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Yoga (Sanskrit: योग) is a commonly known generic term for the physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India with a view to attain a state of permanent peace.12 Specifically, yoga is one of the six āstika ("orthodox") schools of Hindu philosophy. One of the most detailed and thorough expositions on the subject is the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, which defines yoga as "the stilling of the changing states of the mind"3 (Sanskrit: योग: चित्त-वृत्ति निरोध:). Yoga has also been popularly defined as "union with the divine" in other contexts and traditions.4 Various traditions of yoga are found in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism.567
Post-classical traditions consider Hiranyagarbha as the originator of yoga.89 Pre–philosophical speculations and diverse ascetic practices of first millennium BCE were systematized into a formal philosophy in early centuries CE by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.10 By the turn of the first millennium, Hatha yoga emerged as a prominent tradition of yoga distinct from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and marks the development of asanas into the full body postures now in popular usage11 and, along with its many modern variations, is the style that many people associate with the word yoga today.
Hindu monks, beginning with Swami Vivekananda, brought yoga to the West in the late 19th century. In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercises across the Western world. Many studies have tried to determine the effectiveness of yoga as a complementary intervention for cancer, schizophrenia, asthma and heart patients. In a national survey, long-term yoga practitioners in the United States reported musculo–skeletal and mental health improvements.12
As opposed to the traditional practice, physical focus on yoga became popular in the West beginning in the second half of the 20th century, and is often referred to simply as "Hatha Yoga" in the context of yoga as physical exercise.
In Vedic Sanskrit, the more commonly used, literal meaning of the Sanskrit word yoga which is "to add", "to join", "to unite", or "to attach" from the root yuj, already had a much more figurative sense, where the yoking or harnessing of oxen or horses takes on broader meanings such as "employment, use, application, performance" (compare the figurative uses of "to harness" as in "to put something to some use"). All further developments of the sense of this word are post-Vedic. More prosaic moods such as "exertion", "endeavour", "zeal" and "diligence" are also found in Epic Sanskrit.citation needed
There are very many compound words containing yog in Sanskrit. Yoga can take on meanings such as "connection", "contact", "method", "application", "addition" and "performance". For example, guṇá-yoga means "contact with a cord"; chakrá-yoga has a medical sense of "applying a splint or similar instrument by means of pulleys (in case of dislocation of the thigh)"; chandrá-yoga has the astronomical sense of "conjunction of the moon with a constellation"; puṃ-yoga is a grammatical term expressing "connection or relation with a man", etc. Thus, bhakti-yoga means "devoted attachment" in the monotheistic Bhakti movement. The term kriyā-yoga 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 life13
In Hindu philosophy, the word yoga is used to refer to one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Hindu philosophy.note 1 The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are often labelled as Rāja yoga.15 According to Pāṇini, a 6th century BCE Sanskrit grammarian, the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samādhau (to concentrate).16 In the context of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the root yuj samādhau (to concentrate) is considered by traditional commentators as the correct etymology.17 In accordance with Pāṇini, Vyasa (c. 4th or 5th century CE), who wrote the first commentary on the Yoga Sutras,18 states that yoga means samādhi (concentration).19 In other texts and contexts, such as the Bhagavad Gītā and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the word yoga has been used in conformity with yujir yoge (to yoke).20
Generally put, yoga is a disciplined method utilized for attaining a goal.14 The ultimate goal of Yoga is moksha though the exact definition of what form this takes depends on the philosophical or theological system with which it is conjugated. Bhakti schools of Vaishnavism combine yoga with devotion to enjoy an eternal presence of Vishnu.22 In Shaiva theology, yoga is used to unite kundalini with Shiva.23 Mahabharata defines the purpose of yoga as the experience of Brahman or Ātman pervading all things.24
In the specific sense of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined as citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ (the cessation of the perturbations of consciousness).14 This is described by Patanjali as the necessary condition for transcending discursive knowledge and to be one with the divinely understood "spirit" ("purusha"): "Absolute freedom occurs when the lucidity of material nature and spirit are in pure equilibrium."25 In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali indicates that the ultimate goal of yoga is a state of permanent peace or Kaivalya.26
Apart from the spiritual goals the physical postures of yoga are used to alleviate health problems, reduce stress and make the spine supple in contemporary times. Yoga is also used as a complete exercise program and physical therapy routine.27
Several seals discovered at Indus Valley Civilization sites, dating to the mid 3rd millennium BCE, depict figures in positions resembling a common yoga or meditation pose, showing "a form of ritual discipline, suggesting a precursor of yoga," according to archaeologist Gregory Possehl.28 Ramaprasad Chanda, who supervised Indus Valley Civilization excavations, states that, “Not only the seated deities on some of the Indus seals are in yoga posture and bear witness to the prevalence of yoga in the Indus Valley Civilization in that remote age, the standing deities on the seals also show Kayotsarga (a standing posture of meditation) position. It is a posture not of sitting but of standing."29 Some type of connection between the Indus Valley seals and later yoga and meditation practices is speculated upon by many scholars, though there is no conclusive evidence.note 2
