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Two general theories exist on the origins of yoga. The linear model holds that yoga originated in the Vedic period, as reflected in the Vedic textual corpus, and influenced Buddhism; according to author Edward Fitzpatrick Crangle, this model is mainly supported by Hindu scholars. According to the synthesis model, yoga is a synthesis of non-Vedic and Vedic elements; this model is favoured in Western scholarship.[7][8]


Yoga-like practices are first mentioned in the Rigveda.[9] Yoga is referred to in a number of the Upanishads.[10][11][12] The first known appearance of the word "yoga" with the same meaning as the modern term is in the Katha Upanishad,[13][14] which was probably composed between the fifth and third centuries BCE.[15][16] Yoga continued to develop as a systematic study and practice during the fifth and sixth centuries BCE in ancient India's ascetic and Śramaṇa movements.[17] The most comprehensive text on Yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, date to the early centuries of the Common Era;[18][19][note 1] Yoga philosophy became known as one of the six orthodox philosophical schools (Darśanas) of Hinduism in the second half of the first millennium CE.[20][web 1] Hatha yoga texts began to emerge between the ninth and 11th centuries, originating in tantra.[21][22]

The term "yoga" in the Western world often denotes a modern form of Hatha yoga and a posture-based physical fitness, stress-relief and relaxation technique,[23] consisting largely of asanas;[24] this differs from traditional yoga, which focuses on meditation and release from worldly attachments.[23][25] It was introduced by gurus from India after the success of Swami Vivekananda's adaptation of yoga without asanas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[26] Vivekananda introduced the Yoga Sutras to the West, and they became prominent after the 20th-century success of hatha yoga.[27]

Pāṇini (4th c. BCE) wrote that the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots: yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samādhau ("to concentrate").[33] In the context of the Yoga Sutras, the root yuj samādhau (to concentrate) is considered the correct etymology by traditional commentators.[34]

In accordance with Pāṇini, Vyasa (who wrote the first commentary on the Yoga Sutras)[35] says that yoga means samadhi (concentration).[36] In the Yoga Sutras (2.1), kriyāyoga is yoga's "practical" aspect: the "union with the supreme" in the performance of everyday duties.[37] A person who practices yoga, or follows the yoga philosophy with a high level of commitment, is called a yogi; a female yogi may also be known as a yogini.[38]

According to White, the last principle relates to legendary goals of yoga practice; it differs from yoga's practical goals in South Asian thought and practice since the beginning of the Common Era in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain philosophical schools.[66]

There is no consensus on yoga's chronology or origins other than its development in ancient India. There are two broad theories explaining the origins of yoga. The linear model holds that yoga has Vedic origins (as reflected in Vedic texts), and influenced Buddhism. This model is mainly supported by Hindu scholars.[67] According to the synthesis model, yoga is a synthesis of indigenous, non-Vedic practices with Vedic elements. This model is favoured in Western scholarship.[68]

Thomas McEvilley favors a composite model in which a pre-Aryan yoga prototype existed in the pre-Vedic period and was refined during the Vedic period.[82] According to Gavin D. Flood, the Upanishads differ fundamentally from the Vedic ritual tradition and indicate non-Vedic influences.[83] However, the traditions may be connected:

The twentieth-century scholars Karel Werner, Thomas McEvilley, and Mircea Eliade believe that the central figure of the Pashupati seal is in a Mulabandhasana posture,[13] and the roots of yoga are in the Indus Valley civilisation.[90] This is rejected by more recent scholarship; for example, Geoffrey Samuel, Andrea R. Jain, and Wendy Doniger describe the identification as speculative; the meaning of the figure will remain unknown until Harappan script is deciphered, and the roots of yoga cannot be linked to the IVC.[90][91][note 7]

According to Flood, "The Samhitas [the mantras of the Vedas] contain some references ... to ascetics, namely the Munis or Keśins and the Vratyas."[99] Werner wrote in 1977 that the Rigveda does not describe yoga, and there is little evidence of practices.[9] The earliest description of "an outsider who does not belong to the Brahminic establishment" is found in the Keśin hymn 10.136, the Rigveda's youngest book, which was codified around 1000 BCE.[9] Werner wrote that there were

