How important was Yoga to our culture in the past and to what extent has its importance spread today?

The glories of Indian tradition, which was always enriched by synonymous Hindu traditions, are vast and extensive. Our philosophy, religion, way of life, ethics, living pattern, environmentalism, social values, economic prosperity and spiritualism have always fascinated the world.

India’s Yoga


We are a civilization in continuum for more than 5,000 years now; we did develop some marvels of human conscience, which are rare to build with even today. Out of these many marvels which we gifted to humanity, is the idea and practice of ‘Yoga’. Its a way of life, which through certain set of rituals and practices embedded in a disciplinarian mound, promises a communion with the Almighty.

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The ascetics throughout the ages have emphasized that the purpose of the human life is to find the solace with the Creator, who is one and omnipresent. This basic principle remains inherently true to all aspects of worship and prayers in Hindu tradition. There was never a unitary path of devotion and salvation in Hinduism. It has been always an umbrella of different faiths, practices and idea of worship where animals, plants, gods and goddesses, mortals or immortals, living or dead, all have been worshiped equally. Yoga manifests this idea strongly that a healthy mind resides in a healthy body, for body provides the basic requirement to worship the Almighty as one wants. Thus, as early as Rigvedic period, Yoga has been with Hindus like an essential part of daily chores. Now, since its significance is adhered world over through ‘International Yoga Day’ to be celebrated on 21st of June, it is high time to make some serious considerations about the extent and limits of yoga.

A Short History of Yoga

The word Yoga has its roots in Sanskrit ‘yuj’, meaning by ‘to join’, ‘to unite’ or ‘to add’. The roots of Yoga are hard to dateline in history, since it is supposed to have evolved ever before the Rigvedic period with the advent of Adiyogi (perhaps Lord Shiva) in Himalaya. But the first formal assessment and compilation comes in the Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutras’. This remarkable text was composed around 400 CE, and contains 196 sutras (aphorisms), divided into four chapters or pads. The chapters are Samadhi Pada (absorption into the Almighty), Sadhana Pada (practice), Vibhuti Pada, (power or manifestation) and Kaivalya Pada (isolation or emancipation or liberation). The essence of the yoga thus remains about a disciplined journey of how the practitioner (yogi/ yogini) travel through practicing contemplation to attain Samadhi, acquiring Siddhis and Nidhis mid way, but disavowing their temptation to acquire the moksha at last (liberation). Patanjali while describing the Sadhana or practice has discussed two forms of yoga- Kriya Yoga (Action Yoga) and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold Yoga, Raja Yoga).

The Ashtanga Yoga consists of eight fold path, which have been recommended by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutra. Out of the eight, five are external aids, called Bahiranga Sadhana, and three are Antaranga Sadhana, i.e. internal aids. The external ones are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara. The internal ones are Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. One can explain them at some length.

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Yama refers to the different abstentions numbering five, which concerns us about our association with the world. They are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (Truth), Asteya (Non- covetousness), Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness) and Brahmacharya (abstaining sexual activities). These five Yamas are closely resembled to the five vows of Jainsim. Further, Niyama refers to five aspects about how we will relate to our inner self. They are Santosh (contentment), Shaucha (hygiene and cleanliness of the body), Ishvarpranidhana (surrender to the will of the God), Tapas (austerity) and Svadhyaya (self study of religion to know more about the God).

Next in the list is Asana which concerns with the postures and regulations to keep the body free from any illness. The next external aid is Pranayama, which involves controlling the life force, or oxygen through regularized respiration. It also leads to a deeper concentration and contemplation through the body. The last external aid is Pratyahara which refers to the withdrawal of the five senses from the external world, for they lead to temptation and distractions. The internal aid of Dharana refers to the concentration of the mind on a physical object, which may be a deity, light source or the Guru himself. The next aid is Dhyana which is meditation, and is followed by the ultimate heights of Samadhi which ends in the oneness with the object of the meditation.

The Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra has incorporated the earlier teachings of Hindu Philosophy. Though many scholars argue that Samkhya and Yoga have appeared from the non-Vedic roots, and so as Vedanta and non-orthodox Nastika system, but this differentiation stands on a thin crust. These scholars in an attempt to overtly emphasize the contrast between Brahman and Shraman, categorically outplace Gyan or Bhakti Marg as suggested in Shrimad Bhagwat Gita and others differently. But on a close examination, one can simply realise that Brahman and Shraman traditions have some basic similar founding principles. The Yogic practices cannot be seen as working in some isolation, but are inherently a stronger pillar of Bhakti Yoga.

The Extent of Yoga

A message which is loud and clear is that the extent of the significance of Yoga is boundless. In the first historical attempt of humanity perhaps, a system of rigour and discipline was developed in ancient India which emphasized by healthy, hygienic, disease free and ecologically balanced way of life. Yoga helps us to know ourselves first, and then our Creator. It inspires and trains people to live in a coordinated harmony with them. Those who are in peace with them will remain in peace with others as well. Now since the world has accepted the significance of it, and many in the West from 1970’s have came in its refuge, Yoga will transform the way human beings should be. Swami Vivekananda once remarked, “Fill the brain with high thoughts, highest ideals place them day and night before you and out of that will come great work.” 

By Shaan Kashyap, student of History at Banaras Hindu University


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