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This article is about the umbrella term “yoga” which includes religion, philosophy, and practices. For other uses, see
Yoga (disambiguation)

“Yog” redirects here. For other uses, see
Yog (disambiguation)

A male yogi
Two female yoginis

Male and female
yogis
from 17th- and 18th-century India


This article contains

Indic text

.

Without proper

rendering support

, you may see

question marks or boxes

, misplaced vowels or missing conjuncts instead of Indic text.


Yoga

(

;


[1]


Sanskrit

:

योग

;

) is a group of

physical

,

mental

, and

spiritual

practices or disciplines which originated in

ancient India

. There is a broad variety of yoga schools, practices, and goals

in

Hinduism

,

Buddhism

, and

Jainism

.


[3]


[4]


[5]

Among the most well-known types of yoga are

Hatha yoga

and

Rāja yoga

.


[6]

The origins of yoga have been speculated to date back to pre-

Vedic


Indian

traditions; it is mentioned in the

Rigveda

,


[note 1]

but most likely developed around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE,


[8]

in ancient India’s

ascetic

and

śramaṇa

movements.


[note 2]

The chronology of earliest texts describing yoga-practices is unclear, varyingly credited to

Upanishads

.


[10]

The


Yoga Sutras of Patanjali


date from the first half of the 1st millennium CE,


[11]


[12]

but only gained prominence in the West in the 20th century.

Hatha yoga texts emerged around the 11th century with origins in

tantra

.


[14]


[15]

Yoga gurus from India later introduced yoga to the West,

following the success of

Swami Vivekananda

in the late 19th and early 20th century.

In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of

physical exercise

across the Western world.


[15]

Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise; it has a meditative and spiritual core.


[17]

One of the six major orthodox schools of Hinduism is also called

Yoga

, which has its own epistemology and metaphysics, and is closely related to Hindu

Samkhya

philosophy.


[18]

Many studies have tried to determine the effectiveness of yoga as a complementary intervention for

cancer

,

schizophrenia

,

asthma

, and heart disease.


[19]


[20]

The results of these studies have been mixed and inconclusive.


[19]


[20]

On December 1, 2016, yoga was listed by

UNESCO

as an

intangible cultural heritage

.


[21]

Etymology





Karnataka

,

Statue of
Shiva
in
Bangalore

India
, performing yogic meditation in the
Padmasana
posture.

The

Sanskrit

noun


yoga


translates to (and is cognate with) English ”

yoke

“. It is derived from the
root



yuj



“to attach, join, harness, yoke”.

The spiritual sense of the word


yoga


first arises in

Epic Sanskrit

, in the second half of the 1st millennium BCE, and is associated with the philosophical system presented in the

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

,
with the chief aim of “uniting” the human spirit with the

Divine

.


[22]

The term


kriyāyoga


has a grammatical sense, meaning “connection with a verb”. But the same compound is also given a technical meaning in the

Yoga Sutras

(2.1), designating the “practical” aspects of the philosophy, i.e. the “union with the supreme” due to performance of duties in everyday life


[23]

According to

Pāṇini

, the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots,

yujir yoga

(to yoke) or

yuj samādhau

(“to concentrate”).


[24]

In the context of the

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

, the root

yuj samādhau

(to concentrate) is considered by traditional commentators as the correct etymology.


[25]

In accordance with Pāṇini,

Vyasa

who wrote the first commentary on the

Yoga Sutras

,


[26]

states that yoga means


samādhi


(concentration).


[27]

According to Dasgupta, the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots,

yujir yoga

(“to yoke”) or

yuj samādhau

(“to concentrate”).


[24]

Someone who practices yoga or follows the yoga philosophy with a high level of commitment is called a

yogi

(may be applied to a man or a woman) or

yogini

(traditionally denoting a woman).


[28]

Definition in classic Indian texts

The term yoga has been defined in various ways in the many different Indian philosophical and religious traditions.

Source Text

Definition of Yoga


[29]



Katha Upanishad

“When the five senses, along with the mind, remain still and the intellect is not active, that is known as the highest state. They consider yoga to be firm restraint of the senses. Then one becomes un-distracted for yoga is the arising and the passing away” (6.10-11)



Bhagavad Gita

“Yoga is said to be equanimity” (2.48); “Yoga is skill in action” (2.50); “Know that which is called yoga to be separation from contact with suffering” (6.23).



