The Origin of Yoga is one of the most discussed topics in the world. In this article, some of the aspects of yoga’s origin will be discussed.
Yoga is one of the most popular practices undertaken by people. It is estimated that a staggering 55 million people practised it in the year 2020. Presently, many practice yoga every day as their daily exercise routine.
That are various health benefits of this practice that can be beneficial for the body and mind. Yoga benefits the health of your heart and eases arthritis. It also manages stress and improves the quality of life.
Known to be rewarding and beneficial for the mind, body, and soul, it also has a very interesting history.
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How was yoga introduced to the world, and what philosophies does the practice follow? This article covers everything you need to know about the origin of yoga.
1. What is Yoga?
Yoga is defined as a spiritual discipline based on subtle science. It aims to bring harmony to mind and body. The discipline involves a set of mental, spiritual, and physical practices.
Yoga has been derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj,’ which translates as joining or uniting.
As per various yoga scriptures, the practice leads to the union of an individual and the Universe. This indicates peaceful coherence between the mind and body or man and nature.
The definition of yoga differs in several classical Indian texts. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, dating back to the 4th century BCE, define the practice as calming down consciousness patterns.
Another Indian classical text mentioning yoga is Linga Purana, from approximately the 7th to 10th century CE.
2. History of Yoga
There is no specific chronology of the origin of yoga other than the practice developing in ancient India. There are suggested origins of yoga in the following:
- Indus Valley civilization,
- Pre – Vedic eastern Indian states,
- During the Vedic period,
- The Sramana movement
Speculations about the origin of yoga began to emerge in the texts of c. 500 to c. 200 BCE. As philosophical schools of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism were taking form, an orderly philosophical system of yoga began to commence.
The origin may have elements in pre-Vedic India. Many findings state that yoga originated in the Indus Valley Civilization.
Scholars note that the Pashupati Seal found in the Indus Valley site resembles the figure in an asana position. This position is popularly known as the meditation posture, the main indicator of the origin of yoga.
Vedic Period (Date: 1700 – 500 BCE)
Traditional Hinduism regards Vedas to be the oldest and ideal source of spiritual knowledge. Bodily postures, Ascetic practices (Sannyasa), and concentration have been described in the Vedas.
This is believed to be the precursor to yoga. Geoffrey Samuel suggests that the evidence of yoga’s origin occurred around the 6th and 5th centuries BCE.
The practice is mentioned in the text of Rig Veda (c.1500 to 1000 BCE). It was aimed at a dedication for Savitri, the rising Sun – God in the morning.
However, Rigveda does not mention anything about its traditions or practices.
The early reference to the discipline was found instead in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of Hinduism’s first scriptures.
The practice of pranayama (regulating breath) and pratyahara (concentration) is mentioned in the Upanishad hymns.
Preclassical Era (Date: 500 to 200 BCE)
Buddhist texts describe meditative and yogic practices, some of which Buddha borrowed from the Sramana tradition. Mahavira has been said to attained omniscience by using an asana where he sat on his heels and balanced his body.
There is no uniformity when mentioning yoga in Mahabharata, but terminologies such as Viveka (discrimination) and Vichara (reflection) are present. The text also emphasizes withdrawal from certain thoughts and sensations until Purusha or self is realized.
Mokshadrama, a chapter in Mahabharata, describes the practice of an essential meditation.
It explains Yoga as an experience of unity between the soul (aatma) and the universe (Brahma).
2. Bhagwad Gita
Bhagwad Gita is part of the Mahabharata and contains general teachings about the discipline.
There is an entire chapter dedicated to traditional yoga and medication. It further introduces three eminent types of yoga:
- Karma Yoga – This involves performing selfless duties towards others.
- Bhakti Yoga – This means the practice of devotion. It focuses on devoting yourself towards any personal deity.
- Jnana Yoga – This involves knowledge and the elimination of the illusions created by the world and perception. This form is also known as the path of self-realization.
Classical Era (Date: 200 BC – 500 BC)
During the pre-classical stage, various ideas, beliefs, and techniques were incorporated into yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define the first systematic representation. Patanjali is significant in the origin of yoga.
