The word "Yoga" is derived from the ancient Indian
language of Sanskrit. It means 'oneness', and forms the central thought of
'yoga', that the individual is a part of the whole universe. Much of the
yoga postures and 'asanas' are inspired by nature. Yoga is often linked to
eastern religions and there are links of the developments between the two.
History of Yoga
Though the origin of yoga is shrouded but the earliest evidence links it with the human civilizations dating back to at least 5000 years. Scholars believe yoga grew out of stone age 'shamanism', because of the cultural similarities between modern Hinduism and Mehrgarh, a Neolithic settlement that falls in Afghanistan now. In fact, much of Hinduism's ideas, rituals and symbols of today appear to have their roots in this shamanistic culture of Mehrgahr.
Early yoga and archaic shamanism had much in common as both sought to transcend the human condition. The primary goal of shamanism was to heal members of the community and act as religious mediators. Archaic Yoga was also community oriented, as it attempted to discern the cosmic order through inner vision, then to apply that order in daily living. Later, yoga evolved into a more inward experience, and yogins focused on their individual enlightenment and salvation.
The first archaeological evidence of yoga's existence is found in stone seals excavated from the Indus valley. The stone seals depict figures performing yoga postures. These artifacts officially put yoga on the map circa 3000 BC.
Vedic Yoga teachings came from ancient hymnodies. The Sanskrit word "veda" means "knowledge." There are three Vedic hymnodies, which are the Yajur-Veda ("Knowledge of Sacrifice"), Sama-Veda ("Knowledge of Chants"), and Atharva-Veda ("Knowledge of Atharvan"). Vedic Yoga was connected with the ritual life of the ancient Indians. It revolved around the idea of sacrifice as a means of joining the material world with the invisible world of the spirit.
Pre-classical Yoga covers the period of approximately 2,000 years until the second century AD. The earliest practices were still based in sacrifices. Later, the rituals were left behind. One of the most influential scripture of 700 verses is the "Bhagavad-Gita" ("Lord's Song"), which was composed about 500 BC. The various pre-classical schools developed techniques for achieving deep meditation through by which yogis can transcend the body and mind and discover their true nature.
Classical Yoga is associated with the eight fold path also known as Raja Yoga, which was taught by Patanjali in his "Yoga-Sutra." The text contains about 200 statements, which are often cryptic statements.
Postclassical Yoga refers to many types and schools of Yoga that have arisen after Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra. Postclassical Yoga proclaims the ultimate unity of everything. Previous generations of yogis paid no attention to the body. They were more interested in contemplation. The new breed of Yoga masters created a system of practices to rejuvenate the body and prolong its life. This led to the creation of Hatha Yoga. The treatise on Yoga, "The Hathayoga Pradipika," was compiled in the 15 century by the sage Svatmarama. He begins the treatise with the restraint of energy. Sighting the soul through the restraint of energy is called Hatha Yoga. Sighting the soul through the restraint of consciousness is called Raja Yoga. Svatmarama stress the importance of the breath. The goal of Yoga is a state of equilibrium and peace.
Patanjali Sutra :
Patanjali sutra is the book that contains systematic writing about the thought and practices of Yoga. It was written by Patanjali in Sanskrit, which was the literary language of that time.
Sankhya Darshan :
Kapila was the composer and developer of this book. This book discusses the basic elements of nature (prakriti) and human beings (purusha).
Bhagavad Gita :
After the work of Patanjali and Kapila another important work was done by Vyasa. He wrote Bhagavad Gita. Vyasa brought together in Gita what was covered by Kapila and Patanjali both. But the form of presentation was different. He presented it in the form of dialogue between Krisha and Arjuna the heroic figures of Mahabharata
There is a myriad of yoga styles and though they may emphasize different aspects, it is important to note they all share a common lineage. Generally, yoga exercises include postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama), chanting, meditation and deep relaxation. No particular style is better than any other, rather it is simply a matter of preference. Some of the major branches are :
The primary purpose of Jnana yoga is the discernment of the ultimate reality from all that is temporal. Considered one of the most difficult paths, jnana yoga can be called the path of wisdom. Jnana yoga shares the dualism of classical yoga, because it focuses on detatchment from all that is not absolute and eternal. The practitioner of Jnana seeks their atman, or their "true self" through contemplation. An important mantra is "neti neti" which means "not this, not this." Thus, the Jnana yogin attempts to deny all that is temporal to experience the pure spiritual state.
Raja-Yoga is chronicled in the well known text Yoga Sutras by Patanjali around the second century BC. The 195 aphorisms or sutras that comprise the Yoga Sutra, expound upon the eightfold path of Raja-Yoga. These eight steps include: 1) yama, or restraint, 2) niyama, or observance of purity, tolerance and study, 3) asana, or physical exercises, 4) pranayama or breath control, 5) pratyahara, or preparation for meditation 6) dharana, or concentration, 7) dhyana or meditation and 8) samadhi or absorption in the sublime. In addition to the physical exercises, Patanjali believed study of the sacred scriptures was essential to the complete yoga practice.
One of the major branches of yoga, Hatha is a non-dualistic philosophy, which emphasizes the physical aspects of the practice. It is also one of the most popular branches in the west. "Ha" means sun and "tha" means moon, thus Hatha represents balance between the mind and body. Originating around 1000 BC. Hatha is a seminal branch of yoga, from which many others schools developed.
In the tradition of yogi bhajan, Kundalini seeks to awaken one's serpent power. Kundalini is a powerful series of postures, breath exercises, meditation and chanting. This form of yoga is known for awakening energy that is stored at the base of the spine like a coiled snake. The emphasis of kundalini yoga is on breathing exercises and chanting
The unitive discipline of love/devotion, as expounded, for instance, in the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, the Bhâgavata-Purâna, and numerous other scriptures of Shaivism and Vaishnavism.
Another major branch, karma yoga is the path of dedication to god and others. It is known as the path of action. A student of this path would endeavor to perform all activities for the good of all, with the mind centered on God. The goal of karma yoga is liberation through transcendence of the human condition. Karma yoga figures prominently in the sacred text, the Bhagavad-Gita.