Yoga is a way of life, an
art of righteous living or an integrated system for the benefit of
the body, mind and inner spirit. This art originated, was perfected and
practiced in India thousands of years ago. The references to yoga are
available in 'Upanishads' and 'Puranas' composed by Indian Aryans in the
later Vedic and post- Vedic period. The main credit for systematizing
yoga goes to
who wrote 'Yoga Sutra', two thousand Years ago. He described the
principles of the full eight fold yogic discipline. He composed the
treatise in brief code words known as 'Sutras'. 'Yoga Sutra' is the most
important basic text on Yoga. It is through this basic treatise that the
essential message of yoga spread throughout the world.
Aim of Yoga is the
attainment of the physical, mental and spiritual health. Patanjali has
recommended eight stages of Yoga discipline.They are -
Yamas- Yamas (abstentions or restrains)
Niyamas- Niyamas (observances)-austerities, purity, contentment,
study, surrender of the ego
Asanas- Physical postures or exercises
Pranayama- Control of vital energy (Breathing control)
Partyahara- Withdrawal of the senses
Concentration of the mind (Contemplation)
Samadhi- Attainment of The super conscious state
History of Yoga - A Complete Overview of the Yoga History
saying, "What's in the past, should stay in the past" - doesn't work
We might already have an idea of what
is but to understand it better, we have to know what it has become as
well as its roots and beginnings. A quick look at the history of Yoga
will help us appreciate its rich tradition and who knows, it might help
us incorporate Yoga into our lives.
Although Yoga is said to be as old as civilization, there is no physical
evidence to support this claim. Earliest archaeological evidence of
Yoga's existence could be found in stone seals which depict figures of
The stone seals place Yoga's existence around 3000 B.C.
Scholars, however, have a reason to believe that Yoga existed long before
that and traced its beginnings in Stone Age Shamanism. Both Shamanism and
Yoga have similar characteristics particularly in their efforts to
improve the human condition at that time. Also, they aim to heal
community members and the practitioners act as religious mediators.
Though we know Yoga as focusing more on the self, it started out as
community-oriented before it turned inward.
For a better discussion of the history of Yoga, we could divide it into
four periods: the Vedic Period, Pre-Classical Period, Classical Period,
and Post-Classical Period.
existence of the Vedas marks this period. The Vedas is the sacred
scripture of Brahmanism that is the basis of modern-day Hinduism. It is a
collection of hymns which praise a divine power. The Vedas contains the
oldest known Yogic teachings and as such, teachings found in the Vedas
are called Vedic Yoga. This is characterized by rituals and ceremonies
that strive to surpass the limitations of the mind.
During this time, the Vedic people relied on rishis or dedicated Vedic
Yogis to teach them how to live in divine harmony. Rishis were also
gifted with the ability to see the ultimate reality through their
intensive spiritual practice. It was also during this time that Yogis
living in seclusion (in forests) were recorded.
creation of the Upanishads marks the Pre-Classical Yoga. The 200
scriptures of the Upanishads (the conclusion of the revealed literature)
describe the inner vision of reality resulting from devotion to Brahman.
These explain three subjects: the ultimate reality (Brahman), the
transcendental self (atman), and the relationship between the two. The
Upanishads further explain the teachings of the Vedas.
Yoga shares some characteristics not only with Hinduism but also with
Buddhism that we can trace in its history. During the sixth century B.C.,
Buddha started teaching Buddhism, which stresses the importance of
and the practice of physical postures. Siddharta Gautama, the first
Buddhist to study Yoga, achieved enlightenment at the age of 35.
Later, around 500 B.C., the
or Lord's Song was created and this is currently the oldest known Yoga
scripture. It is devoted entirely to Yoga and has confirmed that it has
been an old practice for some time. However, it doesn't point to a
specific time wherein Yoga could have started. The central point to the
Gita is that - to be alive means to be active and in order to avoid
difficulties in our lives and in others, our actions have to benign and
have to exceed our egos.
Just as the Upanishads further the Vedas, the Gita builds on and
incorporates the doctrines found in the Upanishads. In the Gita, three
facets must be brought together in our lifestyle: Bhakti or loving
devotion, Jnana which is knowledge or contemplation, and Karma which is
about selfless actions. The Gita then tried to unify Bhakti Yoga, Jnana
Yoga, and Karma Yoga and it is because of this that it has gained
importance. The Gita was a conversation between Prince Arjuna and God-man
Krishna and it basically stresses the importance of opposing evil.