The text, written around the 2nd century, describes Raja or Classical yoga. The writing defines The Eight Limbed Path or ‘Samadhi.’ They have been assembled into various steps and stages:
1. Yama – The five abstentions include:
- Ahimsa (no violence),
- Satya (Truth),
- Asteya (non-stealing),
- Brahmacharya (celibacy), and
- Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)
2. Niyama – This includes the five observances:
- Shaucha (purity),
- Santosha (contentment),
- Tapas (meditation, perseverance),
- Svadhyaya (self-reflection), and
- Ishvara-Pranidhana (contemplation of the Supreme)
3. Asana – Patanjali’s Sutras refer to it as a seated position for meditation
4. Pranayama – Breathing exercises
5. Pratyahara – Withdrawal from external objects of the sense organs
6. Dharaan – Concentration of fixing attention on one single object
7. Dyana – Intense contemplation of nature
8. Smaadhi – Achieving liberation
Patanjali is often considered to be the father of yoga. He strongly influenced at length the Yoga Sutras.
After Patanjali, a few centuries later, certain yogi masters created specific practices. They created these practices to rejuvenate the body. To achieve enlightenment, they embraced the physical body and rejected ancient Vedas.
These yogi masters made use of Raja and Jnana yoga to build their techniques. Additionally, they also added meditation which was considered to be important to cleanse the mind.
This was the period that popularized Hatha Yoga. Today, most of the asanas are part of Hatha and are well-known in the West.
3. Modern Period of Yoga
Swami Vivekananda is a prominent figure in spreading this practice to Western societies.
Vivekananda kept in mind the lifestyle that must be focused on while performing yoga. He concentrated on physical well-being, introducing five basic principles. Vivekananda adapted the ancient wisdom of discipline as follows:
- Asana or proper exercise
- Pranayama or proper breathing
- Savasana or proper diet
- Healthy diet
- Vedanta and Dynana or proper thinking and meditation
The modern yoga practice consists of a majority of asanas combined with breathing exercises. This seems to be an interesting factor as older traditions in Hinduism never paid much attention to asanas.
Yoga as an exercise was created by mixing the Western style of gymnastics and postures. This originated in the 20th century and was introduced by Shri Yogendra and Swami Kulvalyananda.
Moreover, the Asanas in this practice increased from 80 to over 900 by the year 1984. Goals such as Liberation of Moksha were soon replaced with fitness and health.
4. Traditional Yoga
The discipline is practised by all Indian religions using various methods.
Classical or Raja yoga is described in the Yogic Sutras of Patanjali. This is also considered to be one of the orthodox philosophical schools in Hinduism.
It also includes ethical practices, metaphysics, epistemology, systematic exercises, and self-developmental mind and body techniques.
This form is known for a wide variety of practice methods.
This practice has an ultimate goal, Nirvana (cessation), which is seen as a permanent end of suffering.
In early Buddhism, they taught varying yogic practices. They include four meditations or mental absorptions, the establishment of mindfulness, mindfulness of breath, and contemplations.
In Jainism, Yoga has been a central practice in the religion. The spirituality of Jainism is thoroughly based on these strict codes:
- Ahimsa- Non-violence, which also includes vegetarianism
- Almsgiving -Giving away of Dana or Food
- Right Faith in the three jewels – They include right faith, knowledge, and conduct that leads to the path of liberation
- The practice of fasting and Yogic practices
Modern yoga in Jainism has introduced some new forms. The most influential is the ‘preska system,’ which includes breath control, mudras, mantras, and bandhas.
Today the yoga we observe consists of a wide range of techniques focusing on postures (asanas) and meditations. It is largely defined by some of the teachings, practices, and philosophies of the Yogi School.
There are namely four types, as described by Elizabeth de Michele.
1. Modern Psychsomatic Yoga
This form involves body, mind, and spirit training. Instead of emphasizing the doctrine, it focuses on practicality.
2. Modern Meditaional Yoga
Modern Mediational form uses mental techniques for meditation and concentration. This form involves chanting a mantra for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day. It can be viewed as both religious and self-developmental for an individual.
3. Modern Denominational Yoga
This form is centred around Neo- Hindu gurus. They teach students to purify themselves and strengthen their belief in God.
4. Modern Postural Yoga
This form is widespread among the Western as it emphasizes health benefits. This is usually combined with Hatha, especially pranayama and asanas.
As one can notice, the transformation of yoga from ancient to modern has evolved thoroughly. There are various schools, classes, and even tourism that readily teach people this practice.
Yet, one must always consider the origin of yoga and bear its true value.