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Yoga   is the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace.[1][2] The term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samādhau (to concentrate).[3] The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali defines yoga as "the stilling of the changing states of the mind"[1] . Yoga has also been popularly defined as "union with the divine" in other contexts and traditions.[4]Various traditions of yoga are found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.[5][6][7][6] In Hinduism, yoga is one of the six āstika ("orthodox") schools of Hindu philosophy.[8] Yoga is also an important part of Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.[9][10][11]
Pre–philosophical speculations and diverse ascetic practices of first millennium BCE were systematized into a formal philosophy in early centuries CE by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[12] By the turn of the first millennium, hatha yoga emerged from tantra.[13][14] It along with its many modern variations, is the style that many people associate with the word yoga today. Vajrayana Buddhism, founded by the Indian Mahasiddhas,[15] has a parallel series of asanas and pranayamas, such as caṇḍālī[16] and yantra yoga. Indian monks, beginning with Swami Vivekananda, brought yoga to the West in the late 19th century. In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world. This form of yoga is often called Hatha yoga. Many studies have tried to determine the effectiveness of yoga as a complementary intervention for cancer, schizophrenia, asthma and heart disease.[17][18][19][20] In a national survey, long-term yoga practitioners in the United States reported musculo–skeletal and mental health improvements
In Vedic Sanskrit, the more commonly used, literal meaning of the Sanskrit word yoga which is "to add", "to join", "to unite", or "to attach" from the root yuj, already had a much more figurative sense, where the yoking or harnessing of oxen or horses takes on broader meanings such as "employment, use, application, performance" (compare the figurative uses of "to harness" as in "to put something to some use"). All further developments of the sense of this word are post-Vedic. More prosaic moods such as "exertion", "endeavour", "zeal" and "diligence" are also found in Epic Sanskrit.[citation needed]There are very many compound words containing yog in Sanskrit. Yoga can take on meanings such as "connection", "contact", "method", "application", "addition" and "performance". For example, guṇá-yoga means "contact with a cord"; chakrá-yoga has a medical sense of "applying a splint or similar instrument by means of pulleys (in case of dislocation of the thigh)"; chandrá-yoga has the astronomical sense of "conjunction of the moon with a constellation"; puṃ-yoga is a grammatical term expressing "connection or relation with a man", etc. Thus, bhakti-yoga means "devoted attachment" in the monotheistic Bhakti movement. The term kriyā-yoga has a grammatical sense, meaning "connection with a verb". But the same compound is also given a technical meaning in the Yoga Sutras (2.1), designating the "practical" aspects of the philosophy, i.e. the "union with the Supreme" due to performance of duties in everyday life[22]
In Hindu philosophy, the word yoga is used to refer to one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Hindu philosophy.[note 1] The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are often labelled as Rāja yoga.[24] According to Pāṇini, a 6th-century BCE Sanskrit grammarian, the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samādhau (to concentrate).[25] In the context of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the root yuj samādhau (to concentrate) is considered by traditional commentators as the correct etymology.[26] In accordance with Pāṇini, Vyasa (c. 4th or 5th century CE), who wrote the first commentary on the Yoga Sutras,[27] states that yoga means samādhi (concentration).[28] In other texts and contexts, such as the Bhagavad Gītā and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the word yoga has been used in conformity with yujir yoge (to yoke).[29]Someone who practices yoga or follows the yoga philosophy with a high level of commitment is called a yogi or yogini.[30]


The ultimate goal of Yoga is moksha (liberation) though the exact definition of what form this takes depends on the philosophical or theological system with which it is conjugated. In Shaiva theology, yoga is used to unite kundalini with Shiva.[31] Mahabharata defines the purpose of yoga as the experience of Brahman or Ātman pervading all things.[32]In the specific sense of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined as citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ (the cessation of the perturbations of the mind).[23] This is described by Patanjali as the necessary condition for transcending discursive knowledge and to be one with the divinely understood "spirit" ("purusha"): "Absolute freedom occurs when the lucidity of material nature and spirit are in pure equilibrium."[33] In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali indicates that the ultimate goal of yoga is a state of permanent peace or Kaivalya.[2]Apart from the spiritual goals, the physical postures of yoga are used to alleviate health problems, reduce stress and make the spine supple in contemporary times. Yoga is also used as a complete exercise program and physical therapy routine.[34]


The origins of yoga are a matter of debate. It may have pre-Vedic origins.[35] Several seals discovered at Indus Valley Civilization sites depict figures in positions resembling a common yoga or meditation pose.[36] Ascetic practices, concentration and bodily postures used by Vedic priests to conduct Vedic ritual of fire sacrifice may have been precursors to yoga. Pre-philosophical speculations of yoga begin to emerge in the texts of c. 500–200 BCE. Between 200 BCE–500 CE philosophical schools of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism were taking form and a coherent philosophical system of yoga began to emerge.[37] The Middle Ages saw the development of many satellite traditions of yoga. Yoga came to the attention of an educated western public in the mid 19th century along with other topics of Indian philosophy.


