What is Yoga: Importance, Philosophy, History & Benefits [Infographics]

Yoga brief History

When you first time heard about ‘YOGA,’ what image comes in your mind of it?

You would have thought, Yoga is a set of physical exercises to get a more flexible & strong body, or it is some mind training practices to improve the mental level of an individual 1.

Beyond tons of physical & mental benefits, Yoga unites ‘You’ with ‘Real You.’

In this article, I summarised a traditional Indian aspect to approach what yoga is? Starting from core meaning & origin to how yoga propagates around the world – You will amaze to read the information covered up in this article.

Definition

Yoga is a way of living life at its highest potential so that individual one unites with the entire existence of creation. The path we follow to feel this deepen experience is called Yoga.

The term Yoga derived from Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’ around 5000 years 2 ago in India. It means ‘To Yoke’ or ‘To Connect.’ The practice of yoga connects

  • Soul with Supreme-soul
  • Ego-self with the divine Self
  • Individual consciousness to the universal consciousness
  • Body & mind with Soul

What is yoga & 3 aspects of yoga

3 Aspects of Yoga

Practicing three aspects mentioned in the above infographic prepare yogi for samadhi.

In different religion around the world 3, the ultimate goal of yoga has changed according to people. But the manner and sequencing of practicing remain the same everywhere.

The old lesson of yoga originated in India, practiced in this manner:

  • Moral and ethical principles of life
  • Spiritual philosophy
  • The system of body postures to keep the body fit
  • Breathing exercises to control Prana flow
  • Chanting of the sacral mantra
  • Stilling the mind through meditation techniques

Ancient Hindu ascetics practice yoga in a very disciplinary set of spiritual, mental and physical exercise 4. This practice made them realize, as they go deepen in practice body and mind unites into one single entity, i.e., supreme-soul: the super-consciousness. Buddhi (intellect) remains inactive during this state.

This state in yoga is called Ananda – the inner bliss where you come above the delusion of the mundane world and enjoy the oneness in the nothingness.

Yoga popularizes in the modern era as a form of exercise & meditation, but primarily yoga is a spiritual science.

Set of physical, mental & ethical disciplines in yoga are practiced to focused on Self-realization. From the beginning itself, the practice of yoga has aimed to bring an individual to its reality.

Today even modern science has discovered that the whole universe is the manifestation of a single subtle point (energy of creation) 5. A person who experiences oneness with this energy is said to be in yoga.

The Science of Yoga: How Does It Work?

There was a great psychologist during the 2nd century BCE in India named sage Maharishi Patanjali. Patanjali is the compiler of foremost yogic scripture ‘Yoga Sutra‘ & also called the ‘The father of classical yoga.

Yoga Sutra is all about mastering over mind, growing spiritually & perceive beyond ‘5 physical senses‘.

Patanjali knew from the very beginning that humans are accustomed to the external world for their fulfillment.

Further, this constant desire for accomplishment from the external world creates thought-patterns in mind. In this way, awareness starts flowing to the external world & we become unaware of…

  • Who am I?
  • Why am I here?
  • How do I realize Truth?

The practice of yoga works on the principle of stilling thought-patterns of mind & restlessness of body that prevent us from knowing what we are.

How Yoga still the mind’s thought-patterns?

Suppose we are doing a physical posture, breathing exercise or meditation. In the process of finding deepen and subtle physical experience in yogic practice, we focused the mind on a specific task.

In this way, body & mind helps each other to find it’s stability.

Once body and mind found the correct balance, we no more dependent on partial & deceptive data supplied through 5 physical senses.

This process helps in flow awareness inwardly & thought-patterns stop creating in mind.

Foundation of Yoga: Yogic Philosophy

Philosophy of Yoga is a part of 6 orthodox schools in Hindusium namely Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa & Vedanta 6.

Yogic philosophy is most influential among other six as it conceptualizes theoretical knowledge with the systematic techniques & personal experiment.

Samkhya, the foremost one, is an atheistic philosophy to approach liberation (moksha) while in yoga, God (Ishvara) plays an important role to liberate.

Yogic philosophy comprises a basic understanding of the following concepts.

  1. Two pillars of yogic philosophy – Purusha (Soul or Consciousness) & Prakriti (Matter or Nature)
  2. Qualities of Jiva (Living being) – Tri Gunas
  3. The ethical principle of life – Yamas & Niyamas
  4. Mind stilling practices – 8 Limbs of Yoga
  5. The path of liberation – 4 Paths of Yoga

1. Purusha & Prakriti

In the philosophy of yoga, there considered two layers one above other for our essence of existence.

  • The upper layer (Prakriti) – makes us experience the physical world.
  • The lower layer (Purusha) – makes us feel the upper layers experiences.

