By Irina Burlack
At times we said that history should have been left alone but in case of Yoga it is opposite; the history of Yoga must be remembered for the nature of Yoga and the beautiful past the Yoga to be fully appreciated. To fully understand the significance of Yoga we will start from the beginning when Yoga first was mentioned in the history, then relate to the five specific time periods that are significant to Yoga and the first mentioning of Pranayama. First, the meaning of Yoga can be introduced. Yoga is related to the study of the mind and the body; the Sanskrit meaning of Yoga was derived from the root word “yuj” that meant “to control,” “to unite” and “to yoke.” The direct translations of Yoga were such as “joining,” “uniting” and “conjunction”; another translations of the word Yoga were “contemplation” and absorption.” All the above mentioned translation fit in with the practice of Yoga; some of the meaning such as the contemplation is more associated with Raja Yoga, where through contemplation that the difference of prakti (nature) and purusha (pure consciousness) took place.
The known beginning of Yoga occured from prehistoric period and progressed out of the Ancient Indian asceticism, which could be explained as a form of living that took place when person denounced all of the physical possessions and devoted himself to the spiritual practice. Yoga was first set forth in the Yoga Sutras of Pantajali as the Hindu Philosophy. Pantajali was the gatherer of the historic collection of aphorisms in Yoga practice; Yoga Sutras were seen as the foundational scripture for Yoga. These Sutras were created on the Samkhya philosophy and they are seen as the actual practice, while the Samkhya is the theory. This is known to be the earliest school of Yoga and it came to be known by the retronym Raja Yoga to distinguish itself from the school that came to take place in later years.
One of the first clues for finding out more about Yoga came from the discovery of the steatite seals in Indus Valley Civilization that took place from 3300-1700 B.C. The steatite seal was actually soapstone formed from the massive variety of Talc. These steatite seals displayed figures that were in various postures of meditation-like; this meditation-like posture was seen as some sort of discipline rituals that suggested the start point of actual practice of Yoga according to the Indus archeologists. There were sixteen specific Yogi carvings that were devoted to the ritualistic discipline; the carvings suggest that the Yoga-like postures must have been practiced by the common people as well as the deities alike. Most known of the postures was named the Pashupati seal that is suspected to be the representation of “proto-Shiva” figure. Many scholars continue to support the connection between the progression of Yoga in later years and the carvings found in the Indus Valley.
The ancient practices were vaguely hinted in the Vedas; the ascetic practices are referenced in the Brahmanas that took place between 900 B.C.E. and 500 B.C.E., which were some of the early commentaries on the Vedas. An early mentioning of the meditation was made in the Upanishads, specifically in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of the earlier Upanishads, approximately 900 B.C.E. Some of the more specific and the main textual references to Yoga are introduced in the middle Upanishads, 400 B.C.E.; the Mahabharata including the Bhagavad Gita, 200 B.C.E.; also the previously mentioned Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, 200 BCE-300 C.E.
Specifically in the Maitrayaniya Upanishad, 200-300 B.C.E., yoga represented as the Shadanga Yoga, which is the uniting discipline of the six limbs as following: 1) breath control or Pranayama, 2) sensory inhibition or Pratyahara, 3) meditation or Dhyana, 4) concentration or Dharana, 5) examination or Tarka, and 6) ecstasy or Samadhi. In Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the earliest Upanishad that was created approximately in 900 B.C.E., an early meditation reference is made; over all Yoga is referenced quite often in the Upanishads, many of which came about before the Pantajali’s Sutras. But the first actual term Yoga is used in middle Upanishad or Katha Upanishad, which is one of the most well-known of the Upanishads. This text was presents a dialogue between aspiring disciple and the Ruler of Death about the great and unknown “Heareafter”; this Upanishad suggests connection to Buddhist ideas.
Now we must examine the specific historic times of Yoga evolution. The five significant time periods of Yoga are Vedic Yoga, Pre-classic Yoga, Classic Yoga, Post-classic Yoga, and Modern Yoga time periods. The Vedas, which are the collection of hymns and rituals over 3000 years old, contain the oldest written history of Indian culture and yogic practice. Vedic Yoga is also called or known as the Archaic Yoga, centers around the idea of reconciling the visible and tangible material world with the invisible spiritual world through the practice of sacrificing. To perform these ritualistic practices, the people had to keep the mind on a high level concentration; such inner focus is the necessity to enhance the sensory and human ability and it is the root of Yoga practice.
Vedic prophets, who had gained insight on the origin of life and its existence and known as the Rishis, communicated the Vedic teaching to the religious elite as well as the common people. These prophets created hymns that centered on the knowledge and wisdom to the human beings and that had the possibility to higher the new level of understanding for the people. The creation of Vedas is the sacred scripture to Brahmanism, which is the basis for Hinduism and it marks the Vedic Yoga. Pre-classic Yoga period followed next, which spans about 200 years, until the year of 200. This time period revolved around the Upanishads, which is the collection of written records centered on meta-physical theory. Upanishads, like the Vedas, are known as enigmatic discovery; unlike the public exposure of Vedas, Upanishads were secret texts.
