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The First Yogi

Woman on mountain

Yoga is more than a fitness fad. In Vancouver, there are more than 50 yoga studios, plus dozens of gyms that offer classes. There are even outdoor meetings held in parks! If you take transit, chances are high that you’ve seen someone carrying a yoga mat. According to Google search trends, Canada googles the word ‘yoga’ more than any other country, and British Columbians google it the most within Canada. Yoga has added to Vancouver’s culture of growing towards a greener and healthier life.

Yoga has become routine for many people, but few actually know about its mythical origins. For centuries, yoga’s origin stories passed down from master to pupil. This oral tradition led to several interpretations, and it wasn’t until recently that they were written on paper. Some say yoga originated 5,000 years ago, while other cultures say it goes as far back as 15,000 years.

The main character of our story, Lord Shiva, appears in multiple versions. In the Hindu Tradition, he is a supreme deity who came to Earth to teach us yoga. Those in the Yogic Tradition believe that Shiva was a man who evolved to a higher being after he developed yoga.

Either way, our story starts in Tibet. We find ourselves in Shiva’s home near the Himalayas on Mount Kailash—a mountain so sacred that to this day, no one is allowed to climb it. Here, Shiva developed a technique that was a mix of dancing in extreme ecstasy and suddenly holding himself still for hours. This technique became so advanced that Shiva was able to not only to gain full control of his body but also of his karmic energy and his soul. When he reached the final stage of enlightenment (also known as Samadhi), it became hard to tell whether he was moving or holding still.

After becoming the first Yogi, Shiva was able to reach high levels of meditation and Yogic energies. He reached the point (supposedly) where he was able to control the universe’s functions in his subconscious. However, he was hard-pressed to notice the presence of people watching him practice outside his home. He would ignore them, hoping they would leave. There was one person he could not ignore, however—his wife, Parvati.

Shiva’s love for Parvati was so great that he managed to come back from his state to seclude himself with her. He then taught her the gentlest ways of intimacy, in great detail. In his Sutras, Shiva referred to Parvati as the beautiful one, the gracious one, and the resplendent one.

Shiva and Parvati started the dance of mystic love, described as “Yujyate Anena Iti Yogah,” which means “one that joins in yoga” or “joining the individual soul to the universal soul.” By teaching Parvati the secrets of yoga through 84 Asanas, they were cosmically-bonded for eternity. This was when Shiva became known as the first Guru.

Shiva and Parvati emerged from their seclusion to find that most of the spectators had left. Only seven men remained, and they were eager for Shiva to teach them the ways of yoga. Shiva, in turn, dismissed them. He called them impure, asserting that it would take them millions of years to learn the true power of yoga. The men refused to leave. Eager to receive Shiva’s teachings, the men remained on-site to meditate and prepare themselves through purifying Pranayama.

Shiva was convinced that no one else but Parvati was entitled to know the secrets of yoga. However, Parvati saw how committed those seven were to learning about yoga and how it could ease the suffering of mankind. She slowly persuaded Shiva to share his secrets. It took many years for Shiva to stop seeing these men as impure, and to realize that they were receptive to knowledge.

It was on a full moon—as the solstice was shifting from summer to winter—that Shiva started teaching the cosmic secrets of yoga to these seven men. They would later become known as the Seven Sages. They spread the knowledge of yoga to South Asia, which would then be spread to the rest of the world thousands of years later.

One may say that the only reason we get to practice yoga in Vancouver today is because of the love shared by Shiva and Parvati. May their love fill you with cosmic energy the next time you practice it.