Pre-philosophical speculations of yoga begin to emerge in the texts of c. 500 – c. 200 BCE. Between 200 BCE and 500 CE, philosophical schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism were taking form and a coherent philosophical system of yoga began to emerge. The Middle Ages saw the development of many satellite traditions of yoga. Yoga came to the attention of an educated western public in the mid 19th century along with other topics of Indian philosophy.
Description of an early form of yoga called nirodhayoga (yoga of cessation) is contained in the Mokshadharma section of the 12th chapter (Shanti Parva) of the Mahabharata (third century BCE). Nirodhayoga emphasizes progressive withdrawal from the contents of empirical consciousness such as thoughts, sensations etc. until purusha (Self) is realized. Terms like vichara (subtle reflection), viveka (discrimination) and others which are similar to Patanjali's terminology are mentioned, but not described. There is no uniform goal of yoga mentioned in the Mahabharata. Separation of self from matter, perceiving Brahman everywhere, entering into Brahman etc. are all described as goals of yoga. Samkhya and yoga are conflated together and some verses describe them as being identical. Mokshadharma also describes an early practice of elemental meditation. Mahabharata defines the purpose of yoga as the experience of uniting the individual ātman with the universal Brahman that pervades all things.
According to Crangle, some researchers have favoured a linear theory, which attempts "to interpret the origin and early development of Indian contemplative practices as a sequential growth from an Aryan genesis",[note 4] just like traditional Hinduism regards the Vedas to be the ultimate source of all spiritual knowledge.[note 5] Thomas McEvilley favors a composite model where pre-Aryan yoga prototype existed in the pre-Vedic period and its refinement began in the Vedic period.
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The number of asanas used in modern yoga has increased rapidly from a nominal 84 in 1830, as illustrated in Joga Pradipika, to some 200 in Light on Yoga and over 900 performed by Dharma Mittra by 1984. At the same time, the goals of Haṭha yoga, namely spiritual liberation (moksha) through the raising of kundalini energy, were largely replaced by the goals of fitness and relaxation, while many of Haṭha yoga's components like the shatkarmas (purifications), mudras (seals or gestures including the bandhas, locks to restrain the prana or vital principle), and pranayama were much reduced or removed entirely. The term "hatha yoga" is also in use with a different meaning, a gentle unbranded yoga practice, independent of the major schools, sometimes mainly for women.
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In 2009, the Council of Ulemas, an Islamic body in Indonesia, passed a fatwa banning yoga on the grounds that it contains Hindu elements. These fatwas have, in turn, been criticized by Darul Uloom Deoband, a Deobandi Islamic seminary in India. Similar fatwas banning yoga, for its link to Hinduism, were issued by the Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa in Egypt in 2004, and by Islamic clerics in Singapore earlier.