Meditation 5 – Yoga 2 – Its history, religious contexts and practice

Schools of Yoga

The term “yoga” has been applied to a variety of practices and methods. The well-known Hindu schools of Yoga beingJnana YogaBhakti YogaKarma Yoga,Laya Yoga and Hatha Yoga, but also including Jain and Buddhist practices.Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, constitute classical Ashtanga Yoga (the eight limbs), also called Raja Yoga.[37]


Buddhist meditation encompasses a variety of meditation techniques that aim to develop mindfulness,concentrationsupramundane powers,tranquility, and insight.

Core techniques have been preserved in ancient Buddhist texts and have proliferated and diversified through teacher-student transmissions.Buddhists pursue meditation as part of the path toward Enlightenment andNirvana.[note 2] The closest words for meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism are bhāvanā[note 3] and jhāna/dhyāna.[note 4] Buddhist meditation techniques have become increasingly popular in the wider world, with many non-Buddhists taking them up for a variety of reasons.


Yoga (Philosophy)

Main articles: Rāja yoga and Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Yoga is a philosophical school in Hinduism, and sometimes referred to asRāja yoga.[38] Yoga, in this context, is one of the six āstika schools of Hinduism (those which accept the Vedas as source of knowledge).[39][40]The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is considered as a central text of the Yoga school of Hindu philosophy,[41]

As a school of philosophy, Yoga is a way of life, and incorporates its own epistemology, metaphysics, ethical practices, systematic exercises and self-development techniques for body, mind and spirit.[42] Its epistemology(pramanas) is same as the Samkhyaschool. Both accept three reliable means to knowledge – perception (pratyākṣa, direct sensory observations), inference (anumāna) and testimony of trustworthy experts (sabda, agama). Both these orthodox schools are also stronglydualistic. Unlike Sāṃkhya school of Hinduism which pursues non-theistic/atheistic rationalist approach,[43][44]Yoga school of Hinduism accepts the concept of a “personal, yet essentially inactive, deity” or “personal god”.[45][46]Along with its epistemology and metaphysical foundations, Yoga school of Hindu philosophy incorporates ethical precepts (yamas and niyamas) and an introspective way of life focused on perfecting one’s self physically, mentally and spiritually, with the ultimate goal being kaivalya (liberated, unified, content state of existence).[42][47][48]

Hatha yoga

Main article: Hatha yoga

Hatha yoga, also called hatha vidyā(हठविद्या), is a kind of yoga focusing on physical and mental strength building exercises and postures described primarily in three texts ofHinduism:[49][50][51]

  1. Hatha Yoga PradipikaSvātmārāma(15th century)
  2. Shiva Samhita, author unknown (1500 C.E [52] or late 17th century)
  3. Gheranda Samhita by Gheranda (late 17th century)

Many scholars also include the preceding Goraksha Samhita authored byGorakshanath of the 11th century in the above list.[49] Gorakshanath is widely considered to have been responsible for popularizing hatha yoga as we know it today.[53][54][55]

Vajrayana Buddhism, founded by the Indian Mahasiddhas,[56] has a series of asanas and pranayamas, such astummo (Sanskrit caṇḍālī)[4] and trul khorwhich parallel hatha yoga.


Main articles: ShaivismShaiva Siddhanta and Nath

In Shaivism, yoga is used to unitekundalini with Shiva.[57] See also ‘tantra’ below.


Main article: Jain meditation

Jain meditation has been the central practice of spirituality in Jainism along with the Three Jewels.[58] Meditation in Jainism aims at realizing the self, attain salvation, take the soul to complete freedom.[59] It aims to reach and to remain in the pure state of soul which is believed to be pure conscious, beyond any attachment or aversion. The practitioner strives to be just a knower-seer (Gyata-Drashta). Jain meditation can be broadly categorized to the auspiciousDharmya Dhyana and Shukla Dhyana and inauspicious Artta and Raudra Dhyana.


Main articles: TantraYogi andSiddhi

Samuel states that Tantrism is a contested concept.[60] Tantra yoga may be described, according to Samuel, as practices in 9th to 10th century Buddhist and Hindu (Saiva, Shakti) texts, which included yogic practices with elaborate deity visualizations using geometrical arrays and drawings (mandala), fierce male and particularly female deities, transgressive life stage related rituals, extensive use of chakras and mantras, and sexual techniques, all aimed to help one’s health, long life and liberation.[60][61]

Modern wellness

Apart from the spiritual goals, the physical postures of yoga are used to alleviate health problems, reduce stress and make the spine supple in contemporary times. Yoga is also used as a complete exercise program and physical therapy routine.[62]

