, divine and mortal, sacred and profane – which separate what is in truth a unified whole.”

It was an ‘ordinary’ perspective with which I was entirely familiar.  Every moment of my life seemed qualified by some petty judgement of either aesthetics or hypocritical moralising.  Yet another example of that interminable self-interested viewpoint from which I knew I now wished to free myself.

“To disengage from such habitual discriminations takes effort,” he continued.  “In fact, such is the physical, mental and moral force that must be expended in the retraining of the body-mind to this end that Hatha is traditionally referred to as ‘Violent Yoga’.”

The idea seemed incongruous when applied to the church-hall stretch-and-relax with which I had become familiar back home.

“But of course the effort of Hatha Yoga is not found in merely working your muscles or in the pursuit of some sort of meditative introversion.  Rather, it is in the focusing of all the practitioner’s will and energy to free themselves from their detrimental habits, their assumed limitations.  And this to enable them to be more beneficially active in a world with which they are more meaningfully and deeply connected.”

[Part Two to follow soon]

jacket image high res

You’ll find much more of Kushal Magar and his mountain Tradition in Limitless Sky.

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4 Responses to History of Yoga – Part 1

  1. ManyLittleDrops says:

    “That we might live and love more effectively, justly and joyfully.” What a beautiful & succinct way to explain the practice of yoga — thoroughly captures the point of what is to be found, while removing the preconceptions most of us bring to it. Thanks!

  2. Giusi says:

    ‘I had also attempted to explore yoga practically by attending a variety of classes filled with either chatty cake-bakers or an intimidating set of competitive, circus-worthy gymnasts’
    that made me laugh so much as I can really relate to that. I am glad you are writing about yoga as Limitless Sky (THE book of 2014 for me) left me with wanting to know more. Keep them coming and thank you for sharing!

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