History of Yoga
Origin of Yoga/Meaning and Importance of Yoga: 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. 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.
Yoga History/Yoga as an Indian Heritage: The history of yoga is divided into four broad categories:
- 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. 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 YOGA: In the second century C.E, Patanjali composed the yoga sutras, which is composed of 195 aphorisms. They expound the Raja yoga or the eight-fold path, which are meant to be memorized, as it was 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.
- POST-CLASSICAL YOGA: 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.
MODERN YOGA: The history of modern yoga began with the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893. Modern yoga arrived in the United States during the late 1800's. It was at this congress that Swami Vivekananda, a disciple of saint Ramakrishna, made a lasting impression on the American public . After Swami Vivekananda, the next popular teacher in the west was Paramahansa Yogananda. He wrote the famous "Autobiography of a Yogi". His teachings are called the yogoda teachings. Since the early 1930's and till his death in 1986, Jiddu Krishnamurthy attracted western minds with his philosophical thoughts. He expounded the wisdom of Jnana yoga and drew large gatherings. He has followers all over the world. In the mid 1960's, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced Transcendental Meditation to the west. He was associated with the Beatles. In 1965, Shrila Prabhupada came to the United States and founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKON). He spread a movement based on Bhakthi Yoga (yoga of devotion).
One of the most prominent yoga gurus was the Himalayan master, Swami Sivananda. He served as a doctor in Malaysia and opened yoga centers in Europe and America. Bhagawan Rajneesh, also known as Osho, was a widely popular guru in the 1970's and 1980's. The great Sri Krishnamacharya taught the Viniyoga Hatha Yoga. His son, Desikar and Desikar's brother-in-law, B.K.S.Iyengar continue the tradition. Sathya Sai Baba, whom millions of people all over the world throng to see, is the living yoga master of today; he is called the 'man of miracles'.
The Essence of Yoga/Elements Of Yoga:
The true essence of yoga revolves around elevating the life force or ‘Kundalini’ at the base of the spine. It aims to achieve this through a series of physical and mental exercises. At the physical level, the methods comprise various yoga postures or 'asanas' that aim to keep the body healthy. The mental techniques include breathing exercises or ‘pranayama’ and meditation or ‘dhyana’ to discipline the mind.
The ultimate goal of yoga is, however, to help the individual to transcend the self and attain enlightenment. As the Bhagavad-Gita says, “A person is said to have achieved yoga, the union with the Self, when the perfectly disciplined mind gets freedom from all desires, and becomes absorbed in the Self alone.”
Yoga is not a religion; it is a way of living that aims towards 'a healthy mind in a healthy body'. Man is a physical, mental and spiritual being; yoga helps promote a balanced development of all the three.
Other forms of physical exercises, like aerobics, assure only physical well-being. They have little to do with the development of the spiritual or astral body. Yogic exercises recharge the body with cosmic energy and facilitates:
- Attainment of perfect equilibrium and harmony
- Promotes self- healing.
- Removes negative blocks from the mind and toxins from the body.Enhances personal power.Increases self-awareness.Helps in attention, focus and concentration, especially important for children.
- Reduces stress and tension in the physical body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system
- The aspirant feels rejuvenated and energized. Thus, yoga bestows upon every aspirant the powers to control body and mind.