It’s Not ‘New Age’: A History of Yoga

- moving inward -  [a blog of yogic living]| It's Not 'New Age': A History of Yoga

Vedic/Naturalism [the date is debated, but seems to be prior to 1500bc]

The term ‘Vedic period’ is associated with the Veda scriptures – the earliest written scriptures relating to yoga. There are four Vedas: Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. The Vedas are described as being the written transcriptions of the experiences with the Divine, and include details of hymns, rituals and mantras aimed at bringing practitioners closer to the Divine; ‘yoga’ (‘to unite’) beng the instrument used to join with the Divine. The focus of the rituals is on transcending from the ordinary mind to the still, or suspended, mind (nirodha chitta) and maintaining this state. Students were able to grasp the truth spontaneously. This period is also referred to as ‘Naturalism’, and this is because people were most in touch with their true nature and the Divine.

Pre-Classical/Mysticism [800-100bc]

Over time, people lost  the harmony associated with the Naturalism period, and along with it they lost the unity with the Divine and the suspended mind. Instead they now possessed single-pointed mind (ekagra chitta). The single-pointed mind differs from the suspended mind in that it thinks constantly, however it still possess clarity and attention to focus on one subject (‘single pointed’).

Students with a single-pointed mind sought out teachers who had achieved a suspended mind. The teachers were considered gurus or ‘rishis’. During this time, the Upanishads were written. Upanishad means ‘sitting near the master’; the Upanishads were transcripts of  between students and teachers. There are many Upanishad texts, however some of the oldest and most commonly referred to include the Bhagavad Gita and Brahmasutra.

Classical/Philosophical Period [100bc-300ad]

The Classical Period saw the development of the distracted mind (vikshipta chitta). The distracted mind is constantly thinking.

As students with a distracted mind can not comprehend the truth from a teacher, the Sankhya was written by Rishi Kapila as a systematic, philosophical meditation process for students. The Sankhya has a scientific, atheist perspective, eliminating the Divine and explaining reality by defining reality in terms of consciousness and unconsciousness.

The Yoga Sutras were also written during this time. The Yoga Sutras are aphoristic in nature, meaning that they consist of brief statements of truths (as opposed to longer anecdotal works of literacy). There are 195 aphorisms in total, broken into four Sutras: Samadhi Pada (51 sutras), Sadhana Pada (55 sutras), Vibhuti Pada (55 sutras), and Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras). The Yoga Sutras were written by Patanjali, and define yoga and details, among many other things, the idea of the Eight Limbs of Yoga and the process of liberation from a distracted mind.

Post-Classical/Technological Period 

This is the modern period we live in now. This period is sometimes broken into two periods: post-classical, and modern.

In this age, the mind is characteristically a restless, distracted, infatuated mind. People desire instant gratification; they are frustrated if they cannot access things quickly, they are easily distracted, crave external stimulation, and often have many things going at once. People are infatuated with having and creating ‘things’ – physical possessions, wealth, relationships. They are restless, constantly thinking, and rarely relaxing.

Literature in this period has been written with the knowledge that students with a restless, distracted, infatuated mind cannot grasp the truth from the teachings of a suspended of single-pointed mind. Many are tantras, which means “technique”. Technique is what yoga represents to most people in the modern age.

[See following page for useful links…]

[Image courtesy of nuchylee at]

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