Yoga's History and Link to Hinduism

The Vedic God Indra

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Spiritual Yoga: Visionary Unions and the Vedics

Yoga is a popular practice throughout the world. It is widely practiced in many countries and has grown in popularity in the western world in recent years. Where did this practice originate from and how does it tie into Hinduism? I'll explain how many forms of yoga are cultural manifestations of the Hindu religion and originated from the basic beliefs adhered to by this religion.

Historically speaking the term known today as yoga was originally developed and practiced as part of the Hindu religion. According to Michael Molloy in his book Experiencing the World’s Religion’s “The word yoga means ‘union’ and is related to the English words ‘join’ and ‘yoke’. There are many different types of yoga but they all, “are methods that can be used to help people live spiritually.” Because tolerance is a key belief in Hinduism it is believed that different people can and will take different paths spiritually to attain moksha or complete freedom. Because of this there are a number of different yogas which all promote different ideals and actions that ultimately are aimed to help heighten spirituality in the individual. Rajan Gurakkal has this interesting statement to say in regards to the history of yoga and meditation. He writes, “What one really understands from the history of these techniques is that its earliest phase belongs to the Vedic Age, when the procedures were centred on the visionary revelation of divine knowledge in the form of hymns and statements of sacred truth, which could be used in ritual contexts related to death and for a proper transition to a heavenly afterlife. In the age of the Upanishads, the idea of yoga became a technique of entering the body of another human being. By the time of the Mahayana Buddhism, the techniques of meditation once again got combined with visionary procedures.”

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Yoga's Union to Meditation

In the western world yoga has come to be identified with different poses designed to increase flexibility and balance as well as meditation and breathing exercises that help to clear the mind. It is interesting to note how the purposes of this practice have changed over time. The particular form of yoga form, however, that is widely practiced in the western world is called hatha yoga or force yoga. Molloy writes that hatha yoga was, “originally developed to help make long periods of meditation easier…” Because hatha yoga originally was used as a way to promote meditation and is know practiced by many for many different reasons, this is a very good example of a cultural manifestation of Hinduism. This is especially true given its widespread practice in today’s society. And although many may be ignorant of its origins, purpose and connection with Hinduism it is closely connected with Hinduism and would not be around without it.

Meditation is also commonly associated with yoga. This ideal is what raja yoga or royal yoga is based on. This particular type of yoga is popular in many Eastern parts of the world. Steps such as self-control, observance, posture, breath control, restraint, and steadying of the mind are all used to reach greater states of meditation. Samadhi is the one of the goals of raja yoga and is a deep state of meditation in which according to Molloy, “the individual loses the sense of being separate from the rest of the universe.”

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Yoga's Other Forms

In addition to the two forms of yoga discussed and how they are culturally manifest there are many other forms such as kharma yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, and kundalini yoga. They each emphasize different spiritual paths. They all, however, share the same history as a way of turning religious ideals and beliefs into actions. They are also all good examples of cultural manifestations of Hinduism.

Works Cited

Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions. McGraw-Hill 2010.

Gurukkal, Rajan. “Development of Yoga”. Lexis Nexis. Web. 24 Feb 2011.

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