While the practice of yoga continues to rise in contemporary American culture, sufficient and adequate knowledge of the practice’s origins does not. According to Andrea R. Jain, Yoga is undoubtedly a Hindu movement for spiritual meditation, yet is now being marketed as a supplement to a cardio routine. This scope “dilutes its Hindu identity.” Contemporaries of the Hindu faith argue that the more popular yoga gets, the less concerned people become about its origins in history. These same contemporaries do state that while anyone can practice yoga, only those who give Hinduism due credit for the practice will achieve the full benefit of the custom.[63]


The origins of yoga are a matter of debate.[64] There is no consensus on its chronology or specific origin other than that yoga developed in ancient India. Suggested origins are the Indus Valley Civilisation (3300-1900 BCE)[65] and pre-Vedic north-eastern India (Biharregion),[66] the Vedic civilisation (1500-500 BCE), and the sramana-movement (starting ca. 500 BCE).[67] According to Gavin Flood, continuities may exist between those various traditions:[68]

[T]his dichotomization is too simplistic, for continuities can undoubtedly be found between renunciation and vedic Brahmanism, while elements from non-Brahmanical, Sramana traditions also played an important part in the formation of the renunciate ideal.[68][note 5]

Pre-philosophical speculations of yoga begin to emerge in the texts of c. 500–200 BCE. 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.[70] The Middle Ages saw the development of many satellite traditions of yoga. Yoga came to the attention of an educated western public in the mid 19th century along with other topics of Indian philosophy.

Origins (before 500 BCE)

Male figure in a crossed legs posture on a mold of a seal from the Indus valley civilization.

Pre-Vedic India

Yoga may have pre-Vedic elements.[65][66]

Indus Valley Civilisation (before 1900 BCE)

Some state yoga originated in the Indus Valley Civilization.[71] Marshall,[72]Eliade[9] and other scholars suggest thatseveral seals discovered at Indus Valley Civilization sites depict figures in positions resembling a common yoga or meditation pose. This interpretation is considered speculative and uncertain by more recent analysis of Srinivasan,[9]and may be a case of projecting “later practices into archeological findings”.[73]

Vedic civilisation (1700-500 BCE)

According to Crangle, Indian researchers have generally favoured a linear theory, which attempts “to interpret the origin and early development of Indian contemplative practices as a sequential growth from an Aryan genesis”,[74][note 6] just like traditional Hinduism regards the Vedas to be the source of all spiritual knowledge.[75][note 7]

Ascetic practices, concentration and bodily postures described in Vedas may have been precursors to yoga.[78][79]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]

North-eastern India (before 500 BCE)

According to Zimmer, Yoga philosophy is reckoned to be part of the non-Vedic system, which also includes Hindu Samkhya school, Jainism and Buddhism:[66]

[Jainism] does not derive from Brahman-Aryan sources, but reflects the cosmology and anthropology of a much older pre-Aryan upper class of northeastern India [Bihar] – being rooted in the same subsoil of archaic metaphysical speculation as Yoga, Sankhya, and Buddhism, the other non-Vedic Indian systems.”[80][note 8]

Vedic period (1700-500 BCE)

Textual references

The first use of the root of word “yoga” is in hymn 5.81.1 of the Rig Veda, a dedication to rising Sun-god in the morning (Savitri), where it has been interpreted as “yoke” or “yogically control”.[50][83][note 9]

Rigveda, however, does not describe yoga with the same meaning or context as in modern times. Early references to practices that later became part of yoga, are made in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the earliest Hindu Upanishad.[note 10] For example, the practice of pranayama(consciously regulating breath) is mentioned in hymn 1.5.23 of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (c. ~ 900 BCE), and the practice of pratyahara(concentrating all of one’s senses on self) is mentioned in hymn 8.15 ofChandogya Upanishad (c. ~ 800-700 BCE).[86][87]॥ १॥ – Chandogya Upanishad, VIII.15[88]
Translation 1 by Max Muller, The Upanishads, The Sacred Books of the East – Part 1, Oxford University Press: (He who engages in) self study, concentrates all his senses on the Self, never giving pain to any creature, except at the tîrthas, he who behaves thus all his life, reaches the world of Brahman, and does not return, yea, he does not return.

Vedic ascetic practices

Ascetic practices (tapas), concentration and bodily postures used by Vedic priests to conduct yajna (Vedic ritual of fire sacrifice), might have been precursors to yoga.[note 11] Vratya, a group of ascetics mentioned in theAtharvaveda, emphasized on bodily postures which may have evolved into yogic asanas.[78] Early Vedic Samhitasalso contain references to other group ascetics such as, Munis, the Keśin, and Vratyas.[90] Techniques for controlling breath and vital energies are mentioned in the Brahmanas (texts of the Vedic corpus, c. 1000–800 BCE) and theAtharvaveda.[78][91] Nasadiya Sukta of theRig Veda suggests the presence of an early contemplative tradition.[note 12]


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