might already have an idea of what Yog is but to understand it better,
we have to know what it has become as well as its roots and beginnings.
A quick look at the history of Yog will help us appreciate its rich
tradition and who knows, it might help us incorporate Yog into our
Yog is said to be as old as civilization, there is no physical evidence
to support this claim. Earliest archaeological evidence of Yog's existence
could be found in stone seals which depict figures of Yog Poses. The
stone seals place Yog's existence around 3000 B.C.
however, have a reason to believe that Yog existed long before that
and traced its beginnings in Stone Age Shamanism. Both Shamanism and
Yog have similar characteristics particularly in their efforts to improve
the human condition at that time. Also, they aim to heal community members
and the practitioners act as religious mediators. Though we know Yog
as focusing more on the self, it started out as community-oriented before
it turned inward.
a better discussion of the history of Yog, we could divide it into
four periods: the Vedic Period, Pre-Classical Period, Classical Period,
and Post-Classical Period.
Vedic Period :-
existence of the Ved's marks this period. The Ved's is the sacred scripture
of Brahmanism that is the basis of modern-day Hinduism. It is a collection
of hymns which praise a divine power. The Ved's contains the oldest
known Yogic teachings and as such, teachings found in the Vedas are
called Vedic Yog. This is characterized by rituals and ceremonies that
strive to surpass the limitations of the mind.
this time, the Vedic people relied on rishis or dedicated Vedic Yogi's
to teach them how to live in divine harmony. Rishi's were also gifted
with the ability to see the ultimate reality through their intensive
spiritual practice. It was also during this time that Yogi's living
in seclusion (in forests) were recorded.
Pre-Classical Yog :-
creation of the Upanishads marks the Pre-Classical Yog. The 200 scriptures
of the Upanishads (the conclusion of the revealed literature) describe
the inner vision of reality resulting from devotion to Brahman. These
explain three subjects: the ultimate reality (Brahman), the transcendental
self (atman), and the relationship between the two. The Upanishads further
explain the teachings of the Vedas.
shares some characteristics not only with Hinduism but also with Buddhism
that we can trace in its history. During the sixth century B.C., Buddha
started teaching Buddhism, which stresses the importance of Meditation
and the practice of physical postures. Siddhart Gautam, the first Buddhist
to study Yog, achieved enlightenment at the age of 35.
Bhagavad-Gita or Lord's Song was created and this is currently the oldest
known Yog scripture. It is devoted entirely to Yog and has confirmed
that it has been an old practice for some time. However, it doesn't
point to a specific time wherein Yog could have started. The central
point to the Gita is that - to be alive means to be active and in order
to avoid difficulties in our lives and in others, our actions have to
benign and have to exceed our egos.
as the Upanishads further the Vedas, the Gita builds on and incorporates
the doctrines found in the Upanishads. In the Gita, three facets must
be brought together in our lifestyle: Bhakti or loving devotion, Jnana
which is knowledge or contemplation, and Karm which is about selfless
actions. The Gita then tried to unify Bhaktiyog, Jnanyog, and Karmyog
and it is because of this that it has gained importance. The Gita was
a conversation between Prince Arjun and God-man Krishna and it basically
stresses the importance of opposing evil.
Classical Period :-
Classical Period is marked by another creation - the Yog Sutra. Written
by Patanjali around the second century, it was an attempt to define
and standardize Classical Yog. It is composed of 195 aphorisms or sutras
(from the Sanskrit word which means thread) that expound upon the Raja
Yog and its underlying principle, Patanjali's Eightfold path of Yog
(also called Eight Limbs of Classical Yog).
1. Yam, which means social restraints or ethical values;
2. Niyam, which is personal observance of purity, tolerance, and study;
3. Asan's or physical exercises;
4. Pranayam, which means breath control or regulation;
5. Pratyahar or sense withdrawal in preparation for Meditation;
6. Dharan, which is about concentration;
7. Dhyan, which means Meditation; and
8. Samadhi, which means ecstasy.
Patanjali believed that each individual is a composite of matter (prakriti)
and spirit (purusha). He further believed that the two must be separated
in order to cleanse the spirit - a stark contrast to Vedic and Pre-Classical
Yog that signify the union of body and spirit.
concept was dominant for some centuries that some Yogi's focused exclusively
on Meditation and neglected their Asan's. It was only later that the
belief of the body as a temple was rekindled and attention to the importance
of the Asan was revived. This time, Yogi's attempted to use Yog techniques
to change the body and make it immortal.
Post-Classical Yog :-
this point, we see a proliferation of literature as well as the practice
of Yog. Post-classical Yog differs from the first three since its
focus is more on the present. It no longer strives to liberate a person
from reality but rather teaches one to accept it and live at the moment.
was introduced in the West during the early 19th century. It was first
studied as part of Eastern Philosophy and began as a movement for health
and vegetarianism around the 1930's. By the 1960's, there was an influx
of Indian teachers who expounded on Yog. One of them was Maharishi Mahesh,
the Yogi who popularized Transcendental Meditation. Another one is a
prominent Yog Guru Swami Sivanand. Sivanand was a doctor in Malaysia
and he later opened schools in America and Europe. The most prominent
of his works is his modified Five Principles of Yog which are :
1. Shavasan or proper relaxation;
2. Asan's or proper exercise;
3. Pranayam or proper breathing;
4. Proper diet; and
5. Dhyan or positive thinking and Meditation
Sivanand wrote more than 200 books on Yog and Philosophy and had many
disciples who furthered Yog. Some of them were Swami Satchitananda who
introduced chanting and Yog to Woodstock; Swami Sivananad Radha who
explored the connection between psychology and Yog, and Yogi Bhajan
who started teaching Kundalini Yog in the 70's.
Up to this day, Yog continues to proliferate and spread its teachings,
crossing the boundaries of culture and language.