What is Traditional Yoga

Yoga as we know today is the product of several millennia. Some scholars have suggested that Yoga grew directly from Shamanism dated to around 25,000 B.C.E.. Shamanism is the sacred art of changing one’s awareness in order to enter non-ordinary realms of reality. The transition from Shamanism to Yoga probably occurred at the time of the early city-states in the East.

The first archaeological evidence of Yoga came from remains found in the ruins of the big cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa (the Indus Valley in Northern India and Pakistan). Sculptures and carvings depicting yogi-like figures have been found dating as far back as 3,000 B.C.E.. 

The first written text to mention the word “Yoga” was the Ṛg-veda​*​, composed approximately between 3,000 – 1,500 B.C.E. Several important ideas and practices of later Yoga are foreshadowed in this early text. Yoga at that time was understood as a loose structure of ideas and practices including mantra recitation, sacrificial rituals, meditative and ascetic practices.

The heritage of Yoga found in the Vedas was transmitted from teacher to pupil by word of mouth (paramparā) for centuries. Two thousand years later, this ancient form of Yoga gave rise to the consciousness revolution found in the Upaniṣads. The first thirteen Upaniṣads​†​, considered to be the most important ones, are believed to be written between the 8th – 2nd centuries B.C.E..

Out of the Upaniṣads, Yoga evolved over many centuries in an immense variety of practices, in a multitude of Yogic paths, that sometimes even presented conflicting ideas. Some emphasized meditative practices (Rāja-Yoga), others discriminative wisdom (Jnāna-Yoga), others laid emphasis on improving the quality of everyday actions (Karma-Yoga), while others focused on a devotional approach (Bhakti-Yoga), and later on, others developed sophisticated physical and purificatory techniques to transmute the body-mind (Haṭha-Yoga).

Thus all traditional forms of Yoga were ways of self-transcendence, to go beyond the ordinary human condition and attain Self-realization.

After 5,000 years, Traditional Yoga continues to be recognized as one of the most thorough systems of self-study, self-regulation and self-transformation, emphasizing the transformation of the body-mind as the path to attain inner freedom.

Yoga Timeline

Pre Vedic Age (6,500 – 4,500 B.C.E.)

Vedic Age (4,500 – 2,500 B.C.E.) — Vedas (Saṃhitās)

Brahmanical Age (2,500 – 1,500 B.C.E) — Brāhmaṇas and Āraṇyakas

Post Vedic Age (1,500 – 1,000 B.C.E.) — Upaniṣads

Pre-classical or Epic period (1,000 – 100 B.C.E.) — Bhagavad-Gītā

Classical Age (100 B.C.E. – 500 C.E.) — Yoga-Sūtras

Tantric Age (500 – 1,300 C.E.) — Tantra literature

Sectarian Age (1,300 – 1,700 C.E.) — Haṭha-Yoga literature

Modern Age (1,700 – present) — Modern Yoga

  1. ​*​
    The Ṛg-veda (Knowledge of Praise) is the oldest of the four Vedic collections. Depending on the period to which the Ṛg-veda is ascribed, the Yogic tradition can be said to be anywhere between 3,500 and 5,000 years old, the latter being increasingly favored by many Indian scholars.
  2. ​†​
    The first thirteen Upaniṣads are: Aitareya, Kauśītāki, Chāndogya, Kena, Maitri, Taittirīya, Kaṭha, Śvetāśvatara, Bṛhadāraṇyaka, Īśa, Muṇḍaka, Māṇḍūkya, Praśna.

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