Yoga in Indian Culture
Yoga is a way to learn and understand the spiritual India. Also, yoga is associated with the culture and heritage of India. In Sanskrit, yoga means ‘to unite’ and describes a way to live a healthy life. In yoga, the mind is disciplined through meditation and the body is aligned and strengthened. As per yoga, it is actually the nervous system of the body that affects our health. The nervous system gets purified with daily yoga and thus keeps our body healthy and strong.
The origin of yoga is considered to be as old as human civilization. But there is no strong evidence to prove this statement. In spite of extensive research in this field, there are no concrete findings regarding the origin of yoga. It is believed that yoga originated in India about 5,000 years ago. Many Western scholars earlier used to believe that it was not 5,000 years ago but in the period of the Buddha (around 500 B.C.) when yoga came into existence. During the excavation of the earliest known civilization of Indus Valley, very astonishing facts came forward. The soapstone seals that existed during that period have been found engraved with figures resembling that of a yogi sitting in a yoga-like posture. Originally, yoga started for the betterment of a community rather than the self.
As per the Vedas, the Vedic Period is the origin of yoga in India. The oldest known yogic teachings are known as Vedic yoga or archaic yoga, and can be found in four Vedas – Rig Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda and Atharva-Veda. Rituals and ceremonies associated with Vedic yoga attempt to beat the restrictions of the mind. Hence, Vedic yoga was closely connected with the ritual life of people at that time. Yoga was considered as a way to connect with the invisible world and revolved around a sacrifice – a sacrifice of the self. Sacrificers, for a prolonged period of time, used to focus on just one thing similar to meditation. Thereby, Vedic yoga is considered a root of yoga. A master of Vedic yoga was known as a ‘seer’ – Rishi in Sanskrit.
Then was the period of pre-classical yoga that was marked with the creation of Upanishads. Approximately 2,000 years are covered in this period that lasted until the 2nd Century A.D. There are many forms of pre-classical yoga, but most of the initial yoga in this period was associated with Vedic yoga.
Teachings of Vedas have been explained in Upanishads along with three subjects – the final truth (brahman), the transcendental self (atman), and the connection between the two – and so the yoga came with the Upanishads. The Bhagavad-Gîtâ (“Lord’s Song”), a very significant holy book of Hindus, is one of the outstanding yoga scriptures of this period. Also the Râmâyana and the Mahâbhârata (that consist of The Bhagavad-Gita) comprised of yoga. Pre-classical yoga consists of many techniques of deep meditations to surpass the body and mind and get connected with the divine powers to discover the true self.
Yoga of this period is connected both to Hinduism as well as Buddhism as Lord Buddha in the sixth century B.C. had started teaching the importance of meditation.
Yoga Sutra that standardized the Classical Yoga had been written by Patanjali around second century marks the creation of the classical period of yoga. The word sutra means ‘thread’ and here, it means ‘thread of memory’ in which Patanjali students retain the knowledge and wisdom of Patanjali. 195 aphorisms or sutras make the eightfold path of Yoga that consists of yama (ethical values), niyama (personal observance of purity), asanas (physical exercises), pratyahara (preparation for Meditation), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (ecstasy).
Patanjali believed that each individual is made up of matter (prakriti) and spirit (purusha). Through yoga, these two can be separated and spirit is restored in its pure form.
Post-classical period of yoga had a focus on the present. It consists of all the schools of yoga that came into existence after the Patanjali yoga-sutra. Post-classical yoga, unlike Classical yoga, focuses on the ultimate unity of everything. Yoga took an interesting turn during this period in which the hidden potential of the body were probed. So, a system of practices was designed by Yoga masters to rejuvenate the body. It led to the creation of hatha-yoga that is an amateur version of present day yoga.
Modern yoga is believed to begin with the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893. There, the young Swami Vivekananda made a lasting impression on the American public. He then attracted the students of yoga and Vedanta. After him, another popular yoga teacher was Paramahansa Yogananda. Now, Swami Ramdev of Patanjali Yoga Peeth Trust has managed to spread yoga in each and every house of India as well abroad.
Further push to yoga has been given recently with the inauguration of Lakulish Yoga University in Ahmedabad, Gujarat by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. It is a self funded private university that has been set up by Surendranagar-based Life Mission Trust. Three years degree will be awarded to the students after completing their studies in Ashtang Yoga, karma, knowledge, Bhakti Yoga, philosophy, psychology, anatomy, ayurveda and naturopathy.
Yoga indeed is an integral part of Indian culture and changes in the same has been observed in each period of the history. So be a part of the true India and learn yoga for the betterment of body and soul.