The following series of articles an in-depth look at Yoga has been compiled by Merel Martens founder of Parimukti Yoga and produced and packaged by Avdhoot Limaye for Parimukti.com
1.2 History of Yoga Continued
Yoga also finds its place in the scriptures of the Vedas and Upanishads. The ancient yogis or saints originally performed India’s ancient Vedic religion, which lays a strong emphasis on rituals. But as time went on, these yogis wanted a direct spiritual experience and not symbolic ritual. From this desire and search Yoga as we commonly practice developed. Taking into account the inter-relationship between body and mind, the Yogis formulated a unique method for maintaining this balance. This method combines all postures with various breathing and meditation techniques that ensure peace of mind and physical health.
The Rishis (seekers and seers), finding inspiration and truth in nature, realized techniques to attain freedom from the burdens and attachments of the world whilst still living within it. First, recognition of the human limitations of body and mind was needed. Then methods to transcend these limitations in order to open consciousness into higher realms of reality were taught. According to the yogis, true happiness, liberation and enlightenment comes from union of the divine consciousness (known as Brahman) with the self.
Lord Shiva who is also called Yogpurush is believed to be the first master of Yoga and nature cures. The simplest history of yoga can be divided into four main periods which are the pre-classical
period, classical period, post-classical period and modern period.
During the pre-classical period, yoga was developed by the Indo-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India. The word “Yoga” was mentioned first of all in the Rig Veda the oldest of the sacred texts. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by Vedic priests, who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads. One of the most influential scriptures of that time is the Bhagavad Gita, which was composed around 500 B.C. The Bhagavad Gita is one of the chapters of the Mahabharata, an epic about the battle between the cousins the Kauravas and the Pandavas over the heritage of the Kingdom of Dhritarashtra. The Bhagavad Gita (Holy Song) lays out the conversation between Arjuna (one of the Pandava brothers) and his charioteer Lord Krishna, right before the beginning of a battle on the Kurukshetra. The Bhagavad Gita introduces four schools of yoga, namely Karma Yoga (reaching enlightenment through selfless acts), Jnana Yoga (reaching enlightenment through obtaining wisdom), Bhakti Yoga (reaching enlightenment through limitless devotion to God), and Raja Yoga (reaching enlightenment through self mastery and self control).
During the classical period, the first systematic presentation of yoga was put down in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. These 195 Yoga Sutras describe the path of Raja Yoga, which is known as “classical yoga”. Patanjali is often considered as the father of yoga and his Yoga Sutras still strongly influence all styles of modern yoga. In the Yoga Sutras, the art of Yoga is divided into an “Eight Limbed Path” that contains the steps to obtain enlightenment. One of the most well known verses is:
Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah
which means something, like ‘yoga is the cessation (nirodh) of the wirlings (vritti) of the mind (chitta)’. Please bear in mind that there is no equivalent word for ‘citta’ in English and comes closest to a combination of mind, ego, and intellect. So the word ‘mind’ in the above translation is a limitation of the verse.
Moreover the Sutras teach us that there is pain and suffering in life that should be avoided (heya), that this pain and suffering have a cause (heyahetu), that removal of pain is possible (hana), and finally that there are ways to remove the pain and suffering (hanopaya).
During the post-classical period, the teachers of yoga created a system of practices that were designed to rejuvenate both body and life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and developed ‘Tantra Yoga’, with various techniques to cleanse the body and mind. These body centered practices further led to the creation of ‘Hatha Yoga’. When we talk about ‘doing Yoga’ in the modern world we usually refer to the school of Hatha Yoga, in which physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation are used to balance the energies in the body, to cleanse the body and mind of impurities and to make the body strong. All this is performed in order to come to the realization of the natural state of oneness of the Self with the Universal Consciousness. Hatha Yoga as such was described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP) (15th century AD).
During the period 1800 and 1900, the teachers of yoga started travelling to the West to attract followers. In the 1920s Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India by Mr. T. Krishnamacharya. Shri Krishnamacharya travelled through India and gave demonstrations of various yoga postures and opened the first Hatha Yoga school. B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois were the three students of Shri Krishnamacharya who continued his legacy and further increased the popularity of Hatha Yoga. They rediscovered a forgotten ancient manuscript (“Yoga Korunta”) in which a system of Hatha Yoga that was created and practiced by the author, a seer called Vamana Rishi, is described. It is a very detailed text about the harmony of movements and breath.
The importation of yoga in the West still continued until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. Since then various other Western and Indian teachers became the pioneers who popularised Hatha Yoga and gained millions of followers. Now, Hatha Yoga has various different schools or styles, which emphasize the various aspects of the practice.
1.3 The Four Paths of Yoga
“The truth is one but the paths are many” Swami Vishnu-Devananda
As probably has become clear now there are many schools of yoga and approaches to realization. Here the main four, and two other common ones, will be described.
The path of selfless service. For the karma yogi, the main problem is our inherent selfishness, which is based on spiritual ignorance, avidya. The key is to practice selfless actions without any selfish expectations, and thereby opening one’s heart and seeing God in all beings.
For the karma yogi, the goal is complete selflessness.
Karma Yoga appeals to the active temperament.
The path of love and devotion. The bhakta uses the combined energies of all emotions and transmutes them, sublimates them into the highest of all emotions: prem (love).
Prem is pure, condition-less, divine love. For the bhakta, or devotee, the goal is pure love.
Bhakti Yoga appeals to the emotional temperament.
The path of self control and self mastery. The raja yogi controls his mind until it becomes perfectly still at which time there is no more wall between himself and his own divine nature.
The main practice in Raja Yoga is meditation. For the raja yogi, the goal is perfect mind control. Raja Yoga appeals to the mystical and scientific temperament.
The path of wisdom and knowledge. The jnani uses his will and power of discrimination to cut through the veil of ignorance and attain the Truth.
For the jnani, the goal is absolute Truth.
Jnana Yoga appeals to the philosophical and intellectual temperament.
Two More for Good Measure… Among the additional hundred types of yoga out there, two more stand out as particularly important:
Derived from the tantric tradition this yoga aims at purifying the physical and psychic systems, and then awakening the cosmic power (kundalini) residing in the Muladhara chakra at the base of the spine.
Upon awakening and rising of this spiritual power, it unites with the consciousness center in the crown of the head and thereby grants liberation to the spiritual aspirant and practitioner of Kundalini Yoga .
Sometimes called the ‘physical’ aspect of yoga, it works mostly on the psychic level. Besides its innumerable medical benefits, Hatha Yoga is essential support to both Raja Yoga and Kundalini Yoga.
That concludes the second part of this series in the third part we will look into the five points of Yoga and there combined synchronicity in the evolution of the human life.