The origins of yoga have been thought to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions.
How Yoga Came Around
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.
Vedic period (1700–500 BCE)
“Ascetic practices, concentration and bodily postures described in the Vedas may have been precursors to yoga. 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.” “
Preclassical era (500–200 BCE)
The first known appearance of the word “yoga”, with the same meaning as the modern term, is in the Katha Upanishad, probably composed between the fifth and third century BCE, where it is defined as the steady control of the senses, which along with cessation of mental activity, leading to a supreme state.[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. 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.
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).
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. “
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.[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”. 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.
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. Brahma sutras are estimated to have been complete in the surviving form sometime between 450 BCE to 200 CE, and its sutras assert that yoga is a means to gain “subtlety of body” and other powers. 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, 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. “
“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, it introduces three prominent types of yoga:
- Karma yoga: The yoga of action.
- Bhakti yoga: The yoga of devotion.
- Jnana yoga: The yoga of knowledge.
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.
- Yama(The five “abstentions”): Ahimsa (Non-violence, non-harming other living beings), Satya (truthfulness, non-falsehood), Asteya (non-stealing),Brahmacharya (celibacy, fidelity to one’s partner), and Aparigraha (non-avarice, non-possessiveness).
- Niyama(The five “observances”): Śauca (purity, clearness of mind, speech and body), Santosha (contentment, acceptance of others and of one’s circumstances),Tapas (persistent meditation, perseverance, austerity), Svādhyāya (study of self, self-reflection, study of Vedas), and Ishvara-Pranidhana (contemplation of God/Supreme Being/True Self).
- Asana: Literally means “seat”, and in Patanjali’s Sutras refers to the seated position used for meditation.
- Pranayama(“Suspending Breath”): Prāna, breath, “āyāma”, to restrain or stop. Also interpreted as control of the life force.
- Pratyahara(“Abstraction”): Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects.
- Dharana(“Concentration”): Fixing the attention on a single object.
- Dhyana(“Meditation”): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation.
- Samadhi(“Liberation”): merging consciousness with the object of meditation.”
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.