Ascetic practices (tapas), concentration and bodily postures used by Vedic priests to conduct yajna (Vedic ritual of fire sacrifice) might have been precursors to yoga.note 3 Vratya, a group of ascetics mentioned in the Atharvaveda, emphasized on bodily postures which probably evolved into yogic asanas.37 Early Vedic Samhitas also contain references to other group ascetics such as, Munis, the Keśin, and Vratyas.39 Techniques for controlling breath and vital energies are mentioned in the Brahmanas (ritualistic texts of the Vedic corpus, c. 1000–800 BCE) and the Atharvaveda.3740 Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda suggests the presence of an early contemplative tradition.note 4 Alexander Wynne, author of The Origin of Buddhist Meditation, observes that formless meditation and elemental meditation might have originated in the Upanishadic tradition.43 The earliest reference to meditation is in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of the oldest Upanishads.39 Chandogya Upanishad describes the five kinds of vital energies (prana). Concepts used later in many yoga traditions such as internal sound and veins (nadis) are also described in the Upanishad.37 Taittiriya Upanishad defines yoga as the mastery of body and senses.44
Diffused pre-philosophical speculations of yoga begin to emerge in the texts of c. 500–200 BCE such as the middle Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and Mokshadharma of the Mahabharata. The terms samkhya and yoga in these texts refer to spiritual methodologies rather than the philosophical systems which developed centuries later.45
The term "yoga" first appears in the Hindu scripture Katha Upanishad (a primary Upanishad c. 400 BCE) where it is defined as the steady control of the senses, which along with cessation of mental activity, leads to the supreme state.39note 5 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.4748 It is the earliest literary work that highlights the fundamentals of yoga. Shvetashvatara Upanishad (c. 400-200 BCE) elaborates on the relationship between thought and breath, control of mind, and the benefits of yoga.48 Like the Katha Upanishad the transcendent Self is seen as the goal of yoga. This text also recommends meditation on Om as a path to liberation.49 Maitrayaniya Upanishad (c. 300 BCE) formalizes the sixfold form of yoga.48 Physiological theories of later yoga make an appearance in this text.5051 Further systematization of yoga is continued in the Yoga Upanishads of the Atharvaveda.52 The concepts of Chakra and Kundalini are first mentioned in these Upanishads.53
The Bhagavad Gita ('Song of the Lord'), uses the term "yoga" extensively in a variety of ways. In addition to an entire chapter (ch. 6) dedicated to traditional yoga practice, including meditation,54 it introduces three prominent types of yoga:note 6
- Karma yoga: The yoga of action.note 7
- Bhakti yoga: The yoga of devotion.note 8
- Jnana yoga: The yoga of knowledge.note 9
योगस्थ: कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा धनंजय ।
सिद्ध्यसिद्ध्यो: समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते ।।
(yoga-sthaḥ kuru karmani sanyugam tyaktvā dhananjay
siddhy-asiddhyoḥ samo bhutvā samatvam yoga ucyate)
- Bhagavad Gita 2.48
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translates it as "Be steadfast in yoga (yoga-sthaḥ), O Arjuna. Perform your duty (kuru karmani) and abandon all attachment (sangam) to success or failure (siddhy-asiddhyoḥ). Such evenness of mind (samatvam) is called yoga."59
Madhusudana Sarasvati (b. circa 1490) divided the Gita into three sections, with the first six chapters dealing with Karma yoga, the middle six with Bhakti yoga, and the last six with Jnana (knowledge).60 Other commentators ascribe a different 'yoga' to each chapter, delineating eighteen different yogas.61 Aurobindo, a freedom fighter and philosopher, describes the yoga of the Gita as "a large, flexible and many-sided system with various elements, which are all successfully harmonized by a sort of natural and living assimilation".62
Description of an early form of yoga called nirodha–yoga (yoga of cessation) is contained in the Mokshadharma section of the 12th chapter (Shanti Parva) of the Mahabharata epic. The verses of the section are dated to c. 300–200 BCE. Nirodha–yoga emphasizes progressive withdrawal from the contents of empirical consciousness such as thoughts, sensations etc. until purusha (Self) is realized. Terms like vichara (subtle reflection), viveka (discrimination) and others which are similar to Patanjali's terminology are mentioned, but not described.63 There is no uniform goal of yoga mentioned in the Mahabharata. Separation of self from matter, perceiving Brahman everywhere, entering into Brahman etc. are all described as goals of yoga. Samkhya and yoga are conflated together and some verses describe them as being identical.24 Mokshadharma also describes an early practice of elemental meditation.64
During the period between the Mauryan and the Gupta era (c. 200 BCE–500 CE) philosophical schools of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism were taking form and a coherent philosophical system of yoga began to emerge.65
Early Buddhist Pali canons (c. 29–17 BCE)66note 10 are the oldest surviving texts to describe a systematic and comprehensive yoga discipline. The only other Indian texts with an antiquity comparable to the Pali canons are the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Most of the other contemporary yoga systems alluded in the Upanishads and some Pali canons are lost to time.68 Another yoga system that predated the Buddhist school is Jain yoga. But since Jain sources postdate Buddhist ones, it is difficult to distinguish between the nature of the early Jain school and elements derived from other schools.69
