Meditation 4 – Yoga – Its prehistoric origin and goals

Yoga (

SanskritयोगListen) is an Indian physicalmental, andspiritual practice or discipline. There is a broad variety of schools, practices and goals[1] in HinduismBuddhism(including Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism[2][3][4]) and Jainism.[5][6][7][6]The best-known are Hatha yoga andRaja yoga.

Yogi sitting in a garden

The origins of Yoga have been speculated to date back to pre-VedicIndian traditions, but most likely developed around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, in ancient India’s asceticcircles, which are also credited with the early sramana movements.[8][note 1] The chronology of earliest texts describing yoga-practices is unclear, varyingly credited to Hindu Upanishads[9] and Buddhist Pāli Canon,[10] probably of third century BCE or later. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali from first half of 1st millennium CE is one of a key surviving major texts on Yoga.[11][12] Hatha yoga texts emerged around 11th century CE, and in its origins was related to Tantrism.[13][14]

Yoga gurus from India later introduced yoga to the west,[15] following the success of Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th and early 20th century.[15] In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world.[14] Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise, it has a meditative and spiritual core.[16] 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 Samkhyaphilosophy.[17]

Many studies have tried to determine the effectiveness of yoga as a complementary intervention for cancer, schizophrenia, asthma, and heart disease. The results of these studies[18][19] have been mixed and inconclusive, with cancer studies suggesting none to unclear effectiveness, and others suggesting yoga may reduce risk factors and aid in a patient’s psychological healing process.


Statue of Shiva in BangaloreIndia, performing yogic meditation in thePadmasana posture.

In Vedic Sanskrit, the more commonly used, literal meaning of the Sanskritword yoga which is “to add”, “to join”, “to unite”, or “to attach” from the root yuj, already had a much more figurative sense, where the yoking or harnessing of oxen or horses takes on broader meanings such as “employment, use, application, performance” (compare the figurative uses of “to harness” as in “to put something to some use”). All further developments of the sense of this word are post-Vedic. More prosaic moods such as “exertion”, “endeavour”, “zeal”, and “diligence” are also found in Epic Sanskrit.[20]

There are very many compound wordscontaining yog in Sanskrit. Yoga can take on meanings such as “connection”, “contact”, “method”, “application”, “addition”, and “performance”. In simpler words, Yoga also means “combined“. For example, guṇá-yoga means “contact with a cord”; chakrá-yoga has a medical sense of “applying a splint or similar instrument by means of pulleys (in case of dislocation of the thigh)”; chandrá-yoga has the astronomical sense of “conjunction of the moon with a constellation”; puṃ-yoga is a grammatical term expressing “connection or relation with a man”, etc. Thus, bhakti-yogameans “devoted attachment” in themonotheistic Bhakti movement. The term kriyā-yoga has a grammatical sense, meaning “connection with a verb”. But the same compound is also given a technical meaning in the Yoga Sutras (2.1), designating the “practical” aspects of the philosophy, i.e. the “union with the Supreme” due to performance of duties in everyday life[21]

According to Pāṇini, a 6th-century BCE Sanskrit grammarian, the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samādhau (to concentrate).[22] In the context of theYoga Sutras of Patanjali, the root yuj samādhau (to concentrate) is considered by traditional commentators as the correct etymology.[23] In accordance with PāṇiniVyasa who wrote the first commentary on the Yoga Sutras,[24]states that yoga means samādhi(concentration).[25]

According to Dasgupta, the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots,yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samādhau (to concentrate).[22] Someone who practices yoga or follows the yoga philosophy with a high level of commitment is called a yogi (may be applied to a male or a female) or yogini(traditionally denoting a female).[26]

Prehistoric Origin

Estimated 15,000 years ago (~13,000 BCE), Adiyogi (the first yogi), a person with unknown origins appeared in the upper regions of Himalayas. Seeing his intense ecstatic state, seven hardcore seekers stayed with him. He took his seven disciples – Sapta Rishis to Kantisarovar and transformed himself in to Aadi Guru – the first guru and started a systematic exposition of yoga in a scientific manner not intellectually as a philosophy, but experientially. After imparting his knowledge he sent his seven disciples to different parts of the world.[27] One went to Central Asia. Another went to North Africa and the Middle East, another went to South America, One stayed right there with Adiyogi. Another one came to the lower regions of the Himalayas and started what is known as Kashmiri Shaivism. Another one went south into the Indian Peninsula who is known as Agastya. The Sapta Rishis became the basis of the seven basic schools of yoga. Even today, these seven schools are still distinctly there. Adiyogi created this spine of knowledge, not in the form of books or teachings, but as an energy-based knowledge.[28] He had the highest understanding of human nature, but he didn’t put anything down in writing.Patanjali came much later to reorganize the complex and diversified subject and he has put them all in a certain format – as the Yoga Sutras.[29]


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