What Does Yoga Mean in the Vedic Culture?
The foundations of Yoga can be followed back to over 5000 years. The most primitive reference to Yoga was discovered when archaeological digging works were conducted in the Indus valley. Old carvings that delineate a figure were found and a few archaeologists believed it was a yogi sitting in a customary leg over leg yoga posture with its hands lying on its knees pondering.
Yoga's roots can be segregated into four fundamental timeframes of development: the Vedic Period, Pre-Classical Period, Classical Period, and Post-Classical Period. We may have been following and practising yoga for a long while now, yet to comprehend it better we need to look further into its sources and roots. A review on yoga history will assist us with valuing the yoga custom better as well as help us understand the position of Yoga in the Vedic Culture.
The Vedic Period
Veda is information or knowledge and Yoga is its training or practice. They are different sides of the same coin. Yoga drives us to Veda, as well as explains it. Veda exemplifies itself through Yoga as its indicator.
By delving into the world of Vedas, we can comprehend that Yoga history has left some strong pieces of information or clues behind like antiquities and records delineating yoga stances. The Vedas are the most ancient sacred writing on the planet, which belongs to the Indus-Sarasvati human advancement. It is an aggregation of songs that praises a supreme power which included the earliest recorded lessons for Yoga.
The earliest traces of yogic exercises and the Indian culture have been found in the Vedas. These are basically a collection of ceremonies and hymns more than 3000 years of age. Yoga in the Vedic culture or Vedic Yoga spins around the idea of juxtaposing the noticeable material world with the imperceptible spiritual world by giving up specific things. So as to rehearse these fairly long ceremonies effectively it was important to have the capacity of focussing the brain to a very high level. This inward concentration working as a tool to improve the tactile and human ability is the very foundation of all Yoga.
The presence of the Vedas denotes this period. The Vedas contain the earliest Yogic lessons and accordingly, lessons found in the Vedas are called Vedic Yoga. This is depicted by customs and ceremonies that attempt to go past the constraints of the brain.
During this period the Vedic lessons were for all and not only for the religious elite. The Vedic teachings were communicated to the individuals by Vedic prophets, called Rishis, who had mastered the right perception about the origin of life and its presence. The songs of these Rishis disseminated vital facts about solid instinct, intelligence and information about human beings that can motivate new degrees of understanding, even for the present generation.
Researchers have conducted an in-depth study and found out that these things go way back in 3000 B.C. The earliest existing text, the Rig Veda, has confirmations that it contains some yoga philosophies and principles. Rig Veda is the aggregation of psalms that incorporate prayers and ceremonies for divine congruity and greater being. Brahmanism is the premise of present-day Hinduism and Rig Veda is its sacred scripture. The Rig Veda contains the earliest and the most established known yogic lessons and teachings. The people of the Vedic period depended on rishis and followed the teachings of Vedic Yogis to learn how to live in divine amicability. These sacred writings clearly manifest the position of Yoga in the Vedic culture.
The advent of the Upanishads denotes the beginning of the Pre-Classical period. The Upanishads further clarify and elaborate the lessons of the Vedas.
The earliest Hindu text is the Rig Veda. Yoga can be traced back to this sacred scripture that lays emphasis on uniting the mind, soul and body into a cosmic "one".
The Upanishads are a moderately new aspect of the Vedas. They are one of the world's greatest repositories of spiritual insight and wisdom. In the Upanishads, we can find the earliest examples of what we presently observe as traditional concepts and terminology of ‘Yoga’.
There are writing's about:
· Breathing control
· Uniting of the six limbs
· Sensory inhibition
Yoga shares a few attributes with Hinduism as well as with Buddhism that can be followed in its history. Buddha began preaching Buddhism during the 6th century B.C. His teachings focussed on the significance of Meditation and the practice of physical postures or stances.
Over the course of time, around 500 B.C, the Bhagavad Gita came into existence and since then it is believed to be the oldest known Yoga scripture. A large portion of this religious scripture is devoted to Yoga along with confirmations that it has been an old practice for quite a while. Just as the Upanishads further the Vedas, the Gita expands on and elaborates the principles and doctrines found in the Upanishads.
Yoga beyond the Vedic Period
The Classical Period is set apart by the ‘Yoga Sutra’. This was created by Patanjali around the second century. It was written to explain and normalise Classical Yoga. The Eightfold path of Yoga defined by Patanjali was called the ‘Eight Limbs of Classical Yoga’.
