The Origins of Yoga

The origins of yoga have been thought to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions.

“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.[73][1]


How Yoga Came Around

Lord Shiva

It is believed that yoga was first introduced by Lord Shiva who is the founder of yoga and the AdiNath (first yogi). Lord Shiva wanted to teach yoga to his wife Parvati on a distant isolated island, however, a fish overheard the teachings. Shiva then turned the fish into a sage – Matsyendra Nath – and allowed him to teach yoga to only one disciple. Then the yoga spread from one disciple to another; Nath Pranayama formed – different schools of yoga. However, later a sage called Patanjali revealed yoga to everyone in his Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Patanjaliyogapradeep). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali date back to the 1st millennium CE[11][12].


Vedic period (1700–500 BCE)

Ascetic practices, concentration and bodily postures described in the Vedas may have been precursors to yoga.[81][82] According to Geoffrey Samuel, “Our best evidence to date suggests that [yogic] practices developed in the same ascetic circles as the early sramana movements (Buddhists, Jainas and Ajivikas), probably in around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE.”[8][2]


Preclassical era (500–200 BCE)

“Yoga concepts begin to emerge in the texts of c. 500–200 BCE such as the Pali Canon, the middle Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata.[97][note 15]



Adi Shankara, commentator on the Upanishads and an expounder of Advaita Vedanta

The first known appearance of the word “yoga”, with the same meaning as the modern term, is in the Katha Upanishad,[9][100] probably composed between the fifth and third century BCE,[101][102] where it is defined as the steady control of the senses, which along with cessation of mental activity, leading to a supreme state.[93][note 16] 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.[104][105] It is the earliest literary work that highlights the fundamentals of yoga.

The hymns in Book 2 of the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, another late first millennium BCE text, states a procedure in which the body is held in upright posture, the breath is restrained and mind is meditatively focussed, preferably inside a cave or a place that is simple, plain, of silence or gently flowing water, with no noises nor harsh winds.[107][105]

The Maitrayaniya Upanishad, likely composed in a later century than Katha and Shvetashvatara Upanishads but before Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, mentions sixfold yoga method – breath control (pranayama), introspective withdrawal of senses (pratyahara), meditation (dhyana), mind concentration (dharana), philosophical inquiry/creative reasoning (tarka), and absorption/intense spiritual union (samadhi).[9][105][108]

In addition to the Yoga discussion in above Principal Upanishads, twenty Yoga Upanishads as well as related texts such as Yoga Vasistha, composed in 1st and 2nd millennium CE, discuss Yoga methods.[109][110][3]


Sutras of Hindu philosophies

“Yoga is discussed in the ancient foundational Sutras of Hindu philosophy. The Vaiśeṣika Sūtra of the Vaisheshika school of Hinduism, dated to have been composed sometime between 6th and 2nd century BCE discusses Yoga.[111][112][note 17] According to Johannes Bronkhorst, an Indologist known for his studies on early Buddhism and Hinduism and a professor at the University of Lausanne, Vaiśeṣika Sūtra describes Yoga as “a state where the mind resides only in the soul and therefore not in the senses”.[114] This is equivalent to pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses, and the ancient Sutra asserts that this leads to an absence of sukha (happiness) and dukkha (suffering), then describes additional yogic meditation steps in the journey towards the state of spiritual liberation.[114]

Similarly, Brahma sutras – the foundational text of the Vedanta school of Hinduism, discusses yoga in its sutra 2.1.3, 2.1.223 and others.[115] Brahma sutras are estimated to have been complete in the surviving form sometime between 450 BCE to 200 CE,[116][117] and its sutras assert that yoga is a means to gain “subtlety of body” and other powers.[115] The Nyaya sutras – the foundational text of the Nyaya school, variously estimated to have been composed between the 6th-century BCE and 2nd-century CE,[118][119] discusses yoga in sutras 4.2.38–50. This ancient text of the Nyaya school includes a discussion of yogic ethics, dhyana (meditation), samadhi, and among other things remarks that debate and philosophy is a form of yoga.[120][121][122][4]

Bhagavat Gita

The battle of Kurukshetra, Arjuna (right), Krishna as the charioteer

“The Bhagavad Gita (‘Song of the Lord’), uses the term “yoga” extensively in a variety of ways. In addition to an entire chapter (ch. 6) dedicated to traditional yoga practice, including meditation,[139] it introduces three prominent types of yoga:[140]

The Gita consists of 18 chapters and 700 shlokas (verses),[144] with each chapter named as a different yoga, thus delineating eighteen different yogas.[144][145][5]






Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Ashtanga Yoga: The Eight Limbs of Yoga

 Yoga Sutras is one of the primary texts of yoga philosophy and Raja (Royal) Yoga. The text is divided into four chapters in which Patanjali gives the complete yoga philosophy.

In the first chapter, Samadhipada, Patanjali talks about the reasons for practicing yoga, stating that the main and only reason is attaining Samadhi (the final stage when the union with the Supreme/God/Universe is attained). He also describes what happens when you reach Samadhi.

