The Origin of Yoga: A Journey Through Time

Oct 7 / Millie Laws

Yoga's origin can be traced back over 5,000 years, but some researchers believe it could be up to 10,000 years old. The term "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit word "yuj," which means to join or unite. This union pertains to the connection between the individual's consciousness and the universal consciousness. The oldest written records, the Vedas, serve as foundational scriptures for the Hindu religion. Within these texts, the knowledge and techniques of yoga were explored, establishing a framework for the development of the practice.
The Classical Period
Fast forward to the Upanishads, a collection of over 200 scriptures, which delve deeper into the inner workings of the human psyche, introducing concepts such as karma and the eternal soul or Atman. The Bhagavad Gita, a 700-verse Hindu scripture, speaks of yoga as a means to achieve spiritual enlightenment.Then came the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, dating back to around 400 CE, which offered an organized approach to achieving the meditative state of yoga. This is where the Eight Limbs of Yoga were introduced, providing a structured path to achieve spiritual growth.

Meditation and Yoga

Meditation, or Dhyana, is the seventh of Patanjali's Eight Limbs. The practice is intertwined with yoga, serving as a method to find tranquillity and gain insight. While yoga prepares the body for meditation, meditation deepens the spiritual connection, fostering a state of inner peace. Throughout history, many yogic schools emphasized the role of meditation, seeing it as a key component in attaining liberation from the cycle of rebirth.

The limbs of yoga, as outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, are a set of eight interconnected principles or stages known as "Ashtanga Yoga" (not to be confused with the modern, physically demanding style of yoga also called Ashtanga). These limbs offer a framework for living a meaningful and purposeful life. Below is a short description of each limb:

Yama (Ethical Standards): Yama is concerned with the ethical and moral standards and integrity with which one engages with the world. It includes non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), continence (brahmacharya), and non-greed (aparigraha).

Niyama (Self-Discipline): Niyama deals with personal behavior and self-discipline, focusing on cleanliness (saucha), contentment (santosha), spiritual austerity (tapas), study of the sacred texts and oneself (svadhyaya), and surrender to a higher power (Ishvara pranidhana).

Asana (Posture): Asana refers to the physical postures practiced in yoga. These are designed to build discipline, strength, and stability, preparing the body for meditation and making it a fit vehicle for the spirit.

Pranayama (Breath Control): This limb involves controlling the breath to enhance one’s vital life force (prana). It helps in calming the mind, improving focus, and maintaining optimum health.

Pratyahara (Sensory Withdrawal): Pratyahara is the practice of withdrawing the senses from external stimuli, helping the practitioner to look inward and explore the inner self.

Dharana (Concentration): Dharana involves focusing the mind on a single point, object, or idea, cultivating concentration and the ability to be present in each moment.

Dhyana (Meditation): Dhyana is the practice of meditation, where the practitioner observes without attachment, fostering a deep sense of awareness and connection with the object of meditation.

Samadhi (Enlightenment or Self-Realization): Samadhi is the ultimate goal of the yoga practice, representing a state of enlightenment or union with the divine. In this state, the practitioner experiences profound peace, joy, and connection with all of life.

Together, these eight limbs offer a comprehensive guide for the practice of yoga, leading practitioners toward a more balanced, harmonious, and enlightened life. Each limb is interconnected, and progress in one area often supports development in the others.

Modern-Day Evolution
Yoga's journey to the West began earnestly in the late 19th century. With key figures like Swami Vivekananda introducing yoga's philosophies, the practice found a new home. In the 20th century, yoga masters such as B.K.S. Iyengar and T. Krishnamacharya traveled the world, sharing their knowledge and evolving the practice to cater to contemporary needs.
Today, yoga has diversified into numerous styles, from the physically intensive Ashtanga to the gentle restorative, catering to a broad audience. Yoga studios have popped up globally, each offering a sanctuary for those looking to find balance in today's hectic world.

Yoga's rich history is a testament to its enduring power and relevance. From ancient Indian scriptures to modern-day studios, yoga and meditation have evolved, yet their core essence remains – a journey of self-discovery and union between the self and the universe. As we roll out our mats today, we become part of this timeless journey, linking past, present, and future in a dance of breath, body, and spirit.
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