It is becoming increasingly hard to reconcile the 2,500 year old ‘origins’ of yoga with its modern expressions. Many modern styles arise from what can be understood as the second wave of exportation of yoga from the Indian subcontinent to the ‘West’. The first wave occurred in the 1800’s. This early wave was consumed by a minority sub-culture of extremely experimental artists and thinkers in the West. It in no way lead to a mainstream movement. The way yoga was understood then was in line with the highly spiritual and religious origins of the practice - yoga being a manifold system of living that leads to union with god/the divine and a notion of ‘enlightenment’. This system prescribed a lifestyle of which movement/exercise (what we now recognise as the sum-total of ‘yoga’) was only a minute part. It prescribed ideas most people now would be highly suspicious of, including celibacy and patriarchy.
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The practice of yoga mudra is grounded upon an understanding of the five elements that comprise the universe: space (or ether), air, fire, water, and earth. It is said that each finger corresponds to an element: the thumb represents fire; the first finger represents air; the middle finger is space; and the ring finger is earth and the little finger represents water. As we are grains of sands in the great theatre of the universe we too are made up of these elements. When all five elements are working in harmony the body is balanced, optimally operational and healthy; when any one of the elements becomes too dominant, polluted or weakened, the body shifts out of balance and discomfort, illness and disease develops.