The History Of Yoga – By Master Saumik
7 May 2019, Tuesday
The History Of Yoga
Who is the first Yogi to practice Yoga?
The identity of this person is but, a mystery lost in the sands of time, but the roots of Yoga can be traced back to over 5000 years ago.
The earliest reference to Yoga was found when archaeological excavations where made in the Indus Valley – the most powerful and influential civilization in the early antique period. This sophisticated culture was developed around the Indus River and the long-gone Sarasvati river in northern India – on the border towards Pakistan. Archaeological findings from two of the largest cities, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, revealed (among other things) a portrait of a human being or god meditating in what looks like a Yoga posture.
Yoga as we know it today, is the result of a complex evolution that has been going on for at least 5000 years. However, according to most scholars, Yoga can’t be recognized as a complete and complex tradition before about 500 B.C. The Vedic Yoga The oldest written records of Indian culture and Yogic activities were found in the Vedas, which are a compilation of hymns and rituals over 3000 years old. The Vedic Yoga, also known as Archaic Yoga, revolves around the thought of reuniting the visible material world with the invisible spiritual world by sacrificing certain things.
In order to practise these rather long rituals successfully, it was necessary to be able to focus the mind on a very high level. This inner focus enhances the sensory and human ability, which is the root of all Yoga. The Vedic’s teachings at this point where not reserved for a religious elite but was instead transmitted to the people by the Vedic prophets, called Rishis, who had gained insight in the origin of life and its existence. The hymns of these prophets imparted strong intuition, wisdom and knowledge about human beings that can inspire new levels of understanding even for the people of today.
This period of Yoga history spans about 2000 years, until year 200. Known as the most central Yoga literature from its period, The Upanishads, is a collection of secret scriptures revolving around meta-physical history of Yoga speculation – and are just like the Vedas considered as enigmatic revelations.
Some of these 200 gnostic texts are directly related to Yoga and are about the complete connectedness of all things. Yoga are now slowing finding its form. As Yoga and its secret teachings spread from teacher to student, or from guru to Yogi, the concept of an individual system of thought began to take shape.
The Bhagavad Gita, the most well-known and popular work among all Hinduism and Yogic literature, was written during this pre-classical period (about 500 B.C.). It is a beautiful story of a conversation between the god of Hinduism, Krishna, and a prince named Arjuna. The plot, ironically enough, takes place on a battlefield. This location is often interpreted as a metaphor for the many distractions present in our turbulent world, which later, became the main foundations of Yoga meditations. Prince Arjuna had put himself in a difficult position, where he must fight members of his family and friends.
Symbolically speaking, this frustration conveys that prince Arjuna wanted same advice on how to fight the bonds that tie him to the material world, in order to set himself and his soul free. Krishna explained that it was Arjun’s destiny and task to face this situation. He then moved on to explaining to Arjuna how he could emerge from the battle victorious, by outlining a detailed Yogic path for the prince to follow. Through devotion (Bhakti Yoga), a keen mind (Jnana Yoga) and by giving up the ego (Karma Yoga), spiritual freedom (Moksha) could be attained. Needless to say, The Bhagavad Gita is a complex work, and is meant to be studied, pondered upon and revisited again.
The eight-limbed Yoga described in the Sutras by Patanjali is usually referred to as Classical Yoga. The Yoga Sutras where most likely written around year 100-200 A.C. and consists of about 200 aphorisms (words of wisdom). Here Yoga is presented in a systematic and approachable way, and many Yogis see it as an important source of Yogic understanding.
Almost all serious Yoga practitioners will at some point study this literature and it has been reprinted with commentary many times since it was first published. Patanjali thought that every individual consists of two parts – matter (Prakiti) and soul (Purusha), and that the goal of Yoga is to free the soul from the material world in order to take it original, purest form. This is often characterized as philosophical dualism, which is quite remarkable considering that most Indian philosophy is of non-dualistic nature. The world as it is perceived is generally thought to be different aspects of the same pure, shapeless but conscious existence.
The great number of independent Yoga schools and forms that were developed during the period after the Yoga sutras, is usually referred to as post-classical Yoga. As opposed to Patanjali’s Yoga, the Yoga of this era was, very much like the post classical and Vedic traditions, characterized by a non-dualistic nature. A few hundred years after Patanjali, the evolution of Yoga took an interesting turn – the potential of the human body now became an interesting field of study. Yogis of the past had not paid very much attention to the body (physical), as they focused all their energy on contemplation and meditation. Their goal was to leave their bodies and the world, in order to reunite with the shapeless reality – the soul.
The new generation of Yogis however, developed a system where different exercises – in conjunction with deep breathing and meditations, would help keep the body young and prolong life. The human body was regarded as the temple of the immortal soul, and not just as a meaningless vessel to be abandoned at the first opportunity. This paved the way for the creation of Hatha Yoga, and other branches and schools of Tantra Yoga.