In Vedic Sanskrit, yoga means ‘to add’, and it can also mean ‘connection’ and ‘union’. There are many stories surrounding the beginnings of yoga, and the oldest known stories surround the Hindu gods, including Lord Shiva. Four specific periods pertain to the origins of yoga, and these are:
- Vedic Period
- Pre-Classical Period
- Classical Period
- Post-Classical Period
Understanding each period is essential, but it’s particularly important to get to grips with the Vedic period and what happened before that time. Let’s explore this.
Yoga as a Hindu Spiritual Discipline
Yoga is a Hindu spiritual discipline, and it includes breath control and meditation during the adoption of specific positions for the body. It’s widely practised as good for the health of the mind and body, and it is designed to relax and give a feeling of empowerment. Before undertaking a session of yoga, it’s essential to understand its origins and where mantras and affirmations come from.
The Existence of Yoga
The existence of the Vedas marks the first period of yoga, and it all began in the Himalayas. Mount Kailash was the home to Lord Shiva, a great Hindu god. Lord Shiva sat as part of a trinity of gods: Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer of Evil. The Vedas is a collection of hymns that praise a divine power, and they contain the oldest known teachings of yoga. They exist to surpass the limitations of the mind, and throughout the Vedic period people relied on yogis to teach them how to live in divine harmony. Lord Shiva was the husband of Parvati and father to Kartikeya, the Hindu god of war, and Ganesh, the elephant god.
Lord Shiva had three eyes and we discuss opening our third eye during yoga. Shiva’s third eye represents his high powers, only opening to root out evil. Hinduism emphasises the purification of the body and mind with yoga and tantra, so the third eye being cleansed dates right back to Lord Shiva. He was the founder and father of yoga, and this all began thousands of years ago. His meditative position was the Lotus position, and he stayed in this pose in silence in the Kailash mountains. When he didn’t meditate, he engaged in ecstatic dance and became known as the Natraj (the Lord of Dance). His cosmic dance was also known as the Tandav, and it balanced the universe, reflecting his yoga poses as he moved. It was rumoured that with his intense cosmic energy, Lord Shiva controlled the function of the universe with his subconscious mind.
Parvati was a kind-hearted goddess. Lord Shiva shared all of his information and knowledge on yoga with her, and she wanted to share it further with others. She believed that the introduction of yoga to humans would rid their pain and suffering, which is how Vedic yoga was truly born. Initially, Lord Shiva did not want to share this knowledge with humans, but he allowed Parvati’s wish to come true. The night that Lord Shiva taught Parvati all he knew was described as the Ujyaster anena iti yogah. Yoga is the joining of the individual consciousness (or Jivatma) to the universal consciousness (Paramatma).
The subject of yoga has been dealt with extensively in many ancient Indian scriptures such as Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Bhagvat Gita, Upanishads, Yoga Vasishta, Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, Gheranda Samhita, Siva Samhita and Puranas. Also, in recent times, eminent spiritual leaders like Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo have further clarified the concept and purpose of yoga philosophy, which is that ‘yoga joins, unites or binds’.
There was a second set of yogic teachings that came from the seven Rishis (Saptrishis), Hindu saints or sages. Adi Yogi guided these Rishis with one dimension of yoga on the Kani Sarovar, a lake above Kedarnath in the Himalayas. Rishis were known as the most evolved light beings in creation, the guardians of the divine laws, and knowledgeable in all areas of yoga. Rishis were put here to spread the word to humankind, and the night this happened was called Mahashivratri. This is a famous Hindu festival now to worship Lord Shiva. It is believed that if someone stays awake all night long, they can sit with their spine upright and push toward their spiritual peak.
Much of Hindu mythology talks about yoga as supernatural in its power and its ability to attain spirituality. Lord Shiva was known as a superhero with the power that he gave to the world, and there are many variations of his story in history.