The early Buddhist texts describe meditative practices and states, some of which the Buddha borrowed from the ascetic (shramana) tradition.7071 One key innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditative absorption must be combined with liberating cognition.72 Meditative states alone are not an end, for according to the Buddha, even the highest meditative state is not liberating. Instead of attaining a complete cessation of thought, some sort of mental activity must take place: a liberating cognition, based on the practice of mindful awareness.73 The Buddha also departed from earlier yogic thought in discarding the early Brahminic notion of liberation at death.74 While the Upanishads thought liberation to be a realization at death of a nondual meditative state where the ontological duality between subject and object was abolished, Buddha's theory of liberation depended upon this duality because liberation to him was an insight into the subject's experience.74
The Pali canon contains three passages in which the Buddha describes pressing the tongue against the palate for the purposes of controlling hunger or the mind, depending on the passage.75 However there is no mention of the tongue being inserted into the nasopharynx as in true khecarī mudrā. The Mahāsīhanadāsutta (Majjhima Nikaya 1:78) mentions the Buddha using a posture where pressure is put on the perineum with the heel, similar even to modern postures intended to stimulate kundalini.76
Samkhya was the oldest of Indian schools to take a coherent form in first century CE.77 When Patanjali systematized the conceptions of yoga, he set them forth on the background of the metaphysics of samkhya, which he assumed with slight variations. In the early works, the yoga principles appear together with the samkhya ideas. Vyasa's commentary on the Yoga Sutras, also called the Samkhyapravacanabhasya (Commentary on the Exposition of the Sankhya Philosophy), brings out the intimate relation between the two systems.78 Yoga agrees with the essential metaphysics of samkhya, but differs from it in that while samkhya holds that knowledge is the means of liberation, yoga is a system of active striving, mental discipline, and dutiful action. Yoga also introduces the conception of god. Sometimes Patanjali's system is referred to as Seshvara Samkhya in contradistinction to Kapila's Nirivara Samkhya.79
|Pada (Chapter)||English meaning||Sutras|
|Samadhi Pada||On being absorbed in spirit||
|Sadhana Pada||On being immersed in spirit||
|Vibhuti Pada||On supernatural abilities and gifts||
|Kaivalya Pada||On absolute freedom||
In Hindu philosophy, yoga is the name of one of the six orthodox (which accept the testimony of Vedas) philosophical schools8182 founded by Patanjali. Karel Werner, author of Yoga And Indian Philosophy, believes that the process of systematization of yoga which began in the middle and Yoga Upanishads culminated with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.note 11 Scholars also note the influence of Samkhyan and Buddhist ideas on the Yoga Sutras.83note 12 The yoga school accepts the samkhya psychology and metaphysics, but is more theistic than the samkhya, as evidenced by the addition of a divine entity to the samkhya's twenty-five elements of reality.8586 The parallels between yoga and samkhya were so close that Max Müller says that "the two philosophies were in popular parlance distinguished from each other as Samkhya with and Samkhya without a Lord...."87 The intimate relationship between samkhya and yoga is explained by Heinrich Zimmer:
These two are regarded in India as twins, the two aspects of a single discipline. Sāṅkhya provides a basic theoretical exposition of human nature, enumerating and defining its elements, analyzing their manner of co-operation in a state of bondage ("bandha"), and describing their state of disentanglement or separation in release ("mokṣa"), while yoga treats specifically of the dynamics of the process for the disentanglement, and outlines practical techniques for the gaining of release, or "isolation-integration" ("kaivalya").—88
Patanjali is widely regarded as the compiler of the formal yoga philosophy.89 The verses of Yoga Sutras are terse and are therefore read together with the Vyasa Bhashya (c. 350–450 CE), a commentary on the Yoga Sutras.90 Patanjali's yoga is known as Raja yoga, which is a system for control of the mind.91 Patanjali defines the word "yoga" in his second sutra, which is the definitional sutra for his entire work:
योग: चित्त-वृत्ति निरोध:
- Yoga Sutras 1.2
This terse definition hinges on the meaning of three Sanskrit terms. I. K. Taimni translates it as "Yoga is the inhibition (nirodhaḥ) of the modifications (vṛtti) of the mind (citta)".92 The use of the word nirodhaḥ in the opening definition of yoga is an example of the important role that Buddhist technical terminology and concepts play in the Yoga Sutras; this role suggests that Patanjali was aware of Buddhist ideas and wove them into his system.93 Swami Vivekananda translates the sutra as "Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Citta) from taking various forms (Vrittis)."94
Patanjali's writing also became the basis for a system referred to as "Ashtanga Yoga" ("Eight-Limbed Yoga"). This eight-limbed concept derived from the 29th Sutra of the 2nd book, and is a core characteristic of practically every Raja yoga variation taught today. The Eight Limbs are:
- Yama (The five "abstentions"): Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (Truth, non-lying), Asteya (non-covetousness), Brahmacharya (non-sensuality, celibacy), and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
- Niyama (The five "observances"): Shaucha(purity), Santosha(contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (study of the Vedic scriptures to know about God and the soul), and Ishvara-Pranidhana (surrender to God).
- Asana: Literally means "seat", and in Patanjali's Sutras refers to the seated position used for meditation.
- Pranayama ("Suspending Breath"): Prāna, breath, "āyāma", to restrain or stop. Also interpreted as control of the life force.
- Pratyahara ("Abstraction"): Withdrawal of the sense organs from external objects.
- Dharana ("Concentration"): Fixing the attention on a single object.
- Dhyana ("Meditation"): Intense contemplation of the nature of the object of meditation.
- Samadhi ("Liberation"): merging consciousness with the object of meditation.
