Adiyogi means the first yogi. According to yogic philosophy, Lord Shiva is not just known as a God, but as the Adiyogi or the first yogi – the originator of yoga and the first guru or Adiguru. He was the one who first put this seed into the human mind. From Sanskrit, adi means first and yogi refers to an adept in yoga.
On another level, when we say “Shiva,” we are referring to a certain yogi, the Adiyogi or the first yogi, and also the Adi Guru, the first Guru, who is the basis of what we know as the yogic science today.
Yoga is the means to know the essential nature of our existence.
The first ones to learn Yoga
The great privilege of learning Yoga for the first time from the Adiyogi was given to Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva. Eventually, Lord Shiva chose the Sapta Rishis (the seven sages) to learn Yoga from him and spread it all over the globe. On Shiva’s instructions, these rishis then moved on to the various parts of the globe to spread the message of Yoga. Hindu myth maintains that Matsya, a fish, overheard Adiyogi’s teachings to Parvati and attained enlightenment. Matsya then accepted Shiva’s offer of reincarnation and came to be known as Matsyendra, after whom the yoga posture Matsyendrasana was named. He was also one of the saptarishi.
The knowledge of Yoga was transmitted to the humans in the form of Agama Shastras. These are the source books for several traditions that have survived to this day. In North India, Gorakshnath propagated the teachings of Adiyogi and this job was done in South India by Agasthya Muni.
The propagation of Yoga
While teaching the first set of his disciples, Lord Shiva did not give any elaborate philosophical explanations. Rather he issued direct instructions on the methods of getting liberated. Some of the scriptures that evolved over the teachings of Shiva are Shiva Sutras and Vighyan Bhairav Tantra. These texts elucidate how humans can conquer the limitations of the body and mind and attain salvation.
The spiritual masters who originated in course of time during different ages made use of this source material and evolved different versions of Yoga. Thus, the lineage of Guru – Sishya continued down the ages to this day.
Myth follows history and informs history, but history never follows myth. The modern mind seeking original truth in the Vedas, and frustrated by myth told as history, will find what it seeks in a Guru. Devotees of Amma will have no trouble recognizing Shiva, the Adi Yogi and Adi Guru (First Yogi and First Guru), in Amma. In succeeding ages, legends around Amma might also reach the status of myth. How great then is our incredibly good fortune to live so near the epic supernova, and to have this tale of Amma’s playful establishment of Yoga at Amritapuri.
Excerpts from Kusuma Gretchen McGregor’s book In the Shelter of Her Arms, My Journey from Darkness to Light with Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi.
The first Yoga Session at ashram with Amma, Adi Guru
One morning Amma called me to her room shortly after breakfast. Someone had told her that I knew hatha yoga, and Amma wanted to see my asanas (yoga postures). A couple of residents were sitting in a corner not paying much attention. I began with Sun Salutations, then stood in the Archer Posture for a long time and finished up with a headstand and some other postures that Amma requested. I didn’t think much of my yoga practice. I had learned casually from a high school friend’s mother who had only shown me the basics. But Amma loved it and had me repeat certain postures over and over again.
Then Amma asked me to sit facing her in full lotus. That was easy enough. Amma also assumed full lotus, aligning her knees with mine. That was when the fun began! She reached forward and grasped my forearms. I reciprocated. Then we began making slow clockwise circles together. First small, then the arc grew bigger and bigger. Soon Amma was sweeping backwards just above the floor level, as I was leaning forward to counter balance Amma’s weight and force of movement. Then my torso circled backwards, just above the floor level, barely angled enough to keep from touching the floor, but Amma’s weight and swing counterbalanced me.
Amma, through her grip, indicated to go faster. So, round and round in this swirling motion we went in perfect rhythm. I had never done this before! It was beyond exhilarating! Amma’s attendant came and kneeled nearby and I could hear her saying, “Be careful, you are going to bump heads! Be careful! Stop now!” But I knew that we were in perfect sync and rhythm in that movement. And there was no slowing down, as Amma was driving, not me! Finally, Amma did slow down and we collapsed in a fit of laughter. My head was not spinning at all, but my soul had definitely been spun!
After catching our breath, Amma instructed me to begin teaching yoga to the other women residents. The class would be held in Amma’s room in the morning after she went downstairs. And so, the first yoga class for women at the ashram was inaugurated by the universe’s greatest yogini, Amma! “