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.
If the meaning of yoga is understood as the practice of nirodha (mental control), then its goal is "the unqualified state of niruddha (the perfection of that process)", according to Baba Hari Dass. In that context, "yoga (union) implies duality (as in joining of two things or principles); the result of yoga is the nondual state", and "as the union of the lower self and higher Self. The nondual state is characterized by the absence of individuality; it can be described as eternal peace, pure love, Self-realization, or liberation."
Some Christians integrate yoga and other aspects of Eastern spirituality with prayer and meditation. This has been attributed to a desire to experience God in a more complete way. In 2013, Monsignor Raffaello Martinelli, servicing Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, having worked for over 23 years with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), said that for his Meditation, a Christian can learn from other religious traditions (zen, yoga, controlled respiration, Mantra), quoting Aspects of Christian meditation: "Just as "the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions," neither should these ways be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured. It is within the context of all of this that these bits and pieces should be taken up and expressed anew." Previously, the Roman Catholic Church, and some other Christian organizations have expressed concerns and disapproval with respect to some eastern and New Age practices that include yoga and meditation.
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 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.
This terse definition hinges on the meaning of three Sanskrit terms. I. K. Taimni translates it as "Yoga is the inhibition (nirodhaḥ) of the modifications (vṛtti) of the mind (citta)".Swami Vivekananda translates the sutra as "Yoga is restraining the mind-stuff (Citta) from taking various forms (Vrittis)." Edwin Bryant explains that, to Patanjali, "Yoga essentially consists of meditative practices culminating in attaining a state of consciousness free from all modes of active or discursive thought, and of eventually attaining a state where consciousness is unaware of any object external to itself, that is, is only aware of its own nature as consciousness unmixed with any other object."
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^ 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 chronology of completion of these yoga-related Early Buddhist Texts, however, is unclear, just like ancient Hindu texts. Early known Buddhist sources like the Majjhima Nikāya mention meditation, while the Anguttara Nikāya describes Jhāyins (meditators) that resemble early Hindu descriptions of Muni, Kesins and meditating ascetics, but these meditation-practices are not called yoga in these texts. The earliest known specific discussion of yoga in the Buddhist literature, as understood in modern context are from the later Buddhist Yogācāra and Theravada schools.
Classical yoga incorporates epistemology, metaphysics, ethical practices, systematic exercises and self-development techniques for body, mind and spirit. Its epistemology (pramana) and metaphysics is similar to that of the Sāṅkhya school. The metaphysics of Classical Yoga, like Sāṅkhya, is mainly dualistic, positing that there are two distinct realities. These are prakriti (nature), which is the eternal and active unconscious source of the material world and is composed of three gunas, and the puruṣas (persons), the plural consciousnesses which are the intelligent principles of the world, and are multiple, inactive and eternal witnesses. Each person has a individual puruṣa, which is their true self, the witness and the enjoyer, and that which is liberated. This metaphysical system holds that puruṣas undergo cycles of reincarnation through its interaction and identification with prakirti. Liberation, the goal of this system, results from the isolation (kaivalya) of puruṣa from prakirti, and is achieved through a meditation which detaches oneself from the different forms (tattvas) of prakirti. This is done by stilling one's thought waves (citta vritti) and resting in pure awareness of puruṣa.
Śaradatilaka of Lakshmanadesikendra, a Shakta Tantra work 11th century CE "Yogic experts state that yoga is the oneness of the individual soul (jiva) with the atman. Others understand it to be the ascertainment of Siva and the soul as non-different. The scholars of the Agamas say that it is a Knowledge which is of the nature of Siva’s Power. Other scholars say it is the knowledge of the primordial soul." (SaTil 25.1–3b)
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Alexander the Great reached India in the 4th century BCE. Along with his army, he took Greek academics with him who later wrote memoirs about geography, people and customs they saw. One of Alexander's companion was Onesicritus, quoted in Book 15, Sections 63–65 by Strabo, who describes yogins of India. Onesicritus claims those Indian yogins (Mandanis ) practiced aloofness and "different postures – standing or sitting or lying naked – and motionless".
The earliest references to hatha yoga are in Buddhist works dating from the eighth century. The earliest definition of hatha yoga is found in the 11th century Buddhist text Vimalaprabha, which defines it in relation to the center channel, bindu etc. Hatha yoga synthesizes elements of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras with posture and breathing exercises. It marks the development of asanas (plural) into the full body 'postures' now in popular usage and, along with its many modern variations, is the style that many people associate with the word yoga today.
A yoga system that predated the Buddhist school is Jain yoga. But since Jain sources postdate Buddhist ones, it is difficult to distinguish between the nature of the early Jain school and elements derived from other schools. Most of the other contemporary yoga systems alluded in the Upanishads and some Buddhist texts are lost to time.[note 12]
The Bhakti movement was a development in medieval Hinduism which advocated the concept of a personal God (or "Supreme Personality of Godhead"). The movement was initiated by the Alvars of South India in the 6th to 9th centuries, and it started gaining influence throughout India by the 12th to 15th centuries. Shaiva and Vaishnava bhakti traditions integrated aspects of Yoga Sutras, such as the practical meditative exercises, with devotion. Bhagavata Purana elucidates the practice of a form of yoga called viraha (separation) bhakti. Viraha bhakti emphasizes one pointed concentration on Krishna.