In the view of this school, the highest attainment does not reveal the experienced diversity of the world to be illusion. The everyday world is real. Furthermore, the highest attainment is the event of one of many individual selves discovering itself; there is no single universal self shared by all persons.95
According to Tattvarthasutra, 2nd century CE Jain text, yoga is the sum of all the activities of mind, speech and body.7 Umasvati calls yoga the cause of "asrava" or karmic influx96 as well as one of the essentials—samyak caritra—in the path to liberation.96 In his Niyamasara, Acarya Kundakunda, describes yoga bhakti—devotion to the path to liberation—as the highest form of devotion.97 Acarya Haribhadra and Acarya Hemacandra mention the five major vows of ascetics and 12 minor vows of laity under yoga. This has led certain Indologists like Prof. Robert J. Zydenbos to call Jainism, essentially, a system of yogic thinking that grew into a full-fledged religion.98 The five yamas or the constraints of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali bear a resemblance to the five major vows of Jainism, indicating a history of strong cross-fertilization between these traditions.99note 13
In the late phase of Indian antiquity, on the eve of the development of Classical Hinduism, the Yogacara movement arises during the Gupta period (4th to 5th centuries). Yogacara received the name as it provided a "yoga," a framework for engaging in the practices that lead to the path of the bodhisattva.101 The yogacara sect teaches "yoga" as a way to reach enlightenment.102
Middle Ages saw the development of many satellite traditions of yoga. Hatha yoga emerged as a dominant practice of yoga in this period.103
The Bhakti movement was a development in medieval Hinduism which advocated the concept of a personal God (or "Supreme Personality of Godhead"). The movement was initiated by the Alvars of South India in the 6th to 9th centuries, and it started gaining influence throughout India by the 12th to 15th centuries.104 Shaiva and Vaishnava bhakti traditions integrated aspects of Yoga Sutras, such as the practical meditative exercises, with devotion.105 Bhagavata Purana elucidates the practice of a form of yoga called viraha (separation) bhakti. Viraha bhakti emphasizes one pointed concentration on Krishna.106
While breath channels (nāḍis) of yogic practices had already been discussed in the classical Upanishads, it was not until Tantric works, such as the eighth-century Buddhist Hevajra Tantra and Caryāgiti, that hierarchies of chakras were introduced.107
The basic tenets of Hatha yoga were formulated by Shaiva ascetics Matsyendranath and Gorakshanath c. 900 CE. Hatha yoga synthesizes elements of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras with posture and breathing exercises.108 Hatha yoga is also defined in the 11th century Buddhist text Vimalaprabha, which defines it in relation to the center channel, bindu etc.109 Hatha yoga, sometimes referred to as the "psychophysical yoga",110 was further elaborated by Yogi Swatmarama, compiler of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika in 15th century CE. This yoga differs substantially from the Raja yoga of Patanjali in that it focuses on shatkarma, the purification of the physical body as leading to the purification of the mind (ha), and prana, or vital energy (tha).111112 Compared to the seated asana, or sitting meditation posture, of Patanjali's Raja yoga,113 it marks the development of asanas (plural) into the full body 'postures' now in popular usage11 and, along with its many modern variations, is the style that many people associate with the word yoga today.114
It is similar to a diving board – preparing the body for purification, so that it may be ready to receive higher techniques of meditation. The word "Hatha" comes from "Ha" which means Sun, and "Tha" which means Moon.116 The Yoga Yajnavalkya is a classical treatise on Hatha yoga attributed to the Vedic sage Yajnavalkya. It takes the form of a dialogue between Yajnavalkya and his wife Gargi, a renowned female philosopher.117 The text contains 12 chapters and it probably originated c. 13th century CE.118 Many Hatha yoga texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Yoga Kundalini and the Yoga Tattva Upanishads have borrowed verses from or make frequent references to the Yoga Yajnavalkya.119 In the Yoga Yajnavalkya, yoga is defined as jivatmaparamatmasamyogah, or the union between the individual self (jivatma) and the Divine (paramatma).115
Various yogic groups had become prominent in Punjab in the 15th and 16th century, when Sikhism was in its nascent stage. Compositions of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, describe many dialogues he had with Jogis, a Hindu community which practiced yoga.120 Guru Nanak rejected the austerities, rites and rituals connected with Hatha Yoga.121 He propounded the path of Sahaja yoga or Nama yoga (meditation on the name) instead.122 The Guru Granth Sahib states:
Listen "O Yogi, Nanak tells nothing but the truth. You must discipline your mind. The devotee must meditate on the Word Divine. It is His grace which brings about the union. He understands, he also sees. Good deeds help one merge into Divination."—123
Yoga came to the attention of an educated western public in the mid 19th century along with other topics of Hindu philosophy. Thus N. C. Paul published his Treatise on Yoga Philosophy in 1851. The first Hindu teacher to actively advocate and disseminate aspects of yoga to a western audience was Swami Vivekananda, who toured Europe and the United States in the 1890s.124 The reception which Swami Vivekananda received is inconceivable without the active interest of intellectuals, in particular the New England Transcendentalists, among them R.W. Emerson, who drew on German Romanticism and the interest of philosophers and scholars like G.F.W. Hegel, the Schlegel brothers, Max Mueller, A. Schopenhauer and others who found Vedanta in agreement with their own ideas and a cherished source of religious-philosophical inspiration.125
Esoteric views current at the end of the 19th century were a further basis for the reception of Vedanta and of Yoga with its theory and practice of correspondence between the spiritual and the physical.126 The reception of Yoga and of Vedanta are thus entwined with each other and with the (mostly Neo-platonically based) currents of religious and philosophical reform and transformation throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. M. Eliade, who was rooted in the Romanian currents of these traditions brought a new element into the reception of Yoga by the strong emphasis on Tantric Yoga in his seminal book: Yoga - Immortality and Freedom,note 14 By introducing the Tantra traditions and philosophy of Yoga the conception of the "transcendent" to be attained by Yogic practice shifted from experiencing the "transcendent" ("Atman-Brahman" in Advaitic theory) in the mind to the body itself.127
In the West, the term "yoga" is today typically associated with Hatha yoga and its asanas (postures) or as a form of exercise.128 In the 1960s, western interest in Hindu spirituality reached its peak, giving rise to a great number of Neo-Hindu schools specifically advocated to a western public. During this period, most of the influential Indian teachers of yoga came from two lineages: Sivananda Saraswati (1887-1963) and Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989).129 Among the teachers of Hatha yoga who were active in the west in this period were B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Swami Vishnu-devananda, and Swami Satchidananda.130131132 Kundalini Yoga was brought to the United States by Yogi Bhajan in 1969.133
A second "yoga boom" followed in the 1980s, as Dean Ornish, a follower of Swami Satchidananda, connected yoga to heart health, legitimizing yoga as a purely physical system of health exercises outside of counter culture or esotericism circles, and unconnected to a religious denomination.124 Numerous asanas seemed modern in origin, and strongly overlapped 19th and early 20th century Western exercise traditions.134
Since 2001, the popularity of yoga in the USA has been on the constant rise. The number of people who practiced some form of yoga has grown from 4 million (in 2001) to 20 million (in 2011).
