The meaning and history of yoga

The word yoga, from the Sanskrit word „yuj“ means to yoke or bind and is often interpreted as „union“. The regular practice of yoga leads to the unification of body, mind and breath which enables us to experience peace of mind and physical health. Yoga’s most significant sage, Patanjali, describes the main purpose of yoga as calming the thought waves of the mind. (1.2 Yoga Sutras.)


For clarity’s sake, the history of yoga has often been categorised into 4 different periods:


1)   Vedic Yoga: (ca. 3000 – 4000 BCE) This period dates back to ancient India when Yoga was intimately connected to the ritual life of ancient Indians.  It revolved around the idea of sacrifice (Yajna) as a means of joining the material world with the invisible world of the spirit.


2)   Preclassical Yoga: (ca. 2500 – 100 BCE) The most important literature to emerge during this time are the Upanishads, a collection of texts that describe the inner vision of reality resulting from devotion to Brahman, the Absolute. One of the most important texts to emerge from this time is the famous „Bhagavad Gita“ (The Lord’s Song), which provides the most comprehensive description of yoga at that time.


3)   Classical Yoga: (ca. 100 BCE – 500 AD) This period marked the emergence of one of the most important texts on Yoga, Patanjali’s  Yoga Sutras.


4)   Postclassical Yoga: This period was very rich in producing various schools and practices of Yoga, such as Vedanta, Hatha and Tantra Yoga. Several reliable texts on Hatha Yoga such as the „Hatha Yoga Pradipika“, „The Goraksha Samhita“ and the „Gherand Samhita“ emerged during this time.


Modern Yoga: Modern Yoga with its emphasis on poses or asanasis actually a very recent development possibly only about 150 years old. The man who had the most influence on how we practice today is the so-called „father of modern yoga“, T. Krishnamacharya. He was a master at blending the tradition of yoga (philosophies such as yamas and niyamsa for example) with modern gymnastics and yoga asanas. His aim was to popularize Yoga and in order to do so he had to adapt it for the needs of his time.


Krishnamacharya was the teacher of the 3 most influential Indian yoga teachers: K. Pattabhi Jois (1915 – 2009), BKS Iyengar (1918 -) and TKV Desikachar (1930 - ). Although their styles are very different the emphasis of their practices is with the physical body and the maintenance of physical health.


We look forward to exchanging more information with you at one of our monthly Satsang evenings.