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THE BIG BOOK OF YOGA: THE YOGA FAMILY TREEHOUSE

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THE YOGA FAMILY TREEHOUSE

Yoga has been around for a long, long time. The earliest reliable evidence we have of Yoga being practiced in ancient India is a carving from the early Indus Valley settlement, Mohenjo-Daro, possibly dating back to 3300 BCE1. Mohenjo Daro Carving Figure In Hatha Yoga PoseBy way of comparison, Lao Tze, Socrates, and Buddha wouldn't be born until almost 3,000 years later. So in order to provide a truly comprehensive history of Yoga would entail the work of a lifetime (or lifetimes!). What follows instead is a brief timeline and "genealogy" of the major influences in Yoga going as far back as we have reliable documentation, which is a bit more than 2,000 years or so. (Much beyond that and we have to rely mostly on speculation based on archaeological evidence.) As always, the focus here is weighted towards the evolution of Hatha Yoga, specifically, although many of the earlier texts apply to all the various approaches to Yoga.

Yoga in Ancient Times

Although there were many early writings on Yoga, over time the main text that most scholars and practitioners have come to see as the "Bible" of Yoga is the Yoga Sutra, written by the sage Patanjali. Actually, we say the author was Patanjali mostly for the sake of convenience - from what we can tell, the Yoga Sutra was probably compiled over many years, even centuries, by a host of different Yogis.

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The last addition to the text was probably sometime in the 4th c. CE2. Yoga Sutra is divided into four sections, or padas, and each one deals with a different aspect of Yoga practice. Many contemporary Hatha Yoga students focus particularly on the second section, titled Sadhana, which is concerned with actual practices. This section mentions, among other things, the importance of asana, pranayama, and developing dharana, or mental concentration. It also identifies the 8-fold path of Yoga, Eight Branches Of Hatha Yoga known as ashtanga yoga (ashta = eight, anga = limb or branch), to which many Yoga traditions today still adhere. Loosely translated, these eight branches are as follows:

1. Yama (proper behavior)
2. Niyama (proper attitude)
3. Asana (posture)
4. Pranayama (breath/energy)
5. Pratyahara (withdrawing)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (absorption)

Along with Yoga Sutra, several important texts on Yoga were written in the first millennium CE. Have a look at the timeline below to get a sense for the dates of the earlier Yoga literature.

Ancient Hatha Yoga Timeline Click for PDF version

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