So you want to add some meaning and depth to your life that just isn't provided by playing another round of Bananagrams. Why not adopt an ancient, mystical belief? After all, society offers us a wide choice of age-old practices and belief systems, the more obscure and foreign the better. After all, if something has been practiced for thousands of years, there must be something to it, right?
But take care when you're choosing, because some of these "ancient" practices are about as authentic as the ill-fated Chinese tattoo on your arm that the lady swore meant "pure warrior." For example ...
Ask anyone wearing a leotard and staring off into the middle distance how long yoga has been practiced, and chances are they'll tell you that it's around five thousand years old. In other words, people were stretching and posing serenely several hundred years before aliens secretly built the Egyptian pyramids.
"Shit, I've been on this thing all day. Time for some yoga."
Yoga as we know it today -- a set of postures (asanas) combined with breathing techniques -- dates back to around the grand old year of 1960.
In other words, yoga is as old as Bono.
"But how can that be?" you scream, rending your organic exercise mat in two. Well, that "five thousand years old" claim rests entirely on some 5,000-year-old pictures found in the Indus Valley of a man sitting cross-legged. Though this is one of the main yoga positions, it so happens that it's also the position most people take when, you know, they sit on any flat surface.
The ancient art of sitting on your ass and daydreaming.
Yoga is first mentioned by name in some 2,500-year-old Hindu religious texts called the Upanishads, but this is actually a term relating to a method of strapping horses together -- literally the origin for our word "yoke." The Upanishads use it as a metaphor for a mental prayer technique, but as far as all those weird stretches are concerned, the texts mention exactly one physical posture, and that posture is pretty much "sit in a way that makes meditation comfortable." So the word "yoga" might describe an old Hindu teaching, but then so does the word "avatar," and nobody's claiming that the James Cameron movie reflects an unbroken line of ancient sacred tradition.
The ancients must have really enjoyed the smell of unwashed crotch.
It wasn't until the 19th century that an Indian prince named Krishnaraja Wodeyar III produced something resembling what we call yoga: a manual called the Sritattvanidhi, which listed 122 poses mostly taken from Indian gymnastics. What really kicked-started modern yoga, though, was the influence of the Imperial British, who introduced Indians to the new exercise craze that was sweeping Europe at the time.
"You really should try it, Sahib. It comes from the East."
Later a guy named B.K.S. Iyengar came up with the idea of combining these exercise techniques with some of the teachings described in old Hindu texts like the Yoga Sutras and let the result loose on America in the 1960s. Since then, yoga fans have grown by the millions, with few realizing that they are practicing a chanted-up version of early 20th-century gym class.
Mr. Iyengar is still alive today, and his eyebrows look like wings.