Courtesy: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute

The science and the philosophy of Yoga is one of India’s greatest contributions to the world.

A living tradition that has flourished in its complete form, Yoga has a rich history of almost 2000 years.

But perhaps the seeds of the doctrine can be traced to even earlier epochs.

Probably the earliest hint of the doctrine can be traced back to a rare seal found in the Mohenjodado excavation bearing the imprint of a Siva-like Yogi. (Dr. M.G. Dhadphalein his preface to “Yogasutra of Patanjali”)

This Pashupati seal is dated back to circa 2350-2000 BCE.

Patanjali’s “Yogasutra” is the first composite text on Yoga. Today we find little information on Patanjali, and his chronology remains a matter of conjecture.

Late Shri M.R. Yardi, in his book “The Yoga of Patanjali,” suggests that Patanjali belonged to the 1st century C.E.

However, various ideas of the Yoga philosophy appear separately and sometimes in unison in various ancient texts.

The word Yoga appears in Vedanta literature. Especially the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, known as the locus classics of Yoga, gives a vivid description of Yoga, and the Bhagavadgità elaborates on the same.

Non-Vedic traditions of Jainism and Buddhism also have their own Yogic traditions. Their terms sometimes differ from the Pätañjala vocabulary; yet in doctrine, they are akin to what is known later as Rajayoga/Räjavidya/Räjaguhya.

Yoga shares many ideas with Buddhism and even more so with the Samkhya philosophy.

It differentiates from Samkhya on two main grounds. 1) Yoga accepts Ishwara, and 2) it defines Avidya as incorrect knowledge, as opposed to ignorance.

The word “Yoga” originates from the Sanskrit word “Yuj,” which means “to join,” “unite, “”yoke, “”attach,” and “harness’.

Thus, Yoga means the union of two entities, which implies the method that can help Jivatman unite with the Paramatman.

Late M. R. Yardi proposes another point of view in which the word “Yuj” denotes contemplation.

The term Yoga conveys a range of meanings. It goes much beyond the modern limitation of postures and breathing techniques.

Patanjali himself defines Yoga as “Chitta-Vritti-Nirodha” i.e. the restrains of the function of the mind.

Agni Mahapurana also gives various (372.1-2) alternate definitions of Yoga, such as –

(i) knowledge of Brahma-enlightenment
(ii) one-pointedness of mind
(in) the restraint of the fluctuations of mind (iv) union of Jivatman and Paramâtman

In the Yajnavalkya-Smriti, it is said that the highest dharma lies in the realization of the self by means of Yoga.

History of the word “Yoga” shows that as early as in the Bhagavad-Gita the scope of the term Yoga transcended meditation (Dhyana), and included practices aligned to spiritual goals such as action (Karman), devotion (Bhakti), renunciation (Sannyasa) and knowledge (Jnana).

Ancient texts such as Puranas, Gita, and Yogasutra mention various types of yoga –

Karma-yoga, Kriya-yoga, maha-yoga, Jnana-yoga, Raja-yoga, Dhyana-yoga, and the Ashtanga-Yoga.

The ashtangas of Yoga are

1) Yamas (restraint)
2) Niyama (observances)
3) Asana (postures)
4) Pranayama (control of vital airs)
5) Pratyahara (withdrawal)
6) Dharana (fixation)
7) Dhyana (contemplation)
8) Samadhi (concentration).

Most of the Mahapuranas agree with the Yogasutra in that Yoga comprises eight (Ashtangas) or six (Shadanga) aspects, the latter without counting the Yamas and Niyamas.

They not only refer to Ashtangas in the same order adopted by Patanjali but also generally agree on the number of Yamas and Niyamas being five and mention the same Yamas and Niyamas.

The terminology used in these texts doesn’t differ from that of the Patañjala Yogasûtra.

We can safely assert that, at least for the last 2000 years, the science and the philosophy of Yoga have positively influenced people.

Today, for the remedies for both mind and body, millions of people are turning to Yoga. There cannot be a more incredible testimony to the relevance and the influence of Yoga than this.

The oldest manuscript in dates back to the year 1413 CE. The name of the manuscript is “Yogashastrantargat Shloka”.

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