The nectar of our yoga
The ancient philosophies (darshana) that our contempary yoga practices have stemmed from are a particular passion of mine.
WHERE DID IT ALL BEGIN?
A long long time ago may be the most accurate way of saying when yoga began as there is really little by way of proof, however Historians have estimated that it originated some 5000 years ago in the Indus Valley.
The Indus valley is a huge area that covers much of what is now known as Pakistan and Northwest India. The Indus Valley Civilisation was an extensive Bronze Age civilisation.
The oldest scared texts in the lineage of yoga are the Vedas. Veda means ‘knowledge’ and the originators of the Vedas were Rishis who received the teaching by divine revelation (sruti). Four books make up the Vedas:
Rig Veda - knowledge of the verses
Sama Veda - knowledge of the chants
Yajur Veda - knowledge of the sacrifice
Artarva Veda - knowledge of the fire priest
In addition to the Vedas came more texts called the Brahmanas. A Brahmin is a priest. Eventually people became disillusioned up with the way the power of the Brahmin was weilded so they renounced worldly life and dissipated into the forests where they set up ashrams. They produced a new set of scriptures called the Aranyakas.
It was the spiritual experience and subsequent wisdom received by these Forest Dwellers that is written down in the Upanishads.
The Mahavakyas are the ‘great contemplations’ of the Upanishads (and also Jnana yoga). Maha is Great, and Vakyas are sentences. They offer the aspirant a technique that compliments their mediations practice. The sentences are a focus for the mind. When they are contemplated at length then their truth will be revealed.
The Bhagavad Gita, a book/poem found within the epic, The Mahabharata, is sometimes classified as an Upanishad as it aligns with non-dualism. It details the story of a warrior, Arjuna, who when asked to fight in battle against his family has an ethical and spiritual crisis. He seek wisdom from his charioteer, who happens to be the God Krishna, who then offers him chapter after chapter of yoga wisdom.
Another very important text for yoga is the Yoga Sutras, ascribed to Patanjali, and very much based upon the dualism of Sankhya. The sutras are laid out 4 chapters of well systemised advice on how to attain a state of ‘kaivalya’ or freedom, a quieting of the mind. The sutras are short sentences that would have been used as a reference. Sutra means ‘thread’. It is thought that they were so called because when the aspirant sat down with their teacher or ‘Guru’, the Guru would then ‘bead the thread’ with their own insights.
Tantra developed later and is concerned with bodily experience to liberate the Self. Hatha Yoga is a later development of tantra (probably around the 14th century).
Hatha Yoga is a system that encompasses asana, pranayama, meditation and includes the many of the concepts of the earlier texts - albeit presented a little differently. The older texts mostly associated with it are the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (light on Hatha Yoga), the Gheranda Samhita, and the Siva Samhita – which all broadly describe the same practices and introduce the asanas as we would recognise them properly for the first time.