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THE BIG BOOK OF YOGA: THE YOGA FAMILY TREEHOUSE

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Pre-Modern Yoga

Somewhere around 1000 CE, the system of Hatha Yoga - the Yoga which incorporates physical exercises as a major aspect of spiritual development - was born. The legendary sages Matsyendra and Goraksha, who lived around the 9th and 10th c., are credited with developing these practices. One of the later texts of Hatha Yoga, called Hatha Yoga Pradipika, has a family tree of its own, where it lists the 33 greatest Hatha Yogis. At the top is "Adinath", or "First Master", another name for God. After that comes Mastyendra, then Goraksha, and then the whole lineup of great teachers that succeeded them3.

From this point on, texts specifically devoted to Hatha Yoga became more common. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, which we just mentioned, is one of these classic texts. You can take a look at the next timeline, below, to get a sense for when these more recent texts were written.



Pre-Modern Hatha Yoga Timeline
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Along with Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita and Siva Samhita form the core trilogy of writings on Hatha Yoga from this Pre-Modern period4. Hatha Yoga Pradipika is the one most written like a practical user's guide. Siva Samhita is arguably the most philosophical text of the three; among other things, it includes some of the more in-depth descriptions of the chakra system, as well as the advanced practice of mudra. Gheranda Samhita has the most extensive descriptions of the Yogic purification practices (shatkarma), and is also the only one that really gets detailed about the appropriate limitations of a yogic diet5.

Interestingly, even though we are well into the evolution of Hatha Yoga by the time of these texts' writing, there still aren't that many asanas mentioned, at least not compared to what we see today. Hatha Yoga Pradipika lists 15 asanas6, Gheranda Samhita has 327. Siva Samhita only mentions 4 asanas8, and they are all simple seated positions!

Early Hatha Yoga Practicioner

Altogether, there are far more teachings on meditation, states of consciousness, and mental focus, then there are on body posture or breathing practices. One of the nice things about reading these early works is that you can get a real feel for how meditative and internally focused the Hatha Yoga practice was meant to be. Start with these three texts and you'll have a good sense for the original design and intent of Hatha Yoga. (Don't worry, they're not very long!) For serious scholars, here's an extensive list of many pre-modern writings on the Yoga tradition.

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