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A short history of yoga from the Himalayas

Nataraj Shiva first Yogi Awake Space
Nataraj Shiva first Yogi Awake Space

Yoga, an ancient mind-body practice with origins in Indian philosophy, seeks to unite the body and mind by increasing awareness of one’s physicality through postures or asanas that are combined with deep breathing. The word Yoga first appeared in the oldest sacred texts the Rig Veda and is derived from a Sanskrit root Yuj meaning "to join."

The Yogic scriptures say that practicing Yoga leads to a union of consciousness with universal Consciousness. This eventually results in harmony between the mind and body, as well as between humans and nature.

History and Development of Yoga

Centuries ago, in the Himalayas, Adiyogi imparted his wisdom to seven sages on the banks of Lake Kantisarovar. It was the sages who brought this powerful yogic science to different parts of the world, such as Africa, Asia and South America.

Interestingly, modern scholars have noted how ancient cultures across the globe share remarkable similarities in their religious practices for example sun worshiping by early Egyptians as well as Native Americans also involved various forms of Shamanism.

It was in the Indian subcontinent that this yoga practice found its fullest expression. The Saptarishis who traveled across India crafting cultures around a core way of living based upon these principles.

The earliest mention of the word ‘yoga’ is in an ancient Indian text, the Rig Veda. This collection of knowledge dates back to around 1500 B.C., where there are references to control over breath being important for a long life (atharva veda: 1200-1000 bc).

Because the Vedas were originally an oral tradition, their exact date of origin is difficult to pinpoint. However, they were written down during the Gupta period between 300 AD and 500 AD.

During this time, many Hindu sects emerged and began to develop their own unique philosophies. One of these sects was called Shaivism, which focused on the god Shiva.

Shiva was known for his dance moves and his ability to create illusions. He was also associated with the moon and the planet Saturn.

From ancient times (pre-Vedic period 2700 B.C) until Patanjali‘s time, there was evidence of yoga practice and its associated texts. These include the Vedas, Upanishad, Smriti, Buddhist teachings, Jainism, Epic poetry, and Purana.

Pre-classical period

The Upanishads are a collection of Hindu scriptures written in the form of dialogues and discussions between teachers and students. They elaborate on metaphysical concepts, such as self-realization through meditation.

There are twenty yoga Upanishads, which talk about various yogic techniques, such as pranayama and pratyahara breathing exercises and sensory withdrawal.

Classical period

The classical period of yoga was between 500 BC and AD 800.

Lord Mahavira (the founder of Jainism) and Lord Buddha (the founder of Buddhism) both taught similar methods of achieving liberation from suffering. However, they differed significantly in their views regarding the nature of reality and the ultimate goal of life.

The Bhagavad Gita, a text that is considered one of the most important in Hinduism, also came into existence during this period. In it, Lord Krishna (universal consciousness) speaks with Prince Arjuna (human consciousness) a dialogue that takes place on the battlefield but explores themes related to finding our purpose in life and overcoming doubt.

In these verses, the Lord explains the concepts of Dharma (duty), Karma yoga (generous actions), Bhakti yoga (dedicated and caring actions) and Jnana yoga.

The Mahabharata, an ancient Hindu epic poem from India dating back to approximately 300-200 BC mentions several concepts similar to those defined by the sage Patanjali in his treatise on yoga.

Yoga's goals include the separation of self from matter, perceiving Brahman everywhere, entering into the Brahman state the recognition that one’s own atma is one and equal with the universal Purusha or supreme Self.

Modern Period

Mahavatar Babaji (1828-1895)

Maharaj (MBM) is a Hindu deity who appears in many forms throughout India. He is both ageless and eternally young. Sometimes he appears before his disciples in formless bliss, while at other times to liberate humanity from its worldly fetters he assumes any physical manifestation that serves this purpose.

Babaji Maharaj has dedicated his life to deep meditation in the Himalayas meditating for hours on end in caves and dense forests, while at the same time watching over earnest seekers trying to find their paths to God.

According to his disciples Lahiri Mahashaya, Swami Prananada and Shriyukteshwar Maharaj, Sri Ramakrishna's divine play of miraculous appearance and disappearance is recounted.

Paramahamsa Yogendra and Paramahamsa Sri Ramana Maharshi, in their own way, help disciples on the spiritual journey achieve moksha (liberation).

He describes Lahiri Mahashaya's life from birth to ascension as the mother bird shields its young under protective wings.

Mahavatar Babaji initiated Lahiri Mahashaya into the liberating and sacrosanct techniques of Kriya Yoga. By divine power, he entered the deepest level of God-realization nirvikalpa samadhi.

After crossing the various stages of Self-knowledge, he remained steadfast in brahma loka for seven days.

The compassionate Babaji Maharaj directed him to return to the world and live as an ideal yogi householder, blazing a path for others who earnestly sought God-realization.

Through these teachings, Babaji taught that liberation, the state of being free from the cycle of birth and death and able to experience one's unity with God, is possible for all people, not just ascetics or otherworldly types. Through seeking our true selves at every moment during all activities, we can achieve God-realization (self-realization).

Kriya Yoga, as taught by Lahiri Mahasaya, is traditionally passed down from guru to disciple in an initiation ceremony that must remain secret.

The Kriya Yoga path of Paramahansa Yogananda, a modern revival of the timeless science originally taught by Raja Yoga masters in India thousands of years ago, has been sent through the Self-Realization Fellowship teachings to all nations. It provides us with the tools to better ourselves as we strive for global harmony.

The Kriya Yoga path of Paramahansa Yogananda, a modern revival of the timeless science originally taught by Raja Yoga masters in India thousands of years ago, has been sent through the Self-Realization Fellowship teachings to all nations.

Yogananda describes Kriya Yoga as the process whereby a yogi mentally directs his life energy to revolve moving upward and downward around six spinal centers, which correspond to twelve astral signs of the zodiac: symbolic Cosmic Man. A half minute of meditation is said to be equivalent in its effects on spiritual evolution to one year’s worth of growth through natural means.

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