Approximately 200 scriptures pertained directly to Yoga practice and the complete connection between all things in the world. At this point Yoga began to evolve into a specific form that we know today. The idea of individual thought and belief began to take place, while the secret teaching from Upanishads spread from teachers to students or from gurus to yogis. About 500 B.C., the Bhagavad Gita, which is the most well-know work among all Hindu and Yogic literature, was created during this time period. This is a story of a conversation that took place between the god of Hinduism, Krishna, and prince named Arjuna. The plot of the story took place in the battlefield; this location is often perceived as metaphor for various distractions of our turbulent world, which became the main basis for Yogic practice of meditation. The text told a story of how the Prince Arjuna had to seek advice on breaking the bonds that were placed on him by the material attractions of the world; he was seeking to set himself free from these bonds. Krishna gave Arjuna the direction to follow, which was through devotion or Bhakti Yoga; keen mind or Jhana Yoga; by separating from ego or karma Yoga; only then the moksha or the freedom from the bonds could be accomplished. Bhagavad Gita is a complex text that is needed to be studied in order to be understood.
Classical Yoga period, eight-limbed Yoga, was introduced by the Patanjali’s Sutras. During this period Yoga was presented in a systematic and approachable structure; many yogis see this system as important source of Yogis understanding. Many Yoga practitioners at certain point of their study find this literature; many times this text is posted with commentaries for a better understanding. As previously mentioned, Patanjali thought that a person consists of two parts-matter and soul; the goal of Yoga practice was to free the soul from the material attachments in order to take its original, pure state. This view was many times perceived and described as philosophical dualism; this view created an interesting perspective because most of the Indian philosophy is non-dualistic.
The world was perceived as two different aspects of the same shapeless and pure but conscious existence. The many developed new schools and styles of Yoga during this period of time were known to be Post-classical Yoga that follower after the creation of Sutras. Unlike the Classical Yoga period, at this time Yoga was non-dualistic and integrated many Vedic traditions into the practice of Yoga. The past Yoginis concentrated much more on the aspect of studying the mind; they focused on the concentration and meditation and their goal was to leave their physical bodies for something high in energy, which was their shapeless form. But during the Post-classical period Yoginis turned their attention towards human body and the need to tune in to the energy of the body and they turned their presence to experiencing the body. The new generation Yoginis during the Post-classical period developed number of exercises foe the body to practice; they had also developed the connection between the exercises, breathing, and meditation, which they believed would have kept the body young and prolong the lifespan of the people, who practiced Yoga. The body was seen as the temple of the soul and there was no longer a need to leave the body to achieve the higher level of being. The Post-classical Yoga period created a path for Hatha Yoga, as it is practiced today, as well as Tantra Yoga, which is focused on divinity named Shakti.
The Modern Yoga period was seen to begun at Parliament of Religions in 1893, located in Chicago. Swami Vivekananda from India created a deep impression on the people that were present at this meeting; he introduced Yoga. Swami Vivekananda became one of the most-known people in the Parliament; he traveled throughout the US and presented speeches on Yoga practice. After his presence in US, there was a flood of many other Yoga gurus and teachers that came to US and opened schools of Yoga; the number of people in US, who loved Yoga increased continuously. Yoga gurus traveled to Europe but the connection between Yoga and the people there was not as strong as it was in US. Hatha Yoga came to blossom when a Russian Indra Devi, opened a Yoga Studio that was located in Hollywood, in the year of 1947. She sparked even greater passion for Yoga and she was famous for teaching movie starts as well as other people, who were interested in becoming certified Yoga instructors.
During 1950s, a book about Yoga being part of a sport exercises was written by Selvarajan Yesudian; this book was published in more than fourteen languages. This sparked the practice of Yoga by professional sport players, such as players on the NBA, athletes of Chicago Bulls. During the 1960s, Yoga gained even more reputation through television programs and the devotion of the Beatles star. Yoga was becoming a way of living and being, and not only a form of bodily exercise. Dalai Lama, who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize winner and was a Yogi from Tibet, has encouraged many people to take up the practice of Yoga. Today is another period for the development of Yoga and the Yoga practice continuous to gain more devotees, who attend workshops and classes to learn more about the fascinating practice of Yoga; it was said that 30 million people practice Yoga regularly. Yoga taught and continued to teach people that although we cannot always control the worldly problem but we can learn how to face them.
Irina Burlack is a certified Yoga Teacher. She teaches Yoga classes in the Gainesville, Georgia area.