In the second chapter – Sadhana pada – Patanjali talks about how to achieve Samadhi. He describes different yogic practices. In this chapter Patanjali introduces Ashtanga Yoga: the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

“They are:

  1. Yama(The five “abstentions”): Ahimsa (Non-violence, non-harming other living beings),[171] Satya (truthfulness, non-falsehood),[172] Asteya (non-stealing),[173]Brahmacharya (celibacy, fidelity to one’s partner),[173] and Aparigraha (non-avarice, non-possessiveness).[172]
  2. Niyama(The five “observances”): Śauca (purity, clearness of mind, speech and body),[174] Santosha (contentment, acceptance of others and of one’s circumstances),[175]Tapas (persistent meditation, perseverance, austerity),[176] Svādhyāya (study of self, self-reflection, study of Vedas),[177] and Ishvara-Pranidhana (contemplation of God/Supreme Being/True Self).[175]
  3. Asana: Literally means “seat”, and in Patanjali’s Sutras refers to the seated position used for meditation.
  4. Pranayama(“Suspending Breath”): Prāna, breath, “āyāma”, to restrain or stop. Also interpreted as control of the life force.
  5. Pratyahara(“Abstraction”): Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects.
  6. Dharana(“Concentration”): Fixing the attention on a single object.
  7. Dhyana(“Meditation”): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation.
  8. Samadhi(“Liberation”): merging consciousness with the object of meditation.”[6]

In the third chapter – Vidhuti pada – Patanjali talks about the miraculous/metaphysical/psychic powers – sidhis – that one can achieve with the practice of the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

In the final chapter – Kaiwalya pada – Patanjali talks about the final stage of yoga and life.

[1] ibid.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.


Hatha yoga

Yoga classes conducted by Holistic Healing Therapy LTD. are primarily based on traditional Hatha Yoga and Himalayan Style Yoga.

Hatha yoga refers to all physical yogic practices – asanas (physical postures), mudras and bandhas (gestures and energy locks), kriyas (cleansing techniques) – aimed to create balance between Ida and Pingala nadis.

The word “hatha” is made up of two words – “ha”, meaning sun, and “tha”, meaning moon. Hence, hatha yoga is a balance between the sun and the moon.

Hatha yoga believes that there are 72,000 nadis – invisible energy channels – in our body, and the 3 out of these are the most important ones: Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna.

Pingala nadi is located in the right part of the body and is associated with qualities of being solar, warm, masculine, and extrovert.

Ida nadi is located in the left part of the body and is associated with qualities of being lunar, feminine, cold, and introvert.

It is believed that when in balance these two nadis lead to perfect health and wellbeing, and also lead to balancing up and opening of Sushumna nadi (located in the middle of the body and being neutral in qualities), which in its turn opens a path for rising Kundalini energy (primal energy, “Shakti”, located at the base of the spine). The ultimate aim of Hatha yoga is hence to balance Ida and Pingala nadis.


Elements of Hatha Yoga

There are five elements in Hatha yoga practice – asanas, pranayamas, mudras, bandhas, and kriyas.

Originally, yoga teaching will start with kriyas – 6 processes of cleansing, as the idea would be that in the beginning you should purify yourself before going into other practices. The six processes of cleansing are:

  • Neti: nasal cleansing
  • Dhauti: internal/intestinal cleansing
  • Nauli: massage of the internal system
  • Basti – large intestine cleansing
  • KapalBhati: the technique aimed at mainly helping cranial sinuses; includes the following techniques: Vata, Vyuta, Sheta
  • Tratak – gazing. Includes different types of gazing – crystal gazing, candle gazing, sun gazing, and others.

Once one has learnt the kriyas and purified the body, he/she would proceed to asanas – yogic postures, aimed at generating energy in the body. There are three types of asanas:

  • Relaxation (like sivasana, makrasana)
  • Meditation (padmasana etc.)
  • Cultural (all other asanas)

After one has built the energy in the body via doing the asanas, he/she would channelize the energy via the practice of pranayama – exercises aimed at extending one’s life force.

Then one would continue into the practice of mudras – gestures aimed at controlling and regulating energy and giving it proper direction.

Lastly, one would practice bandhas – energy locks aimed at controlling energy by activating different chakras.


The main texts in Hatha yoga

There are three main texts in Hatha yoga:

  1. Hatha Yoga PradipikaSvātmārāma(15th century)
  2. Shiva Samhita, author unknown (1500[56]or late 17th century)
  3. Gheranda Samhita by Gheranda (late 17th century)

Many scholars also include the preceding Goraksha Samhita authored by Gorakshanath of the 11th century in the above list.[53] Gorakshanath is widely considered to have been responsible for popularizing hatha yoga as we know it today.[57][58][59][1]


Yoga in the West

Swami Vivekananda

“Yoga gurus from India later introduced yoga to the west,[16] following the success of Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th and early 20th century.[16] In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world.[15]Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise; it has a meditative and spiritual core.[17] One of the six major orthodox schools of Hinduism is also called Yoga, which has its own epistemology and metaphysics, and is closely related to Hindu Samkhya philosophy.[18][1]

[1] ibid.

Interesting Facts

  • “On December 1, 2016, Yoga was listed as UNESCO’s Intangible cultural heritage.[21][1]
  • Barack Obama…stated, “Yoga has become a universal language of spiritual exercise in the United States, crossing many lines of religion and cultures,… Every day, millions of people practice yoga to improve their health and overall well-being. That’s why we’re encouraging everyone to take part in PALA (Presidential Active Lifestyle Award), so show your support for yoga and answer the challenge”.[233][2]
  • “The American College of Sports Medicine supports the integration of yoga into the exercise regimens of healthy individuals as long as properly-trained professionals deliver instruction. The College cites yoga’s promotion of “profound mental, physical and spiritual awareness” and its benefits as a form of stretching, and as an enhancer of breath control and of core strength.[234][3]

[1] ibid.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

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