Purusha (Soul) is the True-self, essence of experience & Creator of everything. It is an eternal source of pure consciousness which never created & will never destroy. When it comes to Purusha – there is nothing mundane or no worldly desires & hence no suffering.

Prakriti (Nature) is the Created-self, a tool of experiencing & Stems from Purusha. It changes forms with time & goes through the endless cycle of birth and death. Prakriti creates delusion which keeps us bind into the mundane world.

Purusha (Soul) experience Prakriti (Matter) through different filters (screens).

Suppose we are looking the world through red shades, then outside will look reddish. Our attitude towards something is always dependent on the filters we use. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra described these filters as Vrittis.

With the use of these Vrittis, Prakriti (what we are experiencing) dominant over Purusha (the essence of experience), from which it stems. Hence, we forget the True-self (soul) over Created-self (Nature).

”Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha” – Yoga Sutra

Yogic Philosophy tells us, the practice of yoga ceases the Vritti (Fluctuations) of mind to make us realize the True-self over Created-self.

2. Tri-Gunas

Yoga philosophy makes understand the construction & working of mind through Tri-Gunas. It is a concept of Samkhya philosophy, which later on adopted as a part of yogic philosophy.

Sattva, Rajas & Tamas are the three qualities of a living being 7.

  • Sattva – The state of Balance, Joy & Intelligence
  • Rajas – The state of Movement, Energy & Change
  • Tamas – The state of Inertia, Darkness & materialist

Every person has found in any of these states throughout many times in their lifespan. Yoga brings the Sattvic state in a person’s life.

History of Yoga: Origin & Development Timeline

origin of yoga with development timeline

History of Yoga: Detail information

1. Pre-Vedic Period

In Pre -Vedic India number of signs of yoga were seen in Indus-Saraswati valley civilization. It developed around 3300–1300 BCE in Northern India.

2. Vedic period (1700–500 BCE)

Vedas are sacred scripture of Brahmanism which contains Hymns, Mantras, and Rituals.

Rig-Veda the oldest holy Hindu scripture in which word ‘YOGA’ used first time in a Hymn 8.

In Atharvaveda, A group of ascetic called Vratya are to be shown doing some bodily postures which have evolved into Physical exercises in today’s world.

In the Vedic period, Rishis or Yogis was called by Vedic people to share their spiritual and yogic knowledge with them. It’s known as Vedic Yoga.

The aim of Vedic Yoga was to Yajna (Sacrifice) of the individual’s body and soul to unites with the supreme God by practice Tapas, Asana, and Samadhi.

3. Pre-classical Period (500-200 BCE)

Pre-classical Yoga begins when Brahmans and Rishis start emerging Yoga concepts (which were in the air till date) in Upanishads & scripture like Bhagavad Gita 9.

In Hindu religion early writing on Pre-classical Yoga was written in Katha Upanishad along with 200 other scriptures.

Katha Upanishad describes Yoga as a connector bridge between mind and soul constituents. This connection can be attained with the practice of physical posture, restraining breath and focus mind meditatively at a silent place.

Bhagavad Gita describes Yoga in a variety of ways through Karma Yoga (Action), Bhakti Yoga (Devotion) and Jnana Yoga (Knowledge).

In Buddhism, A systematic and comprehensive study on the Yoga-related concept shown in Pali Canon (A collection of Buddhist scriptures written in Pali language).

4. Classical Period (200 BCE – 500 CE)

The classical period witnessed for the beginning of systematic and comprehensive methods, ideas, techniques and practices of Yoga. Classic Yoga consists the Patanjali’s organized knowledge from Brahmans and Rishi-Munis of the Vedic-period.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is a collection of 196 sutra containing methods and different theories of Yoga 10. Patanjali Yoga is also called Raja Yoga, i.e., Yoga to get control over your mind and emotions.

Ashtanga Yoga which elaborates steps and stages to obtain Samadhi state, also derived from Patanjali’s writings.

5. Post-classical Period

Post-classical Yoga’s main focus was to live in the current moment and accept the reality rather than strive to liberate a person from existence.

Scripture of the post-classical period called Bhagavata Purana describes a form of Yoga called Viraha (Separation) from the physical world and concentrate on the Krishna (God). Hence, the earlier time of yogis in Post-classical Period was gone meditation and contemplation.

Later on, different Yoga masters refused ancient teaching of Yoga and probed the hidden powers of the physical body to achieve enlightenment. As Vedas teaching has now converted into the development of physical body and so Tantra Yoga began with this.

6. Modern Period

The modern period started in the late 18th century when Indian masters start sowing Yoga’s seed to western countries.

18th Century

A disciple of saint Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, was the first Yogi to influence the western people about Yoga.