In 2013, for the White House, "Yoga has become a universal language of spiritual exercise in the United States, crossing many lines of religion and cultures,"... "Every day, millions of people practice yoga to improve their health and overall well-being. That's why we're encouraging everyone to take part in PALA (Presidential Active Lifestyle Award), so show your support for yoga and answer the challenge." at a time some schools in America are railing against the ancient Indian practice, saying it promotes Hinduism.135
Long-term yoga practitioners in the United States have reported musculoskeletal and mental health improvements, as well as reduced symptoms of asthma in asthmatics.12 Regular yoga practice increases brain GABA levels and has been shown to improve mood and anxiety more than some other metabolically matched exercises, such as walking.136137 The three main focuses of Hatha yoga (exercise, breathing, and meditation) make it beneficial to those suffering from heart disease. Overall, studies of the effects of yoga on heart disease suggest that yoga may reduce high blood pressure, improve symptoms of heart failure, enhance cardiac rehabilitation, and lower cardiovascular risk factors.138 For chronic low back pain, specialist Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs has been found 30% more beneficial than usual care alone in a UK clinical trial.139 Other smaller studies support this finding.140141 The Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs programme is the dominant treatment for society (both cheaper and more effective than usual care alone) due to 8.5 fewer days off work each year.142 A research group from Boston University School of Medicine also tested yoga’s effects on lower back pain. Over twelve weeks, one group of volunteers practiced yoga while the control group continued with standard treatment for back pain. The reported pain for yoga participants decreased by one third, while the standard treatment group had only a five percent drop. Yoga participants also had a drop of 80% in pain medication use.143
There has been an emergence of studies investigating yoga as a complementary intervention for cancer patients. Yoga is used for treatment of cancer patients to decrease depression, insomnia, pain, and fatigue and increase anxiety control.144 Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs include yoga as a mind-body technique to reduce stress. A study found that after seven weeks the group treated with yoga reported significantly less mood disturbance and reduced stress compared to the control group. Another study found that MBSR had showed positive effects on sleep anxiety, quality of life, and spiritual growth in cancer patients.145
Researchers at Washington State University conducted a study in 2007 to see if there was a link between yoga and the health of breast cancer patients. Their results showed that Iyengar yoga could help reduce the inflammation caused by therapy. The ten women in the yoga group participated in 90-minute yoga sessions three times a week for eight consecutive weeks, while the others continued with their normal routines and treatments. At the end of the eight weeks, the researchers compared blood tests and quality-of-life surveys of the yoga group and control group. The researchers noted that the majority of the test subjects were clinically depressed prior to the trial, but after eight weeks of yoga, the yoga group reported less fatigue and better moods.146
Other researchers have looked into yoga as a supplementary or alternative treatment for arthritis. Researchers in the United Arab Emirates studied a group of over forty rheumatoid arthritis patients to see if yoga could be effective in treating the disease. The yoga group completed twelve sessions of Raj yoga, which combines exercise and breathing techniques. The yoga group showed improvement in disease activity scores, but there was no statistically significant evidence to show that their quality of life improved.147
Yoga has also been studied as a treatment for schizophrenia.148 Yoga is found to improve cognitive functions and reduce stress in schizophrenia, a condition associated with cognitive deficits and stress-related relapse. In one study, at the end of four months those patients treated with yoga were better in their social and occupational functions and quality of life.149 The practice of yoga in Hindu tradition also has psychological benefits, allowing one to develop control over one's mind and body. Rather than adapting the sick or mentally ill mind (the primary focus of modern psychology), traditional Hindu psychology focuses on enhancing the normal and healthy mind through the practice of meditative techniques such as yoga.150
Implementation of the Kundalini Yoga Lifestyle has shown to help substance abuse addicts increase their quality of life according to psychological questionnaires like the Behavior and Symptom Identification Scale and the Quality of Recovery Index.151
Since a small percentage of yoga practitioners each year suffer physical injuries analogous to sports injuries;152 caution and common sense are recommended.153 Yoga has been criticized for being potentially dangerous and being a cause for a range of serious medical conditions including thoracic outlet syndrome, degenerative arthritis of the cervical spine, spinal stenosis, retinal tears, damage to the common fibular nerve, so called "Yoga foot drop,"154 etc. An exposé of these problems by William Broad published in January, 2012 in The New York Times Magazine155 resulted in controversy within the international yoga community. Broad, a science writer, yoga practitioner, and author of The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards,156 had suffered a back injury while performing a yoga posture.157 Torn muscles, knee injuries,158 and headaches are common ailments which may result from yoga practice.159