1. Yama, which implies social restrictions or moral qualities.
2. Niyama, which is adherence to purity, resistance, and study.
3. Asanas or physical activities and exercises.
4. Pranayama, which implies breath control.
5. Pratyahara, which means sense withdrawal to prepare for Meditation.
6. Dharana, which means concentration.
7. Dhyana, which implies Meditation.
8. Samadhi, which means happiness or ecstasy.
According to Patanjali, every individual is a composite of matter and soul. He preached that the two must be isolated so as to purify the soul, which is diametrically opposite to Vedic and Pre-Classical Yoga that suggest the association or union of body and soul.
After the period of the Yoga sutras, an extraordinary number of autonomous yoga schools and disciplines were created. Instead of Patanjalis' Yoga, the Yoga schools of this period were very similar to the post-classical and Vedic traditions, portrayed by the unification of body and mind.
Right from the Vedic Period to the 21st Century, Yoga has always remained an integral part of our lives. In modern times, yoga is for all and anyone can practice yoga. Regardless of what are your convictions, you can at present practice yoga. Our mentality towards spirituality, wellbeing, lifestyle and our place in the public arena have changed exponentially. As we experience the ill effects of physical and mental pressure, and battle with new and old ailments, yoga appears as the appropriate response.
The Four Major Paths of Yoga
In the words of Swami Sivananda, “The practice of Yoga leads to communion with the Lord. Whatever may be the starting point, the end reached is the same”.
Yoga manifests itself as four major paths, namely Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Rāja Yoga and Jñāna Yoga. These four paths are like the branches of a tree or tributaries of a river. They all have the same source and resting place. In essence, they are all the same.
The only thing that differentiates them is that there is a certain aspect of the mind involved in a particular path or practice. In Karma Yoga the active aspect of mind is involved; in Bhakti Yoga, the emotional aspect; in Rāja Yoga, the mystical aspect; in Jñāna Yoga, the intellectual aspect.
Karma ~ Service
Karma yoga is the yoga of action, the path of selfless service.
The practice of Karma Yoga involves performing an action without any expectation of any reward in return, thus renouncing the fruits of the action.
A Karma yogi sublimates the ego, purifies the heart and realises oneness with all beings by acting selflessly.
Karma Yoga can be practiced anywhere, anytime where there is a desire to serve. It depends on the attitude, not the action.
We have the opportunity to practice Karma Yoga by helping with activities such as teaching, cooking, serving food, cleaning etc. It helps to integrate with the community and put the teachings into practice.
Bhakti ~ Devotion
It is the devotional approach of yoga, the one of pure love.
This path involves surrendering oneself to God in order to realise the highest Truth. Aspirants channel their emotions into devotion, developing humility, self-surrender and the feeling of being an instrument in the hands of the Divine.
Bhakti Yoga can be practiced in many ways - praying, chanting, japa (repeating a mantra or name of the Divine), and by participating in ceremonies and rituals.
Aspirants choose a medium to express their devotion to develop a relationship with the Divine.
In the tradition of our Gurus, based on Hindu culture, Bhakti Yoga is practiced at yoga schools by way of kirtan (chanting the names of the Divine), ceremonies, prayers, rituals, celebrating festivals and service to the Gurus.
At yoga schools and ashrams, the principle of “Names are many but God is one. Religions are many but the Truth is one”, honours all religions and all forms of the Divine.
Rāja ~ Royal
This is the scientific, step-by-step approach of yoga, the one of mind control.
In the practice of Rāja Yoga, the mind is systematically analysed and various techniques are applied to bring it under control. This process turns the physical and mental energy into spiritual energy.
The practice of Rāja Yoga includes Hatha Yoga (yoga postures, cleansing techniques and breathing exercises) and meditation and other methods which help one to control body, mind and senses.
Rāja Yoga includes Ashtanga Yoga (eight limbs) by Patanjali Maharishi.
This approach leads to absolute mind control. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras mentions the third limb of Asana in only two paragraphs. This highlights the modern western fixation on bodily perfection. Patajali’s importance of the remaining 7 limbs are obvious, yet it is practiced correctly by only a handful of disciplined practitioners.
Jñāna ~ Knowledge
This is the philosophical approach to yoga, the yoga of knowledge.
Jñāna yoga is the most direct of the four paths, using intellectual inquiry for spiritual evolution.
It is practiced through: • Shravana – listening to the teachings of the guru or study of the scriptures such as Vedas • Manana – reflection on the teachings • Nididhyāsana – meditation on the nature of truth
A jñāna yogi uses the mind to examine its own nature through right inquiry (vicāra) and constant self-analysis (vivekā).
Through lectures and talks on a variety of topics related to the philosophy of yoga and through the study of spiritual texts and Gurus’ teachings, we can open ourselves to the teachings of Jñāna Yoga.