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 lives.
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
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 Veds 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
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 Veds.
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 Veds, 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
1. Yam, which means social restraints or ethical values,
2. Niyam, which is personal observance of purity, tolerance,
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.