The origins of yoga are a matter of debate. According to Crangle, Indian researchers have generally favoured a linear theory, which attempts "to interpret the origin and early development of Indian contemplative practices as a sequential growth from an Aryan genesis",[38] just like traditional Hinduism regards the Vedas to be the source of all spiritual knowledge.[39][note 2] Other scholars acknowledge the possibility of non-Aryan components.[38] Some argue that yoga originates in the Indus Valley Civilization.[42] According to Zimmer, Yoga is part of the pre-Vedic heritage, which also includes Jainism, Samkhya and Buddhism.[43][note 3][note 4] Samuel argues that yoga derives from the Śramana tradition:
Our best evidence to date suggests that [yogic practice] developed in the same ascetic circles as the early sramana movements (Buddhists, Jainas and Ajivikas), probably in around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE.[47]

Indus Valley Civilization

Several seals discovered at Indus Valley Civilization sites, dating to the mid 3rd millennium BCE, depict figures in positions resembling a common yoga or meditation pose, showing "a form of ritual discipline, suggesting a precursor of yoga," according to archaeologist Gregory Possehl.[48] Ramaprasad Chanda, who supervised Indus Valley Civilization excavations, states that,
Not only the seated deities on some of the Indus seals are in yoga posture and bear witness to the prevalence of yoga in the Indus Valley Civilization in that remote age, the standing deities on the seals also show Kayotsarga (a standing posture of meditation) position. It is a posture not of sitting but of standing.[49]
Some type of connection between the Indus Valley seals and later yoga and meditation practices is speculated upon by many scholars, though there is no conclusive evidence.[note 5] Many scholars associate the Pashupati seal with Shiva.[note 6] Yet, White notes:
[P]rior to the end of the first millennium CE, detailed descriptions of āsanas were nowhere to be found in the Indian textual record. In the light of this, any claim that sculpted images of cross-legged figures—including those represented on the famous clay seals from third millennium BCE Indus Valley archeological sites—represent yogic postures are speculative at best.[63]

Vedic period


Textual references

According to White, the first use of the word "yoga" is in the Rig Veda, where it denotes a yoke, but also a war chariot.[64] Yoga is discussed quite frequently in the Upanishads, many of which predate Patanjali's Sutras.[65] The actual term "yoga" first occurs in the Katha Upanishad[66] and later in the Shvetasvatara Upanishad.[67] White states:
The earliest extant systematic account of yoga and a bridge from the earlier Vedic uses of the term is found in the Hindu Kathaka Upanisad(Ku), a scripture dating from about the third century BCE[...] [I]t describes the hierarchy of mind-body constituents—the senses, mind, intellect, etc.—that comprise the foundational categories of Sāmkhya philosophy, whose metaphysical system grounds the yoga of the YS, Bhg, and other texts and schools (Ku3.10–11; 6.7–8).[68]
According to David Frawley[unreliable source?], verses such as Rig Veda 5.81.1 which reads,
Seers of the vast illumined seer yogically [yunjante] control their minds and their intelligence[69]
show that "at least the seed of the entire Yoga teaching is contained in this most ancient Aryan text".[70]
An early reference to meditation is made in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the earliest Upanishad (c. 900 BCE).[note 7] In the Mahabarata yoga comes to mean "a divine chariot, that carried him upward in a burst of light to and through the sun, and on to the heaven of gods and heroes."[68]

Ascetic practices

Ascetic practices (tapas), concentration and bodily postures used by Vedic priests to conduct yajna (Vedic ritual of fire sacrifice) might have been precursors to yoga.[note 8] Vratya, a group of ascetics mentioned in the Atharvaveda, emphasized on bodily postures which probably evolved into yogic asanas.[72] Early Vedic Samhitas also contain references to other group ascetics such as, Munis, the Keśin, and Vratyas.[74] Techniques for controlling breath and vital energies are mentioned in the Brahmanas (ritualistic texts of the Vedic corpus, c. 1000–800 BCE) and the Atharvaveda.[72][75] Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda suggests the presence of an early contemplative tradition.[note 9]The Vedic Samhitas contain references to ascetics, and ascetic practices known as (tapas) are referenced in the Brāhmaṇas (900 BCE and 500 BCE), early commentaries on the Vedas.[78] The Rig Veda, the earliest of the Hindu scripture mentions the practice.[79] Robert Schneider and Jeremy Fields write,
Yoga asanas were first prescribed by the ancient Vedic texts thousands of years ago and are said to directly enliven the body's inner intelligence.[80][unreliable source?]
According to Feuerstein, breath control and curbing the mind was practiced since the Vedic times.,[81] and yoga was fundamental to Vedic ritual, especially to chanting the sacred hymns[82]

