Yoga is the ancient meditative practice for well-being of the mind, body and soul (atman). But in the modern world, Yoga and its practice has been stripped to a set of studio exercises.
Yoga literally means yoking or union. Etymologically speaking, the term comes from the root word, ruj, which means ‘to bind’. The word’s other meanings are: “conjugation of stars”, “grammatical rule”, “magic”, “aggregate” and so on. But what is being “yoked”? In most disciplines of yoga, what is unified is the conscious subject (jiva-atman) and with the Supreme Self (paramataman) to the point of reaching the ecstatic condition called Samadhi, meaning “putting together”.
While some scholars emphasize that Yoga developed primarily as a Hindu tradition, archaeological evidence shows that the discipline blossomed much before clear religions sprang up and the practice was adopted by Hindus, Jains and Buddhist, equally.
Earliest archaeological evidence of Yoga’s existence can be found in stone seals which depict figures of Yoga poses. These seals place Yoga’s existence at around 3000 BC. Researchers, however, believe that Yoga existed long before this approximated date, some even having traced its beginnings to Stone Age Shamanism.
Shaman is a seasoned, spiritual traveller in the realm of spirits. Shamanism, thus, is the art of changing one consciousness to enter extraordinary realms of being. While yoga probably did not grow directly from shamanism, it absorbed some of its elements, like poses, transcendence, asceticism, and illumination (Feuerstein 1997).
While yogis aspire self-liberation, shamans primarily concerned themselves with other-worldly knowledge. Yoga may have thus emerged when tribal communities served by shamans developed into city states – the change marking a shift in consciousness from community to individual self awareness.
Over the ages Yoga can be broadly studied under four period: Vedic (Archaic) Yoga, Pre-Classical Yoga (1500-1000 B.C.), Classical Yoga (600-400 B.C.), Post-Classical Yoga (post Patanjali period) and Modern Yoga.