The science of yoga is one of many unique contributions of India to the world. It seeks to make possible the discovery and realization of God through yogic practices. Acharya Patanjali, the founder of yoga, hailed perhaps from the district of Gonda (Go nard) in Uttar Pradesh. His text on yoga is known as the Yoga-sutra. It was composed around 200 BCE. “The Father of Yoga”, compiled 195 sutras, which serve as a framework for making Yoga a daily routine and leading a moral and responsible life.
The life history of Patanjali is full of legends and contradictions. There are no authentic records regarding his birth. As per one story, he fell (pata) into the hands (anjali) of a woman, thus giving him the name Patanjali.
An interesting story goes thus: once, while watching a dance by Lord Shiva, Adi Shesha (the cosmic serpent on whom Lord Vishnu rests found it unbearable to support the weight of Lord Vishnu. Amazed at this, he asked Narayan the reason for the same. The lord said that this was because of his harmony with Lord Shiva’s energy state, owing to the practice of Yoga. Realizing the value and benefits of Yoga, Adi Shesha decided to be born amongst humans as ‘Patanjali’, to teach them the great science of yoga, and impart to them the gift of healthy life.
Patanjali defines yoga in the second sutra, “Yoga is the cessation of worldly mental activity.” He prescribed the control of prana (life breath) as the means to control the body, mind and soul. This subsequently rewards one with good health and inner happiness. Acharya Patanjali’s 84 yogic postures effectively enhance the efficiency of the respiratory, circulatory, nervous, digestive and endocrine systems and many other organs of the body.
Yoga has “eight limbs” in which Acharya Patanjali shows the attainment of the bliss of God in samadhi to be the ultimate goal of life. It can be attained through the disciplines of yama (restraint), niyama (observance), asana (posture), pranayama (breath-control), pratydhara (sense-withdrawal), dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). The science of yoga has gained popularity because of its scientific approach and health benefits.
Yoga also holds an honored place as one of six orthodox philosophies in the Indian philosophical system.