Classical Period is marked by another creation - the Yoga Sutra. Written
by Patanjali around the second century, it was an attempt to define and
standardize Classical Yoga. It is composed of 195 aphorisms or sutras
(from the Sanskrit word which means thread) that expound upon the Raja
Yoga and its underlying principle, Patanjali's Eightfold path of Yoga
(also called Eight Limbs of Classical Yoga). These are:
- Yama, which means
social restraints or ethical values;
- Niyama, which is
personal observance of purity, tolerance, and study;
or physical exercises;
which means breath control or regulation;
- Pratyahara or sense
withdrawal in preparation for Meditation;
- Dharana, which is
- Dhyana, which means
- Samadhi, which means
Patanjali believed that each individual is a composite of matter (prakriti)
and spirit (purusha). He further believed that the two must be separated
in order to cleanse the spirit - a stark contrast to Vedic and
Pre-Classical Yoga that signify the union of body and spirit.
Patanjali's concept was dominant for some centuries that some Yogis
focused exclusively on Meditation and neglected their Asanas. It was only
later that the belief of the body as a temple was rekindled and attention
to the importance of the
was revived. This time, Yogis attempted to use Yoga techniques to change
the body and make it immortal.
At this point, we see a proliferation of literature as well as the
practice of Yoga. Post-classical Yoga differs from the first three since
its focus is more on the present. It no longer strives to liberate a
person from reality but rather teaches one to accept it and live at the
Yoga was introduced in the West during the early 19th century. It was
first studied as part of Eastern Philosophy and began as a movement for
health and vegetarianism around the 1930's. By the 1960's, there was an
influx of Indian teachers who expounded on Yoga. One of them was
Maharishi Mahesh, the Yogi who popularized
Meditation. Another one is a prominent Yoga Guru Swami
Sivananda. Sivananda was a doctor in Malaysia and he later opened schools
in America and Europe. The most prominent of his works is his modified
Five Principles of Yoga which are:
- Savasana or proper
- Asanas or proper
- Pranayama or proper
- Proper diet; and
- Dhyana or positive
thinking and Meditation
Sivananda wrote more than
200 books on Yoga and Philosophy and had many disciples who furthered
Yoga. Some of them were Swami Satchitananda who introduced chanting and
Yoga to Woodstock; Swami Sivananada Radha who explored the connection
between psychology and Yoga, and Yogi Bhajan who started teaching
in the 70's.
Up to this day, Yoga continues to proliferate and spread its teachings,
crossing the boundaries of culture and language.
Yoga refers to traditional physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines,
originating in ancient India, whose goal is the attainment of a state of
perfect spiritual insight and tranquility. The word is associated with
meditative practices in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
Within Hindu philosophy, the word yoga is used to refer to one of the six
orthodox (āstika) schools of Hindu philosophy. Yoga in this sense is
based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and is also known as Rāja Yoga to
distinguish it from later schools. Patanjali's system is discussed and
elaborated upon in many classical Hindu texts, and has also been
influential in Buddhism and Jainism. The Bhagavadgita introduces
distinctions such as Jnana Yoga ("yoga based on knowledge") vs. Karma
Yoga ("yoga based on action"). Other systems of philosophy introduced in
Hindusim during the medieval period are Bhakti Yoga, and Hatha Yoga.
The Sanskrit word yoga has the literal meaning of "yoke", from a root yuj.
As a term for a system of abstract meditation or mental abstraction, it
was introduced by Patanjali in the 2nd century BC. Someone who practices
yoga or follows the yoga philosophy with a high level of commitment is
called a yogi or yogini.
The goals of yoga are varied and range from improving health to achieving
Moksha. Within the Hindu monist schools of Advaita Vedanta, Shaivism and
Jainism, the goal of yoga takes the form of Moksha, which is liberation
from all worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death (Samsara), at
which point there is a realization of identity with the Supreme Brahman.
In the Mahabharata, the goal of yoga is variously described as entering
the world of Brahma, as Brahman, or as perceiving the Brahman or Atman
that pervades all things. For the bhakti schools of Vaishnavism, bhakti
or service to Svayam bhagavan itself may be the ultimate goal of the yoga
process, where the goal is to enjoy an eternal relationship with Vishnu.