According to Whicher (1998), scholarship frequently fails to see the connection between the contemplative practices of the rishis and later yoga practices: "The proto-Yoga of the Vedic rishis is an early form of sacrificial mysticism and contains many elements characteristic of later Yoga that include: concentration, meditative observation, ascetic forms of practice (tapas), breath control practiced in conjunction with the recitation of sacred hymns during the ritual, the notion of self-sacrifice, impeccably accurate recitation of sacred words (prefiguring mantra-yoga), mystical experience, and the engagement with a reality far greater than our psychological identity or the ego."[100] Jacobsen wrote in 2018, "Bodily postures are closely related to the tradition of (tapas), ascetic practices in the Vedic tradition"; ascetic practices used by Vedic priests "in their preparations for the performance of the sacrifice" may be precursors of yoga.[94] "The ecstatic practice of enigmatic longhaired muni in Rgveda 10.136 and the ascetic performance of the vratya-s in the Atharvaveda outside of or on the fringe of the Brahmanical ritual order, have probably contributed more to the ascetic practices of yoga."[94]

According to Geoffrey Samuel, the "best evidence to date" suggests that yogic practices "developed in the same ascetic circles as the early śramaṇa movements (Buddhists, Jainas and Ajivikas), probably in around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE." This occurred during India's second urbanisation period.[17] According to Mallinson and Singleton, these traditions were the first to use mind-body techniques (known as Dhyāna and tapas) but later described as yoga, to strive for liberation from the round of rebirth.[112]

The chronology of these yoga-related early Buddhist texts, like the ancient Hindu texts, is unclear.[119][120] Early Buddhist sources such as the Majjhima Nikāya mention meditation; the Aṅguttara Nikāya describes jhāyins (meditators) who resemble early Hindu descriptions of muni, the Kesin and meditating ascetics,[121] but the meditation practices are not called "yoga" in these texts.[122] The earliest known discussions of yoga in Buddhist literature, as understood in a modern context, are from the later Buddhist Yogācāra and Theravada schools.[122]

Jain meditation is a yoga system which predated the Buddhist school. Since Jain sources are later than Buddhist ones, however, it is difficult to distinguish between the early Jain school and elements derived from other schools.[123] Most of the other contemporary yoga systems alluded to in the Upanishads and some Buddhist texts have been lost.[124][125][note 11]

The Maitrayaniya Upanishad, probably composed later than the Katha and Shvetashvatara Upanishads but before the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, mentions a sixfold yoga method: breath control, introspective withdrawal of the senses, meditation (dhyana), mental concentration, logic and reasoning, and spiritual union.[13][129][133] In addition to discussions in the Principal Upanishads, the twenty Yoga Upanishads and related texts (such as Yoga Vasistha, composed between the sixth and 14th centuries CE) discuss yoga methods.[11][12]

Onesicritus also mentions attempts by his colleague, Calanus, to meet them. Initially denied an audience, he was later invited because he was sent by a "king curious of wisdom and philosophy".[135] Onesicritus and Calanus learn that the yogis consider life's best doctrines to "rid the spirit of not only pain, but also pleasure", that "man trains the body for toil in order that his opinions may be strengthened", that "there is no shame in life on frugal fare", and that "the best place to inhabit is one with scantiest equipment or outfit".[134][135] According to Charles Rockwell Lanman, these principles are significant in the history of yoga's spiritual side and may reflect the roots of "undisturbed calmness" and "mindfulness through balance" in the later works of Patanjali and Buddhaghosa.[134]

Nirodhayoga (yoga of cessation), an early form of yoga, is described in the Mokshadharma section of the 12th chapter (Shanti Parva) of the third-century BCE Mahabharata.[136] Nirodhayoga emphasizes progressive withdrawal from empirical consciousness, including thoughts and sensations, until purusha (self) is realized. Terms such as vichara (subtle reflection) and viveka (discrimination) similar to Patanjali's terminology are used, but not described.[137] Although the Mahabharata contains no uniform yogic goal, the separation of self from matter and perception of Brahman everywhere are described as goals of yoga. Samkhya and yoga are conflated, and some verses describe them as identical.[138] Mokshadharma also describes an early practice of elemental meditation.[139] The Mahabharata defines the purpose of yoga as uniting the individual ātman with the universal Brahman pervading all things.[138]

The Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Lord), part of the Mahabharata, contains extensive teachings about yoga. According to Mallinson and Singleton, the Gita "seeks to appropriate yoga from the renunciate milieu in which it originated, teaching that it is compatible with worldly activity carried out according to one's caste and life stage; it is only the fruits of one's actions that are to be renounced."[136] In addition to a chapter (chapter six) dedicated to traditional yoga practice (including meditation),[140] it introduces three significant types of yoga:[141] 041b061a72

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