Yoga means ‘to yoke’, to ‘untie’ or ‘to be whole’. It is an ancient philosophical discipline that harmonises body, mind and spirit. Yoga can be traced back to India approximately 5,000 or more years ago. It is thought that it dates to the Indus civilisation in ruins of the big cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa where excavators found depictions engraved on soapstone seals that resemble yogi-like figures. Continuity was found between this civilisation and later Hindu society and culture.
The Origins of Yoga
The ancient rishis or seers studied and mediated to develop a system of Yoga. Yoga asanas (postures) were developed via meditation and the study of the movement of animals. These principles were passed on by word of mouth from yogi (male) or yogini (female) to their pupils or disciples. The philosophy of Yoga is written in Sanskrit the oldest known language. The first collection of scriptures are called the ‘Vedas’ translating to knowledge or wisdom. These consist of ‘shruti’ or divinely heard’ mantras.
The development of Yoga can be divided into four categories:
Vedic Yoga- connected to the ritual life of ancient Indians, revolving around the motion of sacrifice as a way of linking the material world to the invisible world of the spirit. Those performing sacrifices were required to focus their mind for prolonged periods of time in order to perform the rituals successfully. This is the root of Yoga to transcend the limitations of the ordinary mind with inner focus.
Pre-classical Yoga- covers approximately 2000 years and comes in various forms and guises. Key texts include the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita. The pre-classical schools developed techniques for achieving deep meditation in which Yoga experts can transcend the body and mind to discover their true nature.
Classical Yoga-is applicable to the Yoga taught by Patanjali in his Yoga-Sutra. Patanjali believed that everyone is a blend of matter and spirit. He acknowledged Yoga as a process to establish disunion, thereby restoring the spirit in its absolute purity.
Post-classical Yoga- refers to all the types and schools of Yoga that have come into fruition after Patanjali and are independent of this work. In comparison to classical Yoga, post-classical Yoga upholds the ultimate union of everything. These Yoga masters designed a system of practises to revitalise the body and prolong its life. They regarded the body as a temple of the immortal spirit, not a container to be discounted at first opportunity. This led to the creation of Hatha Yoga.