Preclassical era

Diffused pre-philosophical speculations of yoga begin to emerge in the texts of c. 500–200 BCE such as the middle Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and Mokshadharma of the Mahabharata. The terms samkhya and yoga in these texts refer to spiritual methodologies rather than the philosophical systems which developed centuries later.[83]


Alexander Wynne, author of The Origin of Buddhist Meditation, observes that formless meditation and elemental meditation might have originated in the Upanishadic tradition.[84] The earliest reference to meditation is in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of the oldest Upanishads.[74] Chandogya Upanishad describes the five kinds of vital energies (prana). Concepts used later in many yoga traditions such as internal sound and veins (nadis) are also described in the Upanishad.[72] Taittiriya Upanishad defines yoga as the mastery of body and senses.[85]
The term "yoga" first appears in the Hindu scripture Katha Upanishad (a primary Upanishad c. 400 BCE) where it is defined as the steady control of the senses, which along with cessation of mental activity, leads to the supreme state.[74][note 10] Katha Upanishad integrates the monism of early Upanishads with concepts of samkhya and yoga. It defines various levels of existence according to their proximity to the innermost being Ātman. Yoga is therefore seen as a process of interiorization or ascent of consciousness.[87][88] It is the earliest literary work that highlights the fundamentals of yoga. Shvetashvatara Upanishad (c. 400-200 BCE) elaborates on the relationship between thought and breath, control of mind, and the benefits of yoga.[88] Like the Katha Upanishad the transcendent Self is seen as the goal of yoga. This text also recommends meditation on Om as a path to liberation.[89] Maitrayaniya Upanishad (c. 300 BCE) formalizes the sixfold form of yoga.[88] Physiological theories of later yoga make an appearance in this text.[90][91]While breath channels (nāḍis) of yogic practices had already been discussed in the classical Upanishads, it was not until the eighth-century Buddhist Hevajra Tantra and Caryāgiti, that hierarchies of chakras were introduced.[92][93] Further systematization of yoga is continued in the Yoga Upanishads of the Atharvaveda (viz., Śāṇḍilya, Pāśupata, Mahāvākya)[clarification needed].[94]

 Classical yoga

During the period between the Mauryan and the Gupta era (c. 200 BCE–500 CE) philosophical schools of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism were taking form and a coherent philosophical system of yoga began to emerge.[106]

Early Buddhist texts

Werner notes that "only with Buddhism itself as expounded in the Pali Canon" do we have the oldest preserved comprehensive yoga practice:
"But it is only with Buddhism itself as expounded in the Pali Canon that we can speak about a systematic and comprehensive or even integral school of Yoga practice, which is thus the first and oldest to have been preserved for us in its entirety"[107]
Another yoga system that predated the Buddhist school is Jain yoga. But since Jain sources postdate Buddhist ones, it is difficult to distinguish between the nature of the early Jain school and elements derived from other schools.[108]Most of the other contemporary yoga systems alluded in the Upanishads and some Pali canons are lost to time.[109][110][note 15]The early Buddhist texts describe meditative practices and states, some of which the Buddha borrowed from the ascetic (shramana) tradition.[112][113] One key innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditative absorption must be combined with liberating cognition.[114] Meditative states alone are not an end, for according to the Buddha, even the highest meditative state is not liberating. Instead of attaining a complete cessation of thought, some sort of mental activity must take place: a liberating cognition, based on the practice of mindful awareness.[115] The Buddha also departed from earlier yogic thought in discarding the early Brahminic notion of liberation at death.[116] While the Upanishads thought liberation to be a realization at death of a nondual meditative state where the ontological duality between subject and object was abolished, Buddha's theory of liberation depended upon this duality because liberation to him was an insight into the subject's experience.[116]
The Pali canon contains three passages in which the Buddha describes pressing the tongue against the palate for the purposes of controlling hunger or the mind, depending on the passage.[117] However there is no mention of the tongue being inserted into the nasopharynx as in true khecarī mudrā. The Buddha used a posture where pressure is put on the perineum with the heel, similar to even modern postures used to stimulate Kundalini.[118]


Samkhya emerged in the first century CE.[119] When Patanjali systematized the conceptions of yoga, he set them forth on the background of the metaphysics of samkhya, which he assumed with slight variations. In the early works, the yoga principles appear together with the samkhya ideas. Vyasa's commentary on the Yoga Sutras, also called the Samkhyapravacanabhasya (Commentary on the Exposition of the Sankhya Philosophy), brings out the intimate relation between the two systems.[120] Yoga agrees with the essential metaphysics of samkhya, but differs from it in that while samkhya holds that knowledge is the means of liberation, yoga is a system of active striving, mental discipline, and dutiful action. Yoga also introduces the conception of god. Sometimes Patanjali's system is referred to as Seshvara Samkhya in contradistinction to Kapila's Nirivara Samkhya.[121].[21
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