By Cameron Gilley, ERYT 200
There are many estimates of the antiquity of Yoga; ranging from 50 to 40,000 years. This vast disparity in age depends on how you define Yoga. For the sake of this post, let us define ‘Yoga’ as the direct participation of awareness with the experience of being embodied as consciousness. Based on this definition, Yoga could be a lot older than we think. How old? Consider the following…
Who was the first person to ever experience Yoga? When did she live? Who happened upon this
wellspring of transformation and insight? Let’s call her Jane. Without any template to follow, without any kind of external guidance, what inspired Jane to take her first shaky steps into the unknown realm of self-realization?
We will never know exactly what Jane’s inspiration was, but if we imagine it in the simplest terms,
Jane’s teacher was nothing other than nature. Not nature as something outside of oneself, but an inner nature; the inborn birthright of every sentient being to experience an intimacy with the universe, as part of the universe itself. In astrophysics, it is common knowledge every heavy element in the human body was formed in the belly of an exploding star. When we look up at the night sky and feel awestruck, we are, as Carl Sagan put it so beautifully “…star stuff, harvesting star light”. The fact these breakthrough moments occur in our lives – whether on a yoga mat or gazing at stars – is some kind of proof the universe is hard-wired for enlightenment. If you leave matter around long enough, pretty soon it becomes conscious and self-aware. How long? So far, about 13.7 billion years. So how old is Yoga as defined here? Well…how old is awareness? In human form it has been around for about 200,000 years. Perhaps elsewhere in this vast universe it has been around much, much longer.
Imagine what it was like for Jane, as she closed her eyes and experienced something she’d never
expected nor even knew was there. That discovery must have been a moment of rebirth. Without
any formal training, just by looking intensely into her experience of being alive, Jane became the
world’s first Yogini. When we strip the modern expression of Yoga to its core, away from its systematic approach of posture, breath, mantra, movement, and meditation, what do we have left? By defining yoga as the direct participation of awareness with the experience of being embodied as consciousness, Yoga becomes an expression of the natural evolution of matter from non-sentience, to sentience, to realization.
If you ever find yourself struggling with your practice – whether trying to wrap your foot behind your head, or wrap your head around some esoteric philosophy – remember Jane. Remember that for her,
Yoga was likely effortless, and probably came as naturally as thirst, hunger or sleep. She didn’t have to strain for it, because it was always there. You don’t have to strain either; you’re hard-wired for enlightenment. It always was, and always will be there.