An extensive survey of yoga practitioners in Australia showed that about 20% had suffered some physical injury while practicing yoga. In the previous 12 months 4.6% of the respondents had suffered an injury producing prolonged pain or requiring medical treatment. Headstands, shoulder stands, lotus and half lotus (seated cross-legged position), forward bends, backward bends, and handstands produced the greatest number of injuries.152
Some yoga practitioners do not recommend certain yoga exercises for women during menstruation, for pregnant women, or for nursing mothers. However, meditation, breathing exercises, and certain postures which are safe and beneficial for women in these categories are encouraged.160
Among the main reasons that experts cite for causing negative effects from yoga are beginners' competitiveness and instructors' lack of qualification. As the demand for yoga classes grows, many people get certified to become yoga instructors, often with relatively little training. Not every newly certified instructor can evaluate the condition of every new trainee in their class and recommend refraining from doing certain poses or using appropriate props to avoid injuries. In turn, a beginning yoga student can overestimate the abilities of their body and strive to do advanced poses before their body is flexible or strong enough to perform them.155159
Vertebral artery dissection, a tear in the arteries in the neck which provide blood to the brain can result from rotation of the neck while the neck is extended. This can occur in a variety of contexts, for example, in a beauty shop while your hair is being rinsed, but is an event which could occur in some yoga practices. This is a very serious condition which can result in a stroke.161162
The American Yoga Association states, "Yoga exercises are not recommended for children under 16 because their bodies’ nervous and glandular systems are still growing, and the effect of Yoga exercises on these systems may interfere with natural growth." However, meditation and simple breathing exercises (without breath-holding) are safe and can help children to manage stress, impulsiveness, and emotional situations.160
Tantrism is a practice that is supposed to alter the relation of its practitioners to the ordinary social, religious, and logical reality in which they live. Through Tantric practice, an individual perceives reality as maya, illusion, and the individual achieves liberation from it.164 Both Tantra and yoga offer paths that relieve a person from depending on the world. Where yoga relies on progressive restriction of inputs from outside; Tantra relies on transmutation of all external inputs so that one is no longer dependent on them, but can take them or leave them at will. They both make a person independent.165 This particular path to salvation among the several offered by Hinduism, links Tantrism to those practices of Indian religions, such as yoga, meditation, and social renunciation, which are based on temporary or permanent withdrawal from social relationships and modes.164
As Robert Svoboda attempts to summarize the three major paths of the Vedic knowledge, he exclaims:
Because every embodied individual is composed of a body, a mind and a spirit, the ancient Rishis of India who developed the Science of Life organized their wisdom into three bodies of knowledge: Ayurveda, which deals mainly with the physical body; yoga, which deals mainly with spirit; and Tantra, which is mainly concerned with the mind. The philosophy of all three is identical; their manifestations differ because of their differing emphases. Ayurveda is most concerned with the physical basis of life, concentrating on its harmony of mind and spirit. Yoga controls body and mind to enable them to harmonize with spirit, and Tantra seeks to use the mind to balance the demands of body and spirit.—165
During tantric practices and studies, the student is instructed further in meditation technique, particularly chakra meditation. This is often in a limited form in comparison with the way this kind of meditation is known and used by Tantric practitioners and yogis elsewhere, but is more elaborate than the initiate's previous meditation. It is considered to be a kind of Kundalini yoga for the purpose of moving the Goddess into the chakra located in the "heart", for meditation and worship.166
Zen (the name of which derives from the Sanskrit "dhyaana" via the Chinese "ch'an"note 15 is a form of Mahayana Buddhism. The Mahayana school of Buddhism is noted for its proximity with yoga.168 In the west, Zen is often set alongside yoga; the two schools of meditation display obvious family resemblances.169 This phenomenon merits special attention since yogic practices have some of their roots in the Zen Buddhist school.note 16 Certain essential elements of yoga are important both for Buddhism in general and for Zen in particular.170
Yoga is central to Tibetan Buddhism. In the Nyingma tradition, the path of meditation practice is divided into nine yanas, or vehicles, which are said to be increasingly profound.171 The last six are described as "yoga yanas": "Kriya yoga," "Upa yoga," "Yoga yana," "Mahā yoga," "Anu yoga" and the ultimate practice, "Ati yoga."172 The Sarma traditions also include Kriya, Upa (called "Charya"), and Yoga, with the Anuttara yoga class substituting for Mahayoga and Atiyoga.173
Other tantra yoga practices include a system of 108 bodily postures practiced with breath and heart rhythm. The Nyingma tradition also practices Yantra yoga (Tib. "Trul khor"), a discipline that includes breath work (or pranayama), meditative contemplation and precise dynamic movements to centre the practitioner.174 The body postures of Tibetan ancient yogis are depicted on the walls of the Dalai Lama's summer temple of Lukhang. A semi-popular account of Tibetan yoga by Chang (1993) refers to caṇḍalī (Tib. "tummo"), the generation of heat in one's own body, as being "the very foundation of the whole of Tibetan yoga."175 Chang also claims that Tibetan yoga involves reconciliation of apparent polarities, such as prana and mind, relating this to theoretical implications of tantrism.