Yogacarabhumi

– Sravakabhumi

“Yoga is fourfold: faith, aspiration, perseverance and means” (2.152)



Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

“Yoga is the suppression of the activities of the mind”

(1.2)



Vaisesika sutra

“Pleasure and suffering arise as a result of the drawing together of the sense organs, the mind and objects. When that does not happen because the mind is in the self, there is no pleasure or suffering for one who is embodied. That is yoga” (5.2.15-16)

Kaundinya’s

Pancarthabhasya

on the


Pasupatasutra

“In this system, yoga is the union of the self and the Lord” (I.I.43)



Linga Purana

“By the word ‘yoga’ is meant nirvana, the condition of Siva.” (I.8.5a)



Brahmasutra

-bhasya

of

Adi Shankara

“It is said in the treatises on yoga: ‘Yoga is the means of perceiving reality.” (2.1.3)


Yogabija

“The union of apana and prana, one’s own rajas and semen, the sun and moon, the individual soul and the supreme soul, and in the same way the union of all dualities, is called yoga. ” (89)

Goals

The ultimate goal of Yoga is


moksha


(liberation), although the exact definition of what form this takes depends on the philosophical or theological system with which it is conjugated.

According to Jacobsen, “Yoga has five principal meanings:


[30]

  1. Yoga, as a disciplined method for attaining a goal;
  2. Yoga, as techniques of controlling the body and the mind;
  3. Yoga, as a name of one of the schools or systems of philosophy (


    darśana


    );
  4. Yoga, in connection with other words, such as “hatha-, mantra-, and laya-,” referring to traditions specialising in particular techniques of yoga;
  5. Yoga, as the goal of Yoga practice.”


    [30]

According to David Gordon White, from the 5th century CE onward, the core principles of “yoga” were more or less in place, and variations of these principles developed in various forms over time:

  1. Yoga, is a meditative means of discovering dysfunctional perception and cognition, as well as overcoming it for release from suffering, inner peace and salvation; illustration of this principle is found in Hindu texts such as the


    Bhagavad Gita


    and


    Yogasutras


    , in a number of Buddhist Mahāyāna works, as well as Jain texts;

  2. Yoga, as the raising and expansion of consciousness from oneself to being coextensive with everyone and everything; these are discussed in sources such as in Hinduism Vedic literature and its Epic


    Mahābhārata


    , Jainism Praśamaratiprakarana, and Buddhist Nikaya texts;

  3. Yoga, as a path to omniscience and enlightened consciousness enabling one to comprehend the impermanent (illusive, delusive) and permanent (true, transcendent) reality; examples are found in Hinduism

    Nyaya

    and

    Vaisesika

    school texts as well as Buddhism Mādhyamaka texts, but in different ways;

  4. Yoga, as a technique for entering into other bodies, generating multiple bodies, and the attainment of other supernatural accomplishments; these are, states White, described in

    Tantric

    literature of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the Buddhist Sāmaññaphalasutta;

    James Mallinson, however, disagrees and suggests that such fringe practices are far removed from the mainstream Yoga’s goal as meditation-driven means to liberation in Indian religions.


    [36]

White clarifies that the last principle relates to legendary goals of “yogi practice”, different from practical goals of “yoga practice,” as they are viewed in South Asian thought and practice since the beginning of the Common Era, in the various Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain philosophical schools.

Schools

The term “yoga” has been applied to a variety of practices and methods, including Jain and Buddhist practices. In Hinduism these include

Jnana Yoga

,

Bhakti Yoga

,

Karma Yoga

,

Laya Yoga

and

Hatha Yoga

.

The so-called

Raja Yoga

refers to Ashtanga Yoga, the eight limbs to be practiced to attain

samadhi

, as described in the

Yoga Sutras of Pantajali

.

The term

raja yoga

originally referred to the ultimate goal of yoga, which is usually

samadhi

,

but was popularised by Vivekananda as the common name for Ashtanga Yoga.

Hinduism

Classical yoga

Yoga is considered as a philosophical school in Hinduism.


[41]

Yoga, in this context, is one of the six


āstika


schools of Hinduism (those which accept the Vedas as source of knowledge).


[42]


[43]

Due to the influence of Vivekananda, the

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

are nowadays considered as the foundational scripture of classical yoga, a status which it only acquired in the 20th century.

Before the twentieth century, other works were considered as the most central works, such as the


Bhagavad Gita


and the


Yoga Vasistha


,

while Tantric Yoga and Hatha Yoga prevailed over Ashtanga Yoga.

