Discover the history of yoga and its origins!
You’ve finally decided to get off your yoga mat and you’re wondering where yoga comes from, what its history is and what the different trends are? This article is the beginning of a series of interventions organized by the Yogom Academy on Yoga. Here we lay the foundations. We begin to define yoga, to locate it between Religion, Hinduism and Buddhism. Where does it fit into the mythology? Where does the Sun Salutation come from?
You will find these interventions in Youtube videos, in replay on Instagram and in Podcast. Yogom, your French brand of responsible yoga is pleased to offer you these thematic focuses supported by experts but completely accessible to the understanding of the greatest number.
philosophy or religion?
In this teaching, Laura tells theancient but also recent history of yoga, its origins and tries to answer the questions that many people ask themselves: the question of the sacred, the spiritual and the divine in yoga.
Yoga obviously has a notion of the sacred which goes beyond postural discipline (asanas). Although there is something very personal in each person’s practice, since each person has his or her own vision of the sacred and the divine.
In general, philosophies can ask questions like: “Is there a purpose in life?”, “Who am I?”, “What is my place in the Universe?”. However, we also observe that some religions also ask the same questions and try to answer them.
Laura quotes Alexandre Astier, who explains that in India the border between religion and philosophy is very blurred. Alexandre Astier holds a doctorate in Indian art history from the University of Paris-Sorbonne and is a member of the Centre de recherches sur l’Extrême-Orient de Paris-Sorbonne (CREOPS).
ETYMOLOGY OF PHILOSOPHY
Philosophy means “love of wisdom”, search for knowledge.
So, can we say that Yoga is a philosophy in this sense?
Yes, because if we take the Upanishads as an example, these texts answer these philosophical questions. Thus, yoga is a form of philosophy.
ETYMOLOGY OF RELIGION
In the history of yoga there is a debate about the etymology of the word religion :
- Some people think that releeligio comes from the Latin verb relegere, which means “to reread, to reelect”.
- The other possibility, more commonly accepted in France, is that motreligio comes from the verb religare, “tolink, to bind more strongly“.
But we also know that yoga can sometimes mean “union”. We thus find the same notion of union as in the root of the word religion. One may ask the question of linking what to what?
The notion of Love
Laura quotes the philosopher Hegel:
“Religion represents the absolute Spirit, not only for intuition and representation, but also for thought and knowledge. Its primary purpose is to elevate the individual to the thought of God, to bring about his union with Him and to assure him of this unity. Religion is the truth as it is for all men. The essence of true religion is Love.”
Although Hegel is western, one can find in it the quest for elevation, enlightenment, union with a deity, and the notion of love. This can make us think of one of the paths of yoga, the Bhakti which is the way of devotion, of unconditional Love.
Small chronological point
There are several chronologies proposed by the experts. In general, Laura will refer to the chronology proposed by Georg Feuerstein which divides yoga into 9 stages:
- Pre-Vedic period (6500 – 4500 BC)
- Vedic period: (4500 – 2500 BC)
- Brahmanic period (2500 – 1500 BC)
- Period of the Upanishads (1500 – 1000 BC)
- Epic period (1000 to 500 BC)
- Classical period (100 BC to 500 AD)
- Sectarian period (1300 to 1700)
- Modern period (1700 to today)
Hinduism or Buddhism?
India is home to a multitude of cults and beliefs that have evolved over time. The four main religions in India are: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
However, it should be noted that Hinduism encompasses many traditions that often clash with each other. Moreover, Hinduism is more than a religion. It is a culture and a lifestyle in its own right and with a unique social system: the caste system.
Dualist and non-dualist currents
Within Hinduism, there are different currents and different schools of thought about the texts. There are dualist and non-dualist currents.
- Dualist currents: Consider that there is a separation of the divine with each being or a separation of the body and the spirit (depending on the use of the term dualistic)
- Non-dualist currents : C he non-dualists believe thatwe are all one and that this union is made at different levels according to the tradition. For example, a tradition can be considered non-dualistic in the sense that Atman (individual Consciousness) and Brahman (higher Consciousness, the divine) are the same thing.
