What is Yoga?

What is Yoga? 
A Ridiculously Brief History
Constance Pike, RYT 500

This will be a very brief synopsis from various readings, escpecially a very fine paper written by Embodyoga teacher, Karen Miscall-Bannon, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika. To discuss the history of yoga is to cover the history of India and environs from Vedic times (4500-2500 BCE) to the present day.  What remains vital from those early times is the idea that man has the capacity break through habitual patterns of consciousness to gain access to the true self. In doing so, man becomes one with himself, with God and all other men. From this era, three basic practices were sacrific, austerities, and life-force (prana). 

During the Pre-Classical/Brahmanic Era (2500-100 BCE), the Brahmin or priest class became powerful as the culture moved away from the austerities into the idea that every man could achieve enlightenment.  The brahmins were the guides and teachers. Meditation became popular for the masses, not just the upper classes. During this period, Buddhism and Jainism also emerged as practices for turning inward. It is also during this time that the word "yoga" was beginning to be used.  Yoga means yoke in Sanskrit, a yoking together of man with his true self, of man with God, of man with his universe, of man with man.

The Classical Era (100 BCE - 500 AD) gave us the Yoga Sutras by Pantanjali, which outlined the "Eight Limbs of Yoga," the moral basis by which yogis were to live.  Pantanjali's philosophy was very similar to that of Buddhism, which was already thriving by Pantanjali's time.  Simply put, man's suffering is caused by attachment; to end suffering, rid yourself of attachment; and to rid yourseld of attachment, follow the "Eight Limbs of Yoga." (An article on the Eight Limbs will follow.) The Jains, the Buddists and the Yogis all preached non-violence, or ahisma. However, there were differences in many other areas between the three sects.

The Post-Clasical Era (500 AD to present) provided more schools of yoga and further refinement of yogic thought.  According to Hatha Yoga Pradipika , yoga as we know it today began in the 4th and 5th centuries, when Buddhism began to move out of India.  Unlike the Buddhists, Yogis felt that one could not just sit in meditation without preparing the body first, and a sophisticated science of purification methods was developed. In Hatha Yoga, self-discipline and self-control start with the body first. This included pranayama (breathing), movement or postures (asana) and meditations.