Some Christians integrate yoga and other aspects of Eastern spirituality with prayer and meditation. This has been attributed to a desire to experience God in a more complete way.176 The Roman Catholic Church, and some other Christian organizations have expressed concerns and disapproval with respect to some eastern and New Age practices that include yoga and meditation.177178179
In 1989 and 2003, the Vatican issued two documents: Aspects of Christian meditation and "A Christian reflection on the New Age," that were mostly critical of eastern and New Age practices. The 2003 document was published as a 90 page handbook detailing the Vatican's position.180 The Vatican warned that concentration on the physical aspects of meditation "can degenerate into a cult of the body" and that equating bodily states with mysticism "could also lead to psychic disturbance and, at times, to moral deviations." Such has been compared to the early days of Christianity, when the church opposed the gnostics' belief that salvation came not through faith but through a mystical inner knowledge.176 The letter also says, "one can see if and how [prayer] might be enriched by meditation methods developed in other religions and cultures"181 but maintains the idea that "there must be some fit between the nature of [other approaches to] prayer and Christian beliefs about ultimate reality."176 Some fundamentalist Christian organizations consider yoga to be incompatible with their religious background, considering it a part of the New Age movement inconsistent with Christianity.182
Another view holds that Christian meditation can lead to religious pluralism. This is held by an interdenominational association of Christians that practice it. "The ritual simultaneously operates as an anchor that maintains, enhances, and promotes denominational activity and a sail that allows institutional boundaries to be crossed." 183
The development of Sufism was considerably influenced by Indian yogic practises, where they adapted both physical postures (asanas) and breath control (pranayama).184 The ancient Indian yogic text Amritakunda ("Pool of Nectar)" was translated into Arabic and Persian as early as the 11th century. Several other yogic texts were appropriated by Sufi tradition, but typically the texts juxtapose yoga materials alongside Sufi practices without any real attempt at integration or synthesis. Yoga became known to Indian Sufis gradually over time, but engagement with yoga is not found at the historical beginnings of the tradition.185
Malaysia's top Islamic body in 2008 passed a fatwa, which is legally non-binding, against Muslims practicing yoga, saying it had elements of "Hindu spiritual teachings" and that its practice was blasphemy and is therefore haraam. Muslim yoga teachers in Malaysia criticized the decision as "insulting."186 Sisters in Islam, a women's rights group in Malaysia, also expressed disappointment and said that its members would continue with their yoga classes.187
The fatwa states that yoga practiced only as physical exercise is permissible, but prohibits the chanting of religious mantras,188 and states that teachings such as the uniting of a human with God is not consistent with Islamic philosophy.189 In a similar vein, the Council of Ulemas, an Islamic body in Indonesia, passed a fatwa banning yoga on the grounds that it contains "Hindu elements"190 These fatwas have, in turn, been criticized by Darul Uloom Deoband, a Deobandi Islamic seminary in India.191
In May 2009, Turkey's head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs, Ali Bardakoğlu, discounted personal development techniques such as yoga as commercial ventures that could lead to extremism. His comments were made in the context of yoga possibly competing with and eroding participation in Islamic practice.192
- Jacobsen writes, "Yoga has five principal meanings:
- yoga as a disciplined method for attaining a goal
- yoga as techniques of controlling the body and the mind
- yoga as a name of one of the schools or systems of philosophy (darśana)
- yoga in connection with other words, such as "hatha-, mantra-, and laya-," referring to traditions specialising in particular techniques of yoga
- yoga as the goal of yoga practice."14
- Jonathan Mark Kenoyer describes one figure as "seated in yogic position."30
- Karel Werner writes that "Archeological discoveries allow us therefore to speculate with some justification that a wide range of yoga activities was already known to the people of pre-Aryan India."31
- Heinrich Zimmer describes one seal as "seated like a yogi."32
- Thomas McEvilley writes that "The six mysterious Indus Valley seal images...all without exception show figures in a position known in hatha yoga as mulabhandasana or possibly the closely related "utkatasana" or "baddha konasana...."33
- Dr. Farzand Masih, Punjab University Archaeology Department Chairman, describes a recently discovered seal as depicting a "yogi."34
- Gavin Flood disputes the idea regarding one of the seals, the so-called "Pashupati seal," writing that it isn't clear the figure is seated in a yoga posture, or that the shape is intended to represent a human figure.35
- Geoffrey Samuel, regarding the Pashupati seal, believes that we "do not actually "know" how to interpret the figure, nor do we know what he or she represent."36
- Jacobsen writes that "Bodily postures are closely related to the tradition of tapas, ascetic practices in the Vedic tradition. The use by Vedic priests of ascetic practices in their preparations for the performance of the sacrifice might be precursor to Yoga."37
- Whicher believes that "the proto-Yoga of the Vedic rishis is an early form of sacrificial mysticism and contains many elements characteristic of later Yoga that include: concentration, meditative observation, ascetic forms of practice (tapas), breath control..."38
- Wynne states that "The Nasadiyasukta, one of the earliest and most important cosmogonic tracts in the early Brahminic literature, contains evidence suggesting it was closely related to a tradition of early Brahminic contemplation. A close reading of this text suggests that it was closely related to a tradition of early Brahminic contemplation. The poem may have been composed by contemplatives, but even if not, an argument can be made that it marks the beginning of the contemplative/meditative trend in Indian thought."41