The period of the Upanishads (from 1500 to 1000 BC) comes to denounce the Vedic rites, to question them because they are considered as repetitive and excessive. Animals were sacrificed, which involved violence for example. At this time we decide to wear our attention more towards the inside. We wondered if there would not be other ways to maintain the cosmic order, or a perennial happiness, in the duration. This criticism sometimes comes from a different caste than the Brahmins (the priestly class).
From these groups two people are born:
- The founder of Buddhism
- The founder of Jainism
The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, was born around 563 BC. He lived about 80 years, which is notable for the time. He is part of an aristocratic group and leaves his life as a prince to train with Brahmins, but he is left wanting: he finds something missing in this approach. Thus, it creates a new current of thought that dissociates itself from Hinduism.
Although it is developed, Buddhism declines little by little and develops especially in East Asia.
Mixing currents makes our practice inauthentic?
We can ask ourselves the question, in our current practice of yoga we make a mixture of many things: we can make a course which has Hindu notes, Buddhist notes. Does that make this an authentic yoga class? Laura refers us to a quote from an 11th century king Raja Bhoja who said:
Learn Buddhism, behave like a Jain, follow Vedic norms, and meditate on Shiva.
Mixing currents of thought does not mean making a thought inauthentic. There is a real dialogue between all the currents. At the time when the texts or oral traditions appear, there is a lot of exchange between them. There are Buddhist notions in the Yoga Sutra, notions of the Bhagavad-Gita in the Yoga Sutra. The borders are permeable.
MYTHOLOGY IN THE HISTORY OF YOGA
At the time of the Upanishads, the question ofan essence at the origin of everythingWe can call it God or Supreme Being: that intangible thing that connects everything. Some currents follow this path without personifying this universal consciousness, but In some currents this Supreme Being is personified as a deity.
They believe in several gods which are in fact only the different facets of a single entity . Thus, one can find different deities such as :
- Shivacorresponds tothe deity of destruction, she is both charismatic and terrifying.
- Lakshmi isthe goddess of fortune, prosperity, wealth and abundance.
- Ganesh isthe god who removes obstacles. He is also the god of wisdom, intelligence, education and prudence.
- And many others…
At the end of the 19th century, in Chicago, in 1893, something happened that put Hinduism back on the international scene. This is the speech of Vivekananda during his interventions in the Parliament of Religions.
Some say that there was probably a hidden agenda in this series of conferences: to show Christianity as the mother of all religions.
This was without counting the speech of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902). During the Parliament of Religions, he gives a series of speeches, the most important of which is the opening speech. He names Hinduism as the mother of all religions. Vivekananda also recalls the values of tolerance and acceptance of Hinduism. It highlights Hinduism by showing that it is the oldest religion. In his speech he also denounced the Indian temples that were destroyed by the Romans in the past, and the welcome that India gave to the Muslims after the Muslim invasions in India. Through his popular public discourses and writings, Swami Vivekananda wasone of the first people to introduce Hinduism to the Western world.
What is interesting, according to Laura, is that during his opening speech he quotes the Bhagavad-Gita. Following this speech, Hinduism became very popular on the international scene: people began to ask questions about Hinduism and its essence.
Swami Vivekananda becomes very famous, and will stay several years in the United States to make the spokesman of the Hinduism in Occident. He will also publish a book called Raja Yoga (Raja means king). In it, he explains his vision of yoga: he makes a commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and he will also explain the importance of following yoga paths such as Jnana, the yoga of knowledge.
The exclusion of Hatha
Strangely, in his book, Vivekananda does not mention Hatha. Legend has it that his guru Râmakrishna appeared to him after his death in a dream to tell him that Hatha was not a “royal” path, and therefore not to be followed. Vivekananda in his work will therefore exclude this path from Hatha. Yet we know that Hatha is fully part of the recent history of Yoga.
MODERN YOGA PRACTICE
The physical culture
In parallel, something in India that will influence the traditional physical practice. Indeed, with the arrival of the British Empire, little by little, a movement of physical culture will influence what happens in India in the 19th and 20th century.
This corresponds to a sport activity whose goal is to develop the muscles of the body. This movement is already gaining momentum in Germany, the United States and the British Empire, and is beginning to make its mark in India.
However, some Indians reject the British Empire which have wished toput forward interesting practices in their culture, and in particular the Hatha.
