Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India. Yoga is one of the six orthodox philosophical schools of India.
There is a broad variety of yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The term “Yoga” in the Western world often denotes a modern form of hatha yoga and yoga as exercise, consisting largely of the postures or asanas.
The practice of yoga has been thought to date back to pre-vedic Indian traditions; possibly in the Indus valley civilisation around 3000 BCE. Yoga is mentioned in the Rigveda and also referenced in the Upanishads, though it most likely developed as a systematic study around the 5th and 6th centuries BCE, in ancient India’s ascetic and Śramana movements. The chronology of earliest texts describing yoga-practices is unclear, varyingly credited to the Upanishads. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali date from the 2nd century BCE and gained prominence in the west in the 20th century after being first introduced by Swami Vivekananda. Hatha yoga texts began to emerge sometime between the 9th and 11th century with origins in tantra.
Yoga gurus from India later introduced yoga to the West, following the success of Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th and early 20th century with his adaptation of yoga tradition, excluding asanas. Outside India, it has developed into a posture-based physical fitness, stress-relief and relaxation technique. Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise; it has a meditative and spiritual core. One of the six major orthodox darsanas, or schools, of Indian philosophy is also called Yoga darsana, has its own epistemological method, which assumes the ontology and metaphysics of the closely correlated Samkhya darsana.
Light on Patanjali Yoga Sutras
Patañjali wrote treatises on grammar, medicine and yoga. This has been memorialised in a verse by Bhoja at the start of his commentary on the Yogasutras called Rājamārttanda (11th century), and the following verse found in Shivarama’s 18th-century text:
योगेन चित्तस्य पदेन वाचां मलं शरीरस्य च वैद्यकेन। योऽपाकरोत्तं प्रवरं मुनीनां पतञ्जलिं प्राञ्जलिरानतोऽस्मि॥
Yōgēna cittasya padēna vācāṁ malaṁ śarīrasya ca vaidyakēna. Yōpākarōttaṁ pravaraṁ munīnāṁ patañjaliṁ prāñjalirānatōsmi
English translation: I bow with my hands together to the eminent sage Patañjali, who removed the impurities of the mind through yoga, of speech through grammar, and of the body through medicine.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a collection of Sanskrit sutras (aphorisms) on the theory and practice of yoga – 195 sutras (according to Vyāsa and Krishnamacharya) and 196 sutras (according to other scholars including BKS Iyengar). The Yoga Sutra was compiled sometime between 500 BC and AD 400 by the sage Patanjali in India who synthesised and organised knowledge about yoga from much older traditions.
Yoga tradition holds the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali to be one of the foundational texts of classical Yoga philosophy.
The Yoga Sutras are a condensation of two different traditions, namely “eight limb yoga” (aṣṭāṅga yoga) and action yoga (Kriya yoga)
Patanjali divided his Yoga Sutras into four chapters, containing in all 196 aphorisms, divided as follows:
- Samadhi Pada (51 sutras) – Samadhi refers to a state of direct and reliable perception (pramāṇa) where the yogi’s self-identity is absorbed into pure consciousness, collapsing the categories of witness, witnessing, and witnessed. Samadhi is the main technique the yogi learns by which to dive into the depths of the mind to achieve Kaivalya (liberation). The author describes yoga and then the nature and the means of attaining samādhi.
This chapter contains the famous definitional verse: “Yogaś citta-vritti-nirodhaḥ”
- Sadhana Pada (55 sutras) – Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for “practice” or “discipline”. Here the author outlines two systems of Yoga: Kriyā Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold or Eightlimbed Yoga).
- Kriyā Yoga in the Yoga Sūtras is the practice of three of the Niyamasof Aṣṭāṅga Yoga:
- Tapas- austerity
- Svādhyaya- self-study of the scriptures
- Iśvara praṇidhana– devotion to god or pure consciousness
- Aṣṭānga Yogais the yoga of eight limbs:
- Yama – restraints or ethics of behaviour
- Niyama – observances
- Āsana – physical postures
- Prāṇāyāma – control of the prana(breath)
- Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses
- Dhāraṇa – concentration
- Dhyāna – meditation
- Samādhi – absorption
- Vibhuti Pada (56 sutras) – Vibhuti is the Sanskrit word for “power” or “manifestation”. ‘Supra-normal powers’ (Sanskrit: siddhi) are acquired by the practice of yoga. Combined simultaneous practice of Dhāraṇā, Dhyana and Samādhi is referred to as Samyama, and is considered a tool of achieving various perfections, or Siddhis. The text warns (III.38) that these powers can become an obstacle to the yogi who seeks liberation.
- Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras) – Kaivalya literally translates to “isolation”, but as used in the Sutras stands for emancipation or liberation and is used where other texts often employ the term moksha (liberation). The Kaivalya Pada describes the process of liberation and the reality of the transcendental ego.
The path to Kaivalya (Moksha)
Samkhya school suggests that jnana (knowledge) is a sufficient means to moksha, Patanjali suggests that systematic techniques/practice (personal experimentation) combined with Samkhya’s approach to knowledge is the path to moksha. Patanjali holds that ignorance is the cause of suffering and saṁsāra. Liberation, like many other schools, is removal of ignorance, which is achieved through discriminative discernment, knowledge and self-awareness. The Yoga Sūtras is Yoga school’s treatise on how to accomplish this. Samādhi is the state where ecstatic awareness develops, state Yoga scholars, and this is how one starts the process of becoming aware of Purusa and true Self. It further claims that this awareness is eternal, and once this awareness is achieved, a person cannot ever cease being aware; this is moksha, the soteriological goal in Hinduism.
Book 3 of Patanjali’s Yogasutra is dedicated to soteriological aspects of yoga philosophy. Patanjali begins by stating that all limbs of yoga are necessary foundation to reaching the state of self-awareness, freedom and liberation. He refers to the three last limbs of yoga as Samyama, the fusion of Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi – path to Kaivalya. Once a yogi reaches this state of samyama, it leads to unusual powers, intuition, self-knowledge, freedom and kaivalya, the soteriological goal of the yogi.
Patañjali was not the first to write about yoga. Much about yoga is written in the Mokṣadharma section of the epic Mahābhārata – Bhagavad Gita. The members of the Jain faith had their own, different literature on yoga and Buddhist yoga stems from pre-Patanjali sources.
Some of the major commentaries on the Yoga Sutras were written between the ninth and sixteenth century. After the twelfth century, the school started to decline, and commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga philosophy were few. By the sixteenth century Patanjali’s Yoga philosophy had virtually become extinct. The manuscript of the Yoga Sutras was no longer copied, since few read the text, and it was seldom taught.
Popular interest arose in the 19th century, when the practice of yoga according to the Yoga Sutras became regarded as the science of yoga and the “supreme contemplative path to self-realisation” by Swami Vivekananda, following Helena Blavatsky, president of the Theosophical Society.
According to David Gordon White, the popularity of the Yoga Sutras is recent, “miraculously rehabilitated” by Swami Vivekananda after having been ignored for seven centuries. It was with the rediscovery by a British Orientalist in the early 1800s that wider interest in the Yoga Sutras arose in the West. It has become a celebrated text in the West, states White, because of “Big Yoga – the corporate yoga subculture”.
Yoga should be practised by one and all who are looking for a path to self-realisation and freedom from ‘Dukhas’ (pain, suffering, stress or displeasure). It is a complete source of knowledge to make your mind, body and soul realise it’s true self ‘Purusha’ (Universal consciousness) and enjoy the eternal bliss.