Ashtanga yoga

Yoga as described in the

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

refers to Ashtanga yoga.

The

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

is considered as a central text of the Yoga school of Hindu philosophy,


[45]

It is often called “Rāja yoga”, “yoga of the kings,” a term which originally referred to the ultimate, royal goal of yoga, which is usually

samadhi

,

but was popularised by Vivekananda as the common name for Ashtanga Yoga.

Ashtanga yoga incorporates epistemology, metaphysics, ethical practices, systematic exercises and self-development techniques for body, mind and spirit.


[46]

Its

epistemology

(


pramanas


) is same as the

Samkhya

school. Both accept three reliable means to knowledge – perception (

pratyākṣa

, direct sensory observations), inference (

anumāna

) and testimony of trustworthy experts (

sabda

, agama). Both these orthodox schools are also strongly

dualistic

. Unlike the Sāṃkhya school of Hinduism, which pursues a non-theistic/atheistic rationalist approach,


[47]


[48]

the Yoga school of Hinduism accepts the concept of a “personal, yet essentially inactive, deity” or “personal god”.


[49]


[50]

Along with its epistemology and metaphysical foundations, the Yoga school of Hindu philosophy incorporates ethical precepts (


yamas


and


niyamas


) and an introspective way of life focused on perfecting one’s self physically, mentally and spiritually, with the ultimate goal being

kaivalya

(liberated, unified, content state of existence).


[46]


[51]


[52]

Hatha yoga






[53]

A sculpture of
Gorakshanath
, a celebrated 11th century yogi of Nath tradition and a major proponent of Hatha yoga.

Hatha yoga, also called hatha

vidyā

, is a kind of yoga focusing on physical and mental strength building exercises and postures described primarily in three texts of

Hinduism

:


[54]


[55]


[56]

Many scholars also include the preceding

Goraksha Samhita

authored by

Gorakshanath

of the 11th century in the above list.


[54]

Gorakshanath is widely considered to have been responsible for popularizing hatha yoga as we know it today.


[58]


[59]


[60]


Vajrayana

Buddhism, founded by the Indian

Mahasiddhas

,


[61]

has a series of asanas and pranayamas, such as

tummo

(Sanskrit

caṇḍālī

)


[62]

and

trul khor

which parallel hatha yoga.

Shaivism

In

Shaivism

, yoga is used to unite


kundalini


with

Shiva

.


[63]

See also ‘tantra’ below.

Buddhism



16th century Buddhist artwork in Yoga posture.

Buddhist meditation encompasses a variety of

meditation

techniques that aim to develop

mindfulness

,

concentration

,

supramundane powers

,

tranquility

, and

insight

.

Core techniques have been preserved in ancient

Buddhist texts

and have proliferated and diversified through teacher-student transmissions.

Buddhists

pursue meditation as part of the path toward

Enlightenment

and

Nirvana

.


[note 3]

The closest words for meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism are


bhāvanā


[note 4]

and


jhāna/dhyāna


.


[note 5]

Jainism

Jain meditation has been the central practice of spirituality in

Jainism

along with the

Three Jewels

.


[64]

Meditation in Jainism aims at realizing the self, attain salvation, take the soul to complete freedom.


[65]

It aims to reach and to remain in the pure state of soul which is believed to be pure conscious, beyond any attachment or aversion. The practitioner strives to be just a knower-seer (

Gyata-Drashta

). Jain meditation can be broadly categorized to the auspicious

Dharmya Dhyana

and

Shukla Dhyana

and inauspicious

Artta

and

Raudra

Dhyana.

[

citation needed



]

Tantra

Samuel states that

Tantrism

is a contested concept.

Tantra yoga may be described, according to Samuel, as practices in 9th to 10th century Buddhist and Hindu (Saiva, Shakti) texts, which included yogic practices with elaborate deity visualizations using geometrical arrays and drawings (

mandala

), fierce male and particularly female deities, transgressive life stage related rituals, extensive use of

chakras

and

mantras

, and sexual techniques, all aimed to help one’s health, long life and liberation.


[67]

History

The origins of yoga are a matter of debate.

There is no consensus on its chronology or specific origin other than that yoga developed in ancient India. Suggested origins are the

Indus Valley Civilization

(3300–1900 BCE)

and pre-Vedic

Eastern states of India

,

the

Vedic period

(1500–500 BCE), and the

śramaṇa

movement.