The fathers of modern yoga
The first yoga teachers in the sense that it is commonly understood today: teachers of a physical practice and who are interested in the benefits on the body, for health, through breathing techniques. They teach Hatha in particular.
Shri Yogendra and Swami Kuvalayananda have done a great deal of medical research to highlight the benefits of yoga. In particular, postural and breathing practices (Pranamayas). They will both greatly influence the popularity of Hatha, which was not the most noble and popular path according to the philosophers. The latter travel a lot in the West to communicate about the discipline.
- Tirumalai Krishnamacharya
The latter will not spend much time on medical research. It goes beyond that and focuses on the benefits of sport. He will begin to offer special sequences to his students, for example, specifically for back pain or some other illness. Krishnamacharya will offer health programs tailored to each of his students. Unlike the first two, Krishnamacharya will not leave India. But among his students is the famous Pattabhi Jois, father of Ashtanga.
The birth of Ashtanga Vinyasa
The birth of Iyengar
In parallel, B.K.S. Iyengar, became the founder of Iyengar Yoga. He was another student of Krishnamacharya. The latter was known to be hard on his students and would have told his brother-in-law B.K.S Iyengar that his body was not made for the Art of Yoga. B.K.S Iyengar would therefore have left and developed his own yoga adapted to his body,using supports like the bricks and the straps . That’s how he developed his method.
Indra Devi popularizes yoga
One of Krishnamacharya’s students is named Indra Devi. She is the first of the western women to be a student of Krishnamacharya in India. After receiving her teachings, she moved to the United States and settled in California. It will start to teaching yoga to the Hollywood elite. Marilyn Monroe was one of his students, which contributed to the modernization and popularity of yoga. The latter became a cosmopolitan discipline since it was adopted by movie stars. From that moment on, California becomes a cradle of modern yoga. So there is an explosion in demand, in the number of teachers, and in the number of studios.
At the beginning, we have a practice that is personalized, but quickly comes the need to train new teachers to meet the demand. The transmission from master to student was no longer possible because there were so many students. This is how group classes are created, with more standardized teaching.
Debate on Ashtanga
Many people think that Ashtanga is so called to remind them that it is a discipline that comes from the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. Mark Sigleton recently published a book on “The Roots of Yoga”. recalls that the word Ashtanga referred to a posture, and simply indicated that eight limbs were being referred to. According to him, there is no link with the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali.
The sun salutation
What is the Sun Salutation?
Greeting to the Sun” is the translation of surya namaskara.
This is a sequence that is done in almost every yoga class. It has become a must, except in the softer disciplines like Yin, Nidra or Restorative. However, it does not appear in classical texts.
Its modern origin
As we know the Sun Salutation, we did not find any text describing it before 1938, the year of publication of the booklet “The Ten-Point Way to Health written by Raja of the Aundh (an Indian region). This booklet explains that in order to have good health, we must practice the Sun Salutation regularly. In this booklet, he has proposed a series of postures that he believes are beneficial .
A recent practice based on ancient rituals
This discovery is interesting because itsometimes seems like a thousand-year-old discipline when in fact it is very recent. Perhaps the Sun Salutation existed before this booklet, but we don’t really know how to date it. The Sun Salutation is mentioned in the texts before 1938, but it was certainly an act of prostration, and not the Sun Salutation as it is known today.
This booklet is available for free online, and the author gives us indications on the Sun Salutation adapted to women and children. It also gives indications on the time of day to perform it.
Listen to this episode in Podcast
Watch this episode on YouTube
Check out the other articles in our special report that might interest you:
- The 8 members of Raja Yoga
- The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali
- The Bhagavad-Gita
- The Vedas
- The Hatha Yoga Project
- The causes of suffering in yoga
- The Karma
This teaching is offered by Laura Arley, a passionate yogi. Laura is of Mexican origin and has become aCertified teacher in Vinyasa, Yin, Restorative and Yoga for Seniors. She teaches in Toulouse and online. For her, yoga is a way of life that is practiced on and off the mat. Every experience is a lesson and every person can teach us something. According to her, nur mat is a playground to explore notions, to test ourselves and also to have fun and to free ourselves!