Yoga History: Taking the Long View

Glimpses of what evolves into Yoga can be gleaned from early sources: the loving attention paid to animals and the seated seemingly meditative figures in the seals of the Indus Valley (ca. 3000 B.C.E.) as well as the invocation of tapas (purifying heat) in the Vedas (ca. 1500 B.C.E.). The naming of Yoga as spiritual practice arises in the later Upanisads (Katha, Maitri, Svetasvatara), which describe Yoga as meditation (taraka) and a way to connect with one's greater self (Atman). These Brahmanical texts, combined with the Sramanical practices (ethical and meditative) of Jainism and Buddhism, contribute key aspects to the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, which emerges by the early centuries of the common era. Yoga adapts Samkhya as its conceptual frame, honoring a worldview that seeks to understand the relationship between the consciousness witness (purusa), the world held in potential (avyakta prakriti), and the world as fully manifest (vyakta prakriti). At a later time, the Jains commit to writing down various modes used to embody states of Yoga, including asana and pranayama in the Yogashastra (11th century), expounded more fully in Hatha Yoga texts such as the Dattareyayogashastra (13th century) and the Hathapradipika (18th century), signaling the birth of what today is called modern Yoga.

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Christopher Chapple
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