According to Gavin Flood, continuities may exist between those various traditions:

[T]his dichotomization is too simplistic, for continuities can undoubtedly be found between renunciation and vedic Brahmanism, while elements from non-Brahmanical, Sramana traditions also played an important part in the formation of the renunciate ideal.


[note 6]

Pre-philosophical speculations of yoga begin to emerge in the texts of

c.

500

– c.

200 BCE

. Between 200 BCE and 500 CE, philosophical schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism were taking form and a coherent philosophical system of yoga began to emerge.


[74]

The Middle Ages saw the development of many satellite traditions of yoga. Yoga came to the attention of an educated western public in the mid 19th century along with other topics of Indian philosophy.

Pre-Vedic India

Yoga may have pre-Vedic elements.

Some state yoga originated in the Indus Valley Civilization.

Marshall,


[76]

Eliade


[10]

and other scholars suggest that the

Pashupati seal

discovered in Indus Valley Civilization sites depict figures in positions resembling a common yoga or meditation pose. This interpretation is considered speculative and uncertain by more recent analysis of Srinivasan


[10]

and may be a case of projecting “later practices into archeological findings”.

Vedic period (1700–500 BCE)

According to Crangle, some researchers have favoured a linear theory, which attempts “to interpret the origin and early development of Indian contemplative practices as a sequential growth from an Aryan genesis”,


[note 7]

just like traditional Hinduism regards the Vedas to be the ultimate source of all spiritual knowledge.


[note 8]

Thomas McEvilley favors a composite model where pre-Aryan yoga prototype existed in the pre-Vedic period and its refinement began in the Vedic period.


[82]


Ascetic practices

, concentration and bodily postures described in the

Vedas

may have been precursors to yoga.


[83]


[84]

According to Geoffrey Samuel, “Our best evidence to date suggests that [yogic] practices developed in the same ascetic circles as the early

sramana

movements (Buddhists,

Jainas

and

Ajivikas

), probably in around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE.”

According to Zimmer, Yoga philosophy is reckoned to be part of the non-Vedic system, which also includes the

Samkhya

school of

Hindu philosophy

, Jainism and Buddhism:

“[Jainism] does not derive from Brahman-Aryan sources, but reflects the cosmology and anthropology of a much older pre-Aryan upper class of northeastern India [Bihar] – being rooted in the same subsoil of archaic metaphysical speculation as Yoga, Sankhya, and Buddhism, the other non-Vedic Indian systems.”


[note 9]

Textual references

The first use of the root of word “yoga” is in hymn 5.81.1 of the

Rig Veda

, a dedication to rising Sun-god in the morning (Savitri), where it has been interpreted as “yoke” or “yogically control”.


[88]


[89]


[note 10]

The earliest evidence of Yogis and Yoga tradition is found in the

Keśin

hymn 10.136 of the Rigveda, states Karel Werner.


[7]

The Yogis of Vedic times left little evidence of their existence, practices and achievements. And such evidence as has survived in the Vedas is scanty and indirect. Nevertheless, the existence of accomplished Yogis in Vedic times cannot be doubted.

Karel Werner, Yoga and the Ṛg Veda


[7]

Rigveda, however, does not describe yoga and there is little evidence as to what the practices were.


[7]

Early references to practices that later became part of yoga, are made in

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

, the earliest Hindu Upanishad.


[note 11]

For example, the practice of

pranayama

(consciously regulating breath) is mentioned in hymn 1.5.23 of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (c. 900 BCE), and the practice of

pratyahara

(concentrating all of one’s senses on self) is mentioned in hymn 8.15 of

Chandogya Upanishad

(c. 800–700 BCE).


[92]


[note 12]

Vedic ascetic practices

Ascetic practices (


tapas


), concentration and bodily postures used by Vedic priests to conduct

yajna

(sacrifice), might have been precursors to yoga.


[note 13]


Vratya

, a group of ascetics mentioned in the


Atharvaveda


, emphasized on bodily postures which may have evolved into yogic

asanas

.


[83]

Early

Samhitas

also contain references to other group ascetics such as munis, the

keśin

, and vratyas.


[95]

Techniques for controlling breath and vital energies are mentioned in the

Brahmanas

(texts of the Vedic corpus, c. 1000–800 BCE) and the

Atharvaveda

.


