The Roots of Yoga

“Those in whose hearts OM reverberates, unceasingly are indeed blessed and deeply loved as one who is the Self. The all-knowing Self was never born, nor will it die. Beyond cause and effect (karma), this Self is eternal and immutable. When the body dies, the Self does not die.” Katha Upanishad

sadhu4The historical journey of yoga began with the Rishis – the seers and sages of long ago. These ascetics lived in nature, communing with Self, which is source. Much of what they learned was revealed directly from spirit and passed on orally, teacher to student. Thousands of years later, it was written down, becoming the sacred texts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

The most important texts of Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma), from which yoga philosophy arose, date back 4,000 years. These include the Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutras as well as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Together these texts offer a science of consciousness and self-realization.

The Veda’s are recognized as the first texts written in Sanskrit and contain spiritual knowledge on all aspects of life. Veda means knowledge, wisdom and vision. There are four Vedas: Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva, together they are called the Chathurveda. The vedic texts provide the original teachings of Hinduism and are thought to have influenced Buddhism and Jainism. Scholars believe the Rig Veda, in its oral tradition, dates back 10,000 years.

vedas-e1353537085326Each Veda consists of four parts: hymns, rituals, theologies and philosophy.“The Upanishads form the end of each veda and contain the essence of vedic teachings,” from What are Vedas? The Upanishads, Gita and Bhrama Sutras are the source material for vedanta, yoga philosophy and the yoga sutras. They contain revealed truths (sruti) about Brahman (all that is) and describe the path of moksha (liberation).

“O Brahma (divine essence), lead us from the unreal to the real. O Brahma, lead us from darkness to light. O Brahma, lead us from death to immortality. Shanti, Shanti, Shanti, Om.” Brhadaranyaka Upanishad

The Bhagavad Gita (400 BCE-before common era) shares a dialogue between prince Arjuna and his guide Krishna. Faced with the task of killing his family in battle, Arjuna is counseled by Krishna to fulfill his duty (svadharma).The Gita offers the foundation of yogic practice and life and “is considered by eastern and western scholars alike to be among the greatest spiritual books the world has ever known. In a clear way Krishna describes the science of self-realization and the exact process by which human beings can establish their eternal relationship with (source).” Srimad Bhagavad Gita.

The Brahma Sutras (500-400 BCE) are a vedantic commentary that brings together divergent threads (sutras) presented in the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. While many commentaries have been shared, the earliest by Sri Adi Shankara (400 CE), offers a powerful and clear interpretation of scripture and basis of Vedanta.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali came into being later (400 CE-common era) and were greatly influenced by the Gita. The Yoga Sutras “are thought to be a condensation of two different (and extremely powerful) traditions, namely (Raja/Royal) “eight limb yoga” (Ashtanga) and action yoga (Kriya),” Feuerstein.

Rising from the heart of these ancient texts is the shining jewel of Vedanta, a science of consciousness that uses a systematic process called self-inquiry. Many seekers of truth have used the teachings of Vedanta to awaken to the true nature of self – infinite, non-dual action-less awareness.

Vedanta shares that enlightenment is neither a state nor an experiential phenomenon (like Samadhi or absorption) but rather the removal of ignorance (unexamined fears and desires) which cover the truth who we are. While we are born into this realm of duality, the very objects of perception we believe to be real, are merely the relative stepping stones we must traverse in order to realize our non-dual self. One of the most recent sages to teach this path of Advaita (non-duality) is Ramana Maharshi but also present day teachers like Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Swami Paramarthananda, James Swartz and Ted Schmidt.

So where does modern day asana (posture) practice fit into this rich history of yoga? In the past, hatha postures were developed to support the body during extended periods of meditation. Additionally, asanas were handed down from teacher to student in a one on one personal relationship, with the student’s particular need’s in mind. The group yoga classes of today are a relatively new phenomena – less than 100 years within a 10,000 year tradition. Essentially, the expanding varieties of asanas practiced today are both a preparation and doorway into an ancient practice of self-realization. For some, asana is an end unto itself, for others it is but the first step upon the ancient path of liberation.

“All is change in the world of the senses, but changeless is the supreme Lord of Love. Meditate on him, be absorbed by him, wake up from this dream of separateness.” Shvetashvatara Upanishad

Recommended Reading: Upanishads: Choice Upanishads, or Mundaka Upanishads by Swami Dayananda. Bhagavad Gita: The Living Gita by Swami Satchitananda, or The Teaching of the Bhagavad Gita by Dayananda. How to Attain Enlightenment and The Essence of Enlightenment by James Swartz. Crest Jewel of Discrimination, Swami Prabhavananda. I am That, Discourses by Nisargadatta Maharaj by Maurice Frydman.

Eaden Shantay, co-owns True Nature Healing Arts in Carbondale, CO with his partner and wife, Deva. True Nature is a place of learning through yoga, meditation, intuitive energy work, and sacred music. Learn more about the Peace Garden, spiritual boutique, petit Ayurvedic spa, and high-prana foods kitchen at

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