Ascetic practices (tapas), concentration and bodily postures used by Vedic priests to conduct yajna (sacrifice), might have been precursors to yoga.[note 9] Vratya, a group of ascetics mentioned in the Atharvaveda, emphasized on bodily postures which may have evolved into yogic asanas. Early Samhitas also contain references to other group ascetics such as munis, the keśin, and vratyas. Techniques for controlling breath and vital energies are mentioned in the Brahmanas (texts of the Vedic corpus, c. 1000–800 BCE) and the Atharvaveda. Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda suggests the presence of an early contemplative tradition.[note 10]
The tantra yoga practices include asanas and breathing exercises. The Nyingma tradition practices Yantra yoga (Tib. "Trul khor"), a discipline that includes breath work (or pranayama), meditative contemplation and other exercises. In the Nyingma tradition, the path of meditation practice is divided into further stages, such as Kriya yoga, Upa yoga, Yoga yana, Mahā yoga, Anu yoga and Ati yoga. The Sarma traditions also include Kriya, Upa (called "Charya"), and Yoga, with the Anuttara yoga class substituting for Mahayoga and Atiyoga.
Yoga gurus from India later introduced yoga to the West, following the success of Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th and early 20th century with his adaptation of yoga tradition, excluding asanas. Outside India, it has developed into a form of posture-based physical fitness, stress-relief and relaxation technique. Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise; it has a meditative and spiritual core. One of the six major orthodox schools of Hinduism is also called Yoga, which has its own epistemology and metaphysics, and is closely related to Hindu Samkhya philosophy.
Samuel states that Tantrism is a contested concept. Tantra yoga may be described, according to Samuel, as practices in 9th to 10th century Buddhist and Hindu (Saiva, Shakti) texts, which included yogic practices with elaborate deity visualizations using geometrical arrays and drawings (mandala), fierce male and particularly female deities, transgressive life stage related rituals, extensive use of chakras and mantras, and sexual techniques, all aimed to help one's health, long life and liberation.
Theosophists including Madame Blavatsky also had a large influence on the Western public's view of Yoga. Esoteric views current at the end of the 19th century provided a further basis for the reception of Vedanta and of Yoga with its theory and practice of correspondence between the spiritual and the physical. The reception of Yoga and of Vedanta thus entwined with each other and with the (mostly Neoplatonism-based) currents of religious and philosophical reform and transformation throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Mircea Eliade brought a new element into the reception of Yoga with the strong emphasis on Tantric Yoga in his seminal book: Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. With the introduction of the Tantra traditions and philosophy of Yoga, the conception of the "transcendent" to be attained by Yogic practice shifted from experiencing the "transcendent" ("Atman-Brahman" in Advaitic theory) in the mind to the body itself.
The Rigveda, however, does not describe yoga, and there is little evidence as to what the practices were. Early references to practices that later became part of yoga, are made in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the earliest Hindu Upanishad. For example, the practice of pranayama (consciously regulating breath) is mentioned in hymn 1.5.23 of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (c. 900 BCE), and the practice of pratyahara (concentrating all of one's senses on self) is mentioned in hymn 8.15 of Chandogya Upanishad (c. 800–700 BCE).[note 8] The Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana teaches mantra repetition and control of the breath.
^ James Mallinson, "Sāktism and Hathayoga," 6 March 2012. PDF file Archived 16 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine [accessed 10 June 2012] pp. 20–21 "The Buddha himself is said to have tried both pressing his tongue to the back of his mouth, in a manner similar to that of the hathayogic khecarīmudrā, and ukkutikappadhāna, a squatting posture which may be related to hathayogic techniques such as mahāmudrā, mahābandha, mahāvedha, mūlabandha, and vajrāsana in which pressure is put on the perineum with the heel, in order to force upwards the breath or Kundalinī."
The Yoga Sutras are also influenced by the Sramana traditions of Buddhism and Jainism, and may represent a further Brahmanical attempt to adopt yoga from the Sramana traditions. As noted by Larson, there are numerous parallels in the concepts in ancient Samkhya, Yoga and Abhidharma Buddhist schools of thought, particularly from 2nd century BCE to 1st century AD. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is a synthesis of these three traditions. From Samkhya, the Yoga Sutras adopt the "reflective discernment" (adhyavasaya) of prakrti and purusa (dualism), its metaphysical rationalism, as well its three epistemic methods of gaining reliable knowledge. From Abhidharma Buddhism's idea of nirodhasamadhi, suggests Larson, Yoga Sutras adopt the pursuit of altered state of awareness, but unlike Buddhism's concept of no self nor soul, Yoga is physicalist and realist like Samkhya in believing that each individual has a self and soul. The third concept Yoga Sutras synthesize into its philosophy is the ancient ascetic traditions of meditation and introspection, as well as the yoga ideas from middle Upanishads such as Katha, Shvetashvatara and Maitri.
Tantra is a range of esoteric traditions that began to arise in India no later than the 5th century CE.[note 17] George Samuel states, "Tantra" is a contested term, but may be considered as a school whose practices appeared in mostly complete form in Buddhist and Hindu texts by about 10th century CE. Tantric yoga developed complex visualizations which included meditation on the body as a microcosm of the cosmos. They included also the use of mantras, pranayama, and the manipulation of the subtle body, including its nadis and cakras. These teachings on cakras and Kundalini would become central to later forms of Indian Yoga.
Jain yoga has been a central practice in Jainism. Jain spirituality is based on a strict code of nonviolence or ahimsa (which includes vegetarianism), almsgiving (dana), right faith in the three jewels, the practice of austerities (tapas) such as fasting, and yogic practices. Jain yoga aims at the liberation and purification of the self (atma) or soul (jiva) from the forces of karma, which keep all souls bound to the cycle of transmigration. Like Yoga and Sankhya, Jainism believes in a multiplicity of individual souls which bound by their individual karma. Only through the reduction of karmic influxes and the exhaustion of one's collected karma can a soul become purified and released, at which point one becomes an omniscient being who has reaches "absolute knowledge" (kevala jnana).
The Bhagavad Gita ('Song of the Lord') is part of the Mahabharata and also contains extensive teachings on Yoga. According to 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." In addition to an entire chapter (ch. 6) dedicated to traditional yoga practice, including meditation, it introduces three prominent types of yoga:
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The first known appearance of the word "yoga", with the same meaning as the modern term, is in the Katha Upanishad, probably composed between the fifth and third century BCE, where it is defined as the steady control of the senses, which along with cessation of mental activity, leading to a supreme state.[note 13] Katha Upanishad integrates the monism of early Upanishads with concepts of samkhya and yoga. It defines various levels of existence according to their proximity to the innermost being Ātman. Yoga is therefore seen as a process of interiorization or ascent of consciousness. It is the earliest literary work that highlights the fundamentals of yoga. White states:
a technique for entering into other bodies, generating multiple bodies, and the attainment of other supernatural accomplishments; these are, states White, described in Tantric literature of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the Buddhist Sāmaññaphalasutta; James Mallinson, however, disagrees and suggests that such fringe practices are far removed from the mainstream Yoga's goal as meditation-driven means to liberation in Indian religions.