[83]


[96]


Nasadiya Sukta

of the

Rig Veda

suggests the presence of an early contemplative tradition.


[note 14]

Preclassical era (500–200 BCE)

Yoga concepts begin to emerge in the texts of c. 500–200 BCE such as the Pali Canon, the middle Upanishads, the

Bhagavad Gita

and


Shanti Parva


of the


Mahabharata


.


[99]


[note 15]

Upanishads

The first known appearance of the word “yoga”, with the same meaning as the modern term, is in the

Katha Upanishad

,


[10]

probably composed between the fifth and third century BCE,


[103]


[104]

where it is defined as the steady control of the senses, which along with cessation of mental activity, leading to a supreme state.


[95]


[note 16]


Katha Upanishad

integrates the monism of early Upanishads with concepts of samkhya and yoga. It defines various levels of existence according to their proximity to the innermost being

Ātman

. Yoga is therefore seen as a process of interiorization or ascent of consciousness.


[106]


[107]

It is the earliest literary work that highlights the fundamentals of yoga. White states:

The earliest extant systematic account of yoga and a bridge from the earlier Vedic uses of the term is found in the Hindu Katha Upanisad (Ku), a scripture dating from about the third century BCE[…] [I]t describes the hierarchy of mind-body constituents—the senses, mind, intellect, etc.—that comprise the foundational categories of Sāmkhya philosophy, whose metaphysical system grounds the yoga of the Yogasutras, Bhagavad Gita, and other texts and schools (Ku3.10–11; 6.7–8).

The hymns in Book 2 of the


Shvetashvatara Upanishad


, another late first millennium BCE text, states a procedure in which the body is held in upright posture, the breath is restrained and mind is meditatively focussed, preferably inside a cave or a place that is simple, plain, of silence or gently flowing water, with no noises nor harsh winds.


[109]


[107]

The


Maitrayaniya Upanishad


, likely composed in a later century than

Katha

and

Shvetashvatara Upanishads

but before Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, mentions sixfold yoga method – breath control (

pranayama

), introspective withdrawal of senses (

pratyahara

), meditation (

dhyana

), mind concentration (

dharana

), philosophical inquiry/creative reasoning (

tarka

), and absorption/intense spiritual union (

samadhi

).


[10]


[107]


[110]

In addition to the Yoga discussion in above

Principal Upanishads

, twenty

Yoga Upanishads

as well as related texts such as

Yoga Vasistha

, composed in 1st and 2nd millennium CE, discuss Yoga methods.


[111]


[112]

Sutras of Hindu philosophies

Yoga is discussed in the ancient foundational

Sutras

of

Hindu philosophy

. The


Vaiśeṣika Sūtra


of the

Vaisheshika

school of Hinduism, dated to have been composed sometime between 6th and 2nd century BCE discusses Yoga.


[note 17]

According to

Johannes Bronkhorst

, an Indologist known for his studies on early Buddhism and Hinduism and a professor at the University of Lausanne,

Vaiśeṣika Sūtra

describes Yoga as “a state where the mind resides only in the soul and therefore not in the senses”.


[116]

This is equivalent to

pratyahara

or withdrawal of the senses, and the ancient Sutra asserts that this leads to an absence of

sukha

(happiness) and

dukkha

(suffering), then describes additional yogic meditation steps in the journey towards the state of spiritual liberation.


[116]

Similarly,


Brahma sutras


– the foundational text of the

Vedanta

school of Hinduism, discusses yoga in its

sutra

2.1.3, 2.1.223 and others.


[117]


Brahma sutras

are estimated to have been complete in the surviving form sometime between 450 BCE to 200 CE,


[118]


[119]

and its sutras assert that yoga is a means to gain “subtlety of body” and other powers.


[117]

The


Nyaya sutras


– the foundational text of the

Nyaya

school, variously estimated to have been composed between the 6th-century BCE and 2nd-century CE,


[120]


[121]

discusses yoga in sutras 4.2.38–50. This ancient text of the Nyaya school includes a discussion of yogic ethics,

dhyana

(meditation),

samadhi

, and among other things remarks that debate and philosophy is a form of yoga.


[122]


[123]


[124]

Macedonian historical texts


Alexander the Great

reached India in the 4th century BCE. Along with his army, he took Greek academics with him who later wrote memoirs about geography, people and customs they saw. One of Alexander’s companion was

Onesicritus

, quoted in Book 15, Sections 63–65 by

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