Yoga

Origin of Yoga

 
‘Yoga’ -the very word radiates peace and tranquility. This feeling probably stems from the etymology of the word.

The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word 'Yuj' which essentially means to join or unite. The union referred to is that of the individual self uniting with Cosmic Consciousness or the Universal Spirit. Yoga is a means to achieving this goal.

Born in India, almost 26,000 years ago, Yoga is believed to have evolved during the period of the ‘Sat Yuga’, also called the Golden age. This period became known as a time of everlasting peace and abundant blessings, filled with seekers of the Eternal Truth. That is why, probably, even today we associate yoga with sages and hermits.

It was not until the discovery of the Indus- valley civilization, the largest civilization, that knowledge about the origin of Yoga surfaced. Excavations give evidence of yoga’s existence during this period; yogi -like figures engraved on soapstone seals have been unearthed. In fact, it was the Aryans, migrating from the north- west, who were instrumental in discovering yoga.
 
The history of yoga is divided into four broad categories:

1. Vedic
2. Pre-classical
3. Classical
4. Post-classical


VEDIC


The ancient texts of Vedas are the oldest scriptures in the world. The Sanskrit word Veda means "knowledge" and rig means "praise". Thus the Rig Vedas are a collection of hymns that are in praise of a higher power. Other three Vedas are Yajur Veda (knowledge of sacrifice), Sama Veda (Knowledge of chants), and Atharvana Veda (knowledge of Atharvana).

Vedic Yoga can also be called Archaic Yoga, as people believed in a ritualistic way of life. Rituals, sacrifices, and ceremonies existed because they were considered a means of connection to the spirit world. People turned to rishis or Vedic yogis for illumination. Vedic masters were blessed with a vision of the supreme reality and their hymns speak of their marvelous intuitions.


PRE-CLASSICAL


This covers an extensive period of approximately 2,000 years until the second century. Gnostic texts, called the Upanishads, that spoke in detail about the self and ultimate reality appeared. There are approximately 200 Upanishads. One of the most remarkable yoga scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gita, which was composed around 500 B.C.

The central teaching of the Gita is, to do ones' duty and not expect the fruit of the action.

In 1200 BC the great teacher Rishaba, who was the exponent of the tradition of Jainism, also emphasized on efforts dedicated to the liberation of the spirit.

It was during this time, that Yoga found its way into Buddhism too; Lord Buddha was the first Buddhist to study Yoga. Buddhist scriptures lay stress on meditation and physical postures, which are Yogic processes.


CLASSICAL


In the second century C.E, Patanjali composed the yoga sutras, which consists of 195 aphorisms. They expound the Raja yoga or the eight-fold path, which are meant to be memorized, as it is not in written form. The earliest known Sanskrit commentary on the sutras is Yoga- Bhashya (speech on Yoga), by Vyasa in the fifth century.

Patanjali believed that each individual is composed of matter (prakriti) and spirit (purusha). He advocated that yoga would restore the spirit to its absolute reality, a teaching that saw a shift from non dualism to dualism.


POSTCLASSICAL

 

This period in yoga affirms the teachings of Vedanta, that there is ultimate unity in everything in the cosmos. Vedanta is the philosophical system based on the teachings of the Upanishads.

The earlier eras saw yogis laying emphasis only on meditation and contemplation. Their goal was to shed their mortal coils and merge with the infinite; but, during this period, yogis began to probe the hidden powers of the body. Yoga masters designed advanced yogic practices that would rejuvenate the body and prolong its life. This led to Hatha Yoga, which is presently practised throughout the world.

What is Hatha Yoga?

The yoga of postures or asanas is called Hatha Yoga. It broadly consists of asanas (body postures), pranayama (body techniques) relaxation and cleansing techniques. The main goal of Hatha yoga is to facilitate concentration and meditation, which is actually a preparation for achieving the final stage of yoga, called Samadhi.

Along with Hatha yoga, Tantra yoga also developed in this period. Tantra yoga is the path of rituals and mantra or mystic syllables.