Alexander Wynne observes that formless meditation and elemental meditation might have originated in the Upanishadic tradition. The earliest reference to meditation is in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of the oldest Upanishads. Chandogya Upanishad describes the five kinds of vital energies (prana). Concepts used later in many yoga traditions such as internal sound and veins (nadis) are also described in the Upanishad. Taittiriya Upanishad defines yoga as the mastery of body and senses.
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The origins of yoga have been speculated to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions; it is mentioned in the Rigveda,[note 1] but most likely developed around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, in ancient India's ascetic and śramaṇa movements.[note 2] The chronology of earliest texts describing yoga-practices is unclear, varyingly credited to Upanishads. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali date from the first half of the 1st millennium CE, but only gained prominence in the West in the 20th century. Hatha yoga texts emerged sometimes between the 9th and 11th century with origins in tantra.
^ On the dates of the Pali canon, Gregory Schopen writes, "We know, and have known for some time, that the Pali canon as we have it — and it is generally conceded to be our oldest source — cannot be taken back further than the last quarter of the first century BCE, the date of the Alu-vihara redaction, the earliest redaction we can have some knowledge of, and that — for a critical history — it can serve, at the very most, only as a source for the Buddhism of this period. But we also know that even this is problematic... In fact, it is not until the time of the commentaries of Buddhaghosa, Dhammapala, and others — that is to say, the fifth to sixth centuries CE — that we can know anything definite about the actual contents of [the Pali] canon."
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.
During the period between the Mauryan and the Gupta eras (c. 200 BCE–500 CE) the Indic traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism were taking form and coherent systems of yoga began to emerge. This period witnessed many new texts from these traditions discussing and systematically compiling yoga methods and practices. Some key works of this era include the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, the Yoga-Yājñavalkya, the Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra and the Visuddhimagga.