The first-ever written text on Hatha yoga, the ‘Goraksha Samhita,’ or ‘Goraksha Paddhati,’ can be attributed to Goraksha. An Indian sage, he is a semi-legendary figure who is said to have lived in the 9th or 10th century and is believed to have been a student of Matsyendra - the first-ever man to learn the teachings of yoga.
His name is derived from the Sanskrit terms ‘go’ - meaning cow, and ‘raksha’ - meaning protector. The name is thought to derive from his association with Shiva, who is often referred to as Lord of the Cattle, though it may also be a nod to his spiritual teachings, as cows are sacred creatures in India. This title associates the man with this precious creature and is a symbol and recognition of his wisdom, knowledge, and teachings at a higher level of spirituality.
Said to be of low birth, Goraksha soon became known as a miracle worker, dedicated to teaching, and to satisfying his master, Matsyendra. Many see his life as a lesson - we all have fantastic potential to awaken, and the power to wield significant influence in our chosen teachings, irrespective of birth and obstacles along the way.
Within yoga, ‘goraksha’ was often a traditional term applied to followers of Hatha yoga, and in particular, yogis who have mastered the practice of turning the tongue to the back of the throat and ‘swallowing’ it; a concept introduced within the practice of the namesake.
Goraksha is also thought to have been the founder of an order made up of wandering ascetics, known as the ‘Kanphata,’ or ‘Split-Ears.’ They derived this name from their tradition of splitting the cartilage of their ears for the purpose of wearing large earrings, and are said to have worked many miracles and wonders on their travels.