- Miller suggests that the composition of Nasadiya Sukta and Purusha Sukta arises from "the subtlest meditative stage, called absorption in mind and heart" which "involves enheightened experiences" through which seer "explores the mysterious psychic and cosmic forces...".42
- Jacobsen writes that dhyana (meditation) is derived from Vedic term dhih which refers to "visionary insight", "thought provoking vision".42
- For the date of this Upanishad see also Helmuth von Glasenapp, from the 1950 Proceedings of the "Akademie der Wissenschaften und Literatur"46
- Flood writes, "...Bhagavad Gita, including a complete chapter (ch. 6) devoted to traditional yoga practice. The Gita also introduces the famous three kinds of yoga, 'knowledge' (jnana), 'action' (karma), and 'love' (bhakti)." 55
- Karma yoga involves performance of action without attachment to results.56
- The yoga of devotion is similar to the yoga of action, but the fruits of action, in yoga of devotion, are surrendered to Krishna.57
- Jnana yoga is the path of wisdom, knowledge, and direct experience of Brahman as the ultimate reality. The path renounces both desires and actions, and is therefore depicted as being steep and very difficult in the Bhagavad Gita.58
- On the dates of the Pali canon, Gregory Schopen writes, "We know, and have known for some time, that the Pali canon as we have it — and it is generally conceded to be our oldest source — cannot be taken back further than the last quarter of the first century BCE, the date of the Alu-vihara redaction, the earliest redaction we can have some knowledge of, and that — for a critical history — it can serve, at the very most, only as a source for the Buddhism of this period. But we also know that even this is problematic... In fact, it is not until the time of the commentaries of Buddhaghosa, Dhammapala, and others — that is to say, the fifth to sixth centuries CE — that we can know anything definite about the actual contents of [the Pali] canon."67
- Werner writes, "The word Yoga appears here for the first time in its fully technical meaning, namely as a systematic training, and it already received a more or less clear formulation in some other middle Upanishads....Further process of the systematization of Yoga as a path to the ultimate mystic goal is obvious in subsequent Yoga Upanishads and the culmination of this endeavour is represented by Patanjali's codification of this path into a system of the eightfold Yoga."52
- Werner writes, "Patanjali's system is unthinkable without Buddhism. As far as its terminology goes there is much in the Yoga Sutras that reminds us of Buddhist formulations from the Pāli Canon and even more so from the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma and from Sautrāntika."84
- Worthington writes, "Yoga fully acknowledges its debt to Jainism, and Jainism reciprocates by making the practice of yoga part and parcel of life."100
- Eliade, Mircea, Yoga - Immortality and Freedom, Princeton, 1958: Princeton Univ.Pr. (original title: Le Yoga. Immortalité et Liberté, Paris, 1954: Libr. Payot)
- "The Meditation school, called 'Ch'an' in Chinese from the Sanskrit 'dhyāna,' is best known in the West by the Japanese pronunciation 'Zen' "167
- Exact quote: "This phenomenon merits special attention since yogic roots are to be found in the Zen Buddhist school of meditation."170
- Bryant 2009, p. 10.
- Bryant 2009, p. 457.
- Bryant 2009, p. 10.
- Bryant 2009, p. xvii.
- Denise Lardner Carmody, John Carmody, Serene Compassion. Oxford University Press US, 1996, page 68.
- Stuart Ray Sarbacker, Samādhi: The Numinous and Cessative in Indo-Tibetan Yoga. SUNY Press, 2005, pp. 1–2.
- Tattvarthasutra [6.1], see Manu Doshi (2007) Translation of Tattvarthasutra, Ahmedabad: Shrut Ratnakar p. 102
- Feuerstein, Georg (2001). The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. Arizona, USA: Hohm Press. p. Kindle Locations 7299-7300. ISBN 978-1890772185.
- Aranya, Swami Hariharananda (2000). "Introduction". Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali with Bhasvati. Calcutta, India: University of Calcutta. p. xxiv. ISBN 81-87594-00-4.
- Whicher, pp. 38–39.
- "Hatha Yoga: Its Context, Theory and Practice" by Mikel Burley (page 16)
- Birdee, Gurjeet S. et al. "Characteristics of Yoga Users: Results of a National Survey." Journal of General Internal Medicine. Oct 2008, Volume 23 Issue 10. p1653-1658
- Whicher, p. 6–7.
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- Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, London, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1971 edition, Volume II, pp. 19–20.
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- Bryant 2009, p. 5.
- Bryant 2009, p. xxxix.
- Aranya, Swami Hariharananda (2000). Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali with Bhasvati. Calcutta, India: University of Calcutta. p. 1. ISBN 81-87594-00-4.
- Dasgupta, Surendranath (1975). A History of Indian Philosophy 1. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass. p. 227. ISBN 81-208-0412-0.
- American Heritage Dictionary: "Yogi, One who practices yoga." Websters: "Yogi, A follower of the yoga philosophy; an ascetic."
- "Vaishnavism" Britannica Concise "Characterized by an emphasis on bhakti, its aim is to escape the cycle of birth and death in order to enjoy the presence of Vishnu."
- Larson, p. 142.
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- Patanjali, Yoga Sutra III, 55, ed.: Miller, Barbara Stoler (transl., intr.), Yoga - Discipline of Freedom. The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali, New York, 1998: Bantam Books, p. 73
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- Stiles 2001, p. x.
- For an overview of the six orthodox schools, with detail on the grouping of schools, see: Radhakrishnan and Moore, "Contents," and pp. 453–487.
- For a brief overview of the yoga school of philosophy see: Chatterjee and Datta, p. 43.
- Larson, pp. 44–45.
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- For yoga acceptance of samkhya concepts, but with addition of a category for God, see: Radhakrishnan and Moore, p. 453.
- For yoga as accepting the 25 principles of samkhya with the addition of God, see: Chatterjee and Datta, p. 43.
- Müller (1899), Chapter 7, "Yoga Philosophy," p. 104.
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- For text and word-by-word translation as "Yoga is the inhibition of the modifications of the mind." See: Taimni, p. 6.
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