HISTORY OF YOG

We 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.

Although 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.

Scholars, 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.

For 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 :-

The 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.

During 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 :-

The 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.

Yog 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.

The 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.

Just 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 :-

The 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).

These are :

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.

Patanjali's 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 :-

At 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.

Yog 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.