In 1893, Vivekananda’s speech in Chicago Parliament of the World Religions spread long lasting impression on the American public about Yoga 11.

Other Yoga Gurus was Paramahansa Yogananda who represented India in 1920’s International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston US.

His different techniques of meditation and Kriya Yoga made his millions of followers in western and India. His founded organization was Self-Realization Fellowship.

19th Century

As Yoga has been usually synonym with Asana in the west, many Yoga Gurus started work on Hatha Yoga to propagate their teachings in the western culture. During the 1920s and 1930s two most prominent yoga gurus in India were T. Krishnamacharya and Swami Sivananda.

T.Krishnamacharya also called as the father of modern Yoga was the revival of Hatha Yoga. Krishnamacharya opened a first Yoga school in Mysore under the patronage of King in 1931. Some of the most renowned students of T. Krishnamacharya are B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois. They became the famous Yoga teacher in the west, continued his legacy and increase the popularity of Hatha Yoga.

B.K.S. Iyengar is the founder of  ‘Iyengar Yoga.’ Krishnamacharya was the brother-in-law of B.K.S. Iyengar so that he encouraged Iyengar to learn Yoga at the early stage of their life.

T.K.V. Desikachar was the son of Krishnamacharya. He is the founder of Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (KYM), a yoga therapy clinic and yoga center in Madras. He taught a form of Yoga known as vinyasa yoga all around the world.

Swami Sivananda was a proponent of Yoga and Vedanta. He founded divine life society (DLS) 12 in Rishikesh and published more than 200 books on Yoga. His book contains the practical application of Yoga philosophy over theoretical knowledge.

Apart from Hatha yoga, Kundalini yoga was also introduced around 1969 in the USA by Swami Satchidananda and Yogi Bhajan.

The Yogic Tree: 6 Branches of Yoga

Yoga is a very vast science of life & understanding it through only a single approach would be impossible for a person. The ancient yogis had worked to simplify yoga teaching.

Apart from just physical styles of yoga, they developed six branches of yoga. These six branches have unique characteristics, philosophies, practices & functions to approach life through yoga.

It is possible to practice more than one branch together, as all have one single goal – the self-realization.

1. Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga is the foundations of modern Yoga and translates as ‘the yoga of force.’ Physical postures of hath yoga are designed in a way to balance ‘Sun’ (Ha) & ‘Moon’ (tha) energies in the body.

2. Tantra Yoga

Tantra yoga is the ritualistic approach to bring equanimity between body & mind. Humans body and mind are cyclic and compulsiveness in nature. This behavior of the human’s body and mind keep us trapped in the limitations. Tantra Yoga is made up to go beyond these limitations and provide a platform to control over energies from the subtle body. 

3. Karma Yoga

Karma yoga is the pathway to selfless action. According to karma philosophy, every action is served as an offering to the divine (God) without any outcome desired. Karma yoga is something you can practice out of mat anytime, anywhere.

4. Bhakti Yoga

This branch is the spiritual path of yoga in which a practitioner devotes all actions to a chosen deity. Bhakti yoga develops the feeling of love & compassion for other beings. According to Bhakti philosophy surrendering ourselves towards divine & will reach us the ultimate goal of yoga, i.e., Self-realization.

 5. Jnana yoga

This branch of yoga is all about developing inwardly through acquired Knowledge, practice, wisdom & life experience. Jnana yoga practices self-observance to evolve seeker to know the truth of ‘Who I am.’ In this way, a practitioner can distinguish the duality of Truth-untruth.

6. Raja Yoga

Raja or ‘King’ is the branch of yoga that let us control over our mind very consciously and eliminate vritti (thought-patterns) created in our mind. It comprises many mindfulness techniques, austerity & physical poses to focus the mind at one point (Dharna – Concentration). It unfolds the eight limbs path described in Patanjali’s yoga sutra.

Yoga Benefits

We need a reason each time before starting a new thing & yoga give us thousand reasons to start it. Yoga works at the very subtle cell to a complicated organ of the body. Check here 46 Benefits of Yoga (Based on Scientific Research).

References

  1. Yoga for health [source]
  2. 5000 years old tradition [source]
  3. Contesting Yoga’s Past [source]
  4. Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati – 3 aspects of yoga [source]
  5. Mystical Union: And the Metaphysical Philosophy of Yoga [source]
  6. 6 Orthodox Schools in Indian philosophy [source]
  7. Concept of personality : Indian perspective [source]
  8. First use of word Yoga [source]
  9. Yoga in Bhagavad Gita [source]
  10. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali [source]
  11. Vivekananda in Parliament of the World Religions 1893 [source]
  12. The Divine Life Society is an organization [source]

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