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Yuj: The Origins of Yoga

The origins of yoga
The origins of yoga

The Sanskrit word “yuj” and is where the word “yoga” comes from. It means “yoke”- such as the device used to harness two horses or oxen.

The word “yoga” first appeared in written record around 3500 years ago. Philosophers and scholars believe that yoga was practiced way before this, before anything could be written down. Some of them also believe that yoga was practiced in many different places around the world, all the ancient civilisations.

They call this the golden age, where spirituality was the norm and spiritual practices as common as email and the Internet.

But this golden age slowly came to a decline and people became less and less interested in spiritual practices. But in one place at least these practices still flourished. That place is India. And so we know India to be the preserver of these practices and the mother of yoga.

The word “yoga” appears in sacred scripture called the Vedas. “Veda” means knowledge, and 3500 years ago this WAS the Internet.

Here is what the Rig Veda says -

“Seers of the vast illumined Seer, they yogically control their mind and their intelligence.”

In the Rig Veda, one of the 4 books of the Vedas, The word “yoga” was used to mean “yoking” or “discipline” although no systematic practice was described.

In the Artha Veda, the word “yoga” is used to mean harnessing of the breath and the mind.

Derived from the Vedas, the Upanishads have a more defined description of “yoga” as “path taken to achieve liberation from suffering”. The Upanishads point to two forms of yoga-

karma yoga- the path of action

Jnana yoga- path of knowledge or intense study of scripture.

One of the earliest Upanishads is the Maitriyana Upanishad it talks about yoga as the binding of the breath and the mind using the syllable “Om“ and joining or yoking of the ”Brahman”, universal soul, with the “atman”, individual soul inside all beings. This is where the word “yoga” also means “union” meaning uniting the universal soul with the individual soul.

The Maitriyana Upanishad offers a 6-fold path of Pranayama - Control of the breath

Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses Dhyana - Meditation

Dharana - Concentration Tarka - Contemplation Samadhi - absorption

The Bhagavad Gita. Written around 2,000 years ago is part of a larger book, the epic Mahabharata. The Bhagavad Gita describes three forms of yoga.

Karma yoga - path of service Jnana yoga - path of wisdom Bhakti yoga - path of devotion

So far, none of these books describe yoga as we know it today - doing a series of postures in a class. That doesn’t appear until much later.

“Asana” or posture was mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali written around the same period. Asana was mentioned as one of the eight limbs or parts of yoga along with Yama - ethics

Niyama - observances Pranayama - control of the breath

Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses Dharana - concentration

Dhyana -meditation Samadhi - absorption

Patanjali does not describe any yoga posture in particular, only the way that they should be done

Shtir sukham asanam

Asanas should be done with comfort and ease.

In the second line of the first chapter, Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutra defines yoga this way - is Yoga in this way Yoga is control of the thought waves of the mind.

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