History of yoga

History of yoga

The History of Yoga is often emphasized to derive from prehistoric roots, and develops out of Vedic asceticism (tapas). Ideas of uniting mind, body and soul in the cosmic one find expression already in the Upanishads and the later Brahmanas (such as the Shatapatha Brahmana), commentaries on the Vedas.

Yoga as a Hindu philosophy ("darshana") is first expounded in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This earliest school of Yoga retrospectively came to be known by the retronym Raja Yoga to distinguish it from later schools.

From its first elaborations in Hindu texts, absorption into Buddhist and Jain philosophies, up to its modern suffusion into secular life, its applicability has stood the test of time.

Indus Valley seals

Several seals discovered at Indus Valley Civilization (c. 3300–1700 BC) sites depict figures in a yoga- or meditation-like posture, "a form of ritual discipline, suggesting a precursor of yoga." [archaeologist Gregory Possehl (2003), p. 144] Archaeologist Gregory Possehl points to 16 specific "yogi glyptics" [Possehl (2003), p. 145] in the corpus of Mature Harappan artifacts as pointing to Harappan devotion to "ritual discipline and concentration." These images show that the yoga pose "may have been used by deities and humans alike." [Possehl (2003), p. 144]

The most widely known of these images was named the "Pashupati seal" [Marshall, Sir John, "Mohenjo Daro and the Indus Civilization", London 1931] by its discoverer, John Marshall, who believed that it represented a "proto-Shiva" figure. [Flood (1996), pp. 28-29.] Many modern authorities discount the idea that this "Pashupati" (Lord of Animals, Sanskrit "IAST|paśupati") [For translation of "IAST|paśupati" as "Lord of Animals" see: Michaels, p. 312.] represents a Shiva or Rudra figure. [Keay, p. 14.] [Possehl (2003), p. 143] Gavin Flood characterizes the Shiva or Rudra view as "speculative", and goes on to say that it is not clear from the 'Pashupati' seal that the figure is seated in a yoga posture, or that the shape is intended to represent a human figure. [Flood (1996), pp. 28-29.] [Flood (2003), pp. 204-205.] Authorities who support the idea that the 'Pashupati' figure shows a figure in a yoga or meditation posture include Archaeologist Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, current Co-director of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project in Pakistan [Kenoyer describes the figure as "seated in yogic position" with "the heels...pressed together under the groin." [http://www.harappa.com/indus/33.html "Around the Indus in 90 Slides" by Jonathan Mark Kenoyer] ] [ [http://www.harappa.com/indus/induscopy.html "Around the Indus in 90 Slides" copyright information] ] and Indologist Heinrich Zimmer. [Zimmer describes the figure as "seated like a yogi." Zimmer, Heinrich, "Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization". Princeton University Press; New Ed edition (May 1, 1972). ISBN 978-0691017785]

Upanishadic (ca. 800-100 BC)

Explicit examples of the concept and terminology of yoga appear in the Upanishads (primarily thirteen principal texts of the Vedanta, that are the culmination of all Vedic philosophy). ref|commentary

In the Maitrayaniya Upanishad (ca. 200-300 BCE) yoga surfaces as:

Classical - Patanjali's 'Yoga Sutras' (ca. 200 BC)

Inappropriate tone|date=December 2007In the West, outside of Hindu culture, "yoga" is usually understood to refer to Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga is, however, a particular system propagated by Swami Swatamarama, a yogic sage of the 15th century in India.

After the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras, the most fundamental text of Yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Swami Swatamarama, that lists in great detail all the main asanas, pranayama, mudra and bandha that are familiar to today's yoga student. This line of yoga is dedicated to Lord Adi Nath, a name for Lord Shiva, who is believed to have imparted the secret of Hatha Yoga to his divine consort Parvati. It is common for yogins and tantriks of several disciplines to dedicate their practices to a deity under the Hindu ishta-devata concept (see Patanjali's Yoga Sutras) while always striving to achieve beyond that: Brahma. Hindu philosophy in the Vedanta and Yoga streams, as the yogi will remember, views only one thing as being ultimately real: Satchidananda Atman, the Existence-Consciousness-Blissful Self. Very Upanishadic (scientific) in its notions, worship of Gods is a secondary means of focus on the higher being, a conduit to realization of the Divine Ground. Hatha Yoga follows in that vein and thus successfully transcends being particularly grounded in one religion.

Hatha is a Sanskrit word meaning 'violence' or 'force' (according to the Sir Monier-Willians Sanskrit-English Dictionary, page 1287). Nevertheless, there are other common interpretations this term, such as 'sun' (ha) and 'moon' (tha), that would represent opposing energies. Hatha yoga attempts to withdraw the mind from external objects through vigorous physical exercises or "asanas" and controlled breathing or "pranayamas". Asanas teach poise, balance & strength and were originally (and still) practiced to improve the body's physical health and clear the mind in preparation for meditation in the pursuit of enlightenment. "Asana" means "immovable", i.e. static, and often confused with the dynamic 108 natya karanas described in Natya Shastra and, along with the elements of Bhakti Yoga, is embodied in the contemporary form of Bharatanatyam.

By balancing two streams, often known as ida (mental) and pingala (bodily) currents, the shushumna nadi (current of the Self) is said to rise.


In the West, hatha yoga has become wildly popular as a purely physical exercise regimen divorced of its original purpose. Currently, it is estimated that about 30 million Americans practice hatha yoga. But in the Indian subcontinent the traditional practice is still to be found. The guru-shishya (teacher-student) relationship that exists without need for sanction from non-religious educational institutions, and which gave rise to all the great yogins and yogis who made way into international consciousness in the 20th century, has been maintained in India, Nepal and Tibet.

In India, whose Hindu population combines to a staggering 800 million, Yoga is a commonly used word. It isn't unusual to see people performing Sūrya namaskāra (a yogic set of asanas and pranayam dedicated to Surya, the Sun) in the morning or body therapy based on Yoga. While a majority of the populace does not necessarily practice Yoga in its totality, many have in their lives numerous practices and beliefs derived from Yoga. However, for Hindu holy-men, Yoga is a fundamental part of life.

Modern growth of yoga in the West

In the West followers of yoga have taken a less spiritual approach and focusing more on the physical part of it that is stretching and breathing. While Yoga is a religion to many, most practitioners in the west separate yoga from its spiritual goal, seeing yoga strictly as an exercise/fitness regimen, or an overall program of keeping physical and emotional wellbeing. However, some modern arts such as Zen Yoga seek to bridge mind-body connection by blending the philosophies of tai chi and yoga together to create a spiritual practice.


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