History of Yoga pt.1
Definition of Om
Why is Om Sacred?
Similar to the Big Bang Theory that states that all matter emerged from a massive explosion, in the eastern traditions it is believed that Om, the primordial sound, created and is still sustaining the Universe.
Yogic philosophy believes that the universe emerged from the sound. All matter is ultimately vibration. Quantum physics has taken a leaf out of these philosophies when it says that light, sound, and matter are one and the same thing.
All that differentiates them is vibration. They all have wave properties. In that sense, the matter is frozen sound. All matter is vibrating at a particular frequency.
This vibration is producing sound, even if they are outside the audible range that our ears can pick up on. If each one of us is emanating a particular sound, might it be possible to begin altering that sound/vibration through chanting?
“The practice of chanting mantra is not about the meanings ascribed, it is about the vibration/sound created.”
The difference we see in matter is all a consequence of different vibrations. For example, rice and vegetables appear very different. However, at an atomic level both are structurally made out of Carbon atoms.
The difference we see between the two is a result of a different structural arrangement of these Carbon atoms that is caused by varied vibrational frequencies. Om carries a special vibratory tone that helps us connect to the root vibration of the cosmos.
Frequency of vibration is measured in Hertz. The sound Om carries the vibrational frequency of 432 Hertz. This is why all classical Indian and Tibetan music tune the base tone for their instruments to 432 Hertz.
Interestingly, we can now calculate the vibration produced by the Earth rotating on its own axis. The Earth rotates once every 24 hrs, which is what causes day and night. The vibrational frequency created by the Earth rotating is also 432 Hertz.
The ancient Yogi’s claimed that in advanced stages of meditation you can hear the Sound “Om”. Possibly these Yogi’s during their meditations, were tuning into the vibration/sound being produced by the Earth’s rotation.
Om is comprised of three syllables
A, U and M are the only three root syllables/ sounds that we humans can make without using our tongue. There are many more sounds that we can make without the use of our tongue, but they are all considered to be a mixture of these three main root syllables.
- A: This syllable represents the waking state of consciousness. When we chant this syllable, it is supposed to vibrate in the pelvic region of our body.
- U: This syllable represents the dream state of consciousness. When we chant this syllable, it is supposed to vibrate in the chest region of our body.
- M: This syllable represents the deep sleep state of consciousness. When we chant this syllable, it is supposed to vibrate in the head region of our body.
- . : The dot or (Turiya) refers to the silence that is experienced after chanting OM. This represents infinite consciousness.
We begin every yoga class by chanting Om thrice. This is done to attune our vibrational field with that of the cosmos and the Earth. Additionally, chanting is a good way to clear the mind from past distractions and ground oneself into the present moment.
For instance, in a regular drop-in yoga class, many students will be arriving straight from work and other engagements. Everyone will have a portion of their awareness still caught up in the tasks that they were involved in earlier.
Chanting Om three times helps clear the minds of the students and the teacher, and brings everyone on to the same uniform field to begin the session.
We end every yoga class by chanting one Om and three Shanti’s. Shanti translates to Peace. The first Shanti is an invocation for Cosmic/ Universal Peace, the second for Planetary peace and the third for Inner peace.
Historical Origins of Yoga
Vedic and Pre-Classical period
Different authors point at different dates in time as when yoga came about. Stone carvings depicting figures in yoga postures have been found in archeological sites in the Indus Valley dating back 5,000 years or more.
Something that most authors agree about is that yoga comes from the Indo-Sarasvati civilization and the scriptures of the Vedas and Upanishads.
The Indo-Sarasvati civilization is also often referred to as the ‘Aryans’, which traces back to 6500 before the common era (BCE). The Indo-Sarasvati civilization is said to possibly be the oldest civilization.
As we emphasised earlier, Yoga in antiquity was an oral tradition. Thus written evidence is hard to come by. The first source of written evidence stems from the Indus Valley Civilization (3300-1800 B.C.E).
However, it would be arrogant to assume Yoga didn’t exist before this period.
Many texts produced at this time allude to stories and personalities from a few thousand years prior to this period. The Indus Valley Civilization was located in North-West India and present-day Pakistan. This was one of the oldest known civilizations that existed on the banks of the Indus River.
Located right in the middle of the ancient silk-route that was a massive trade route that carried goods from China, India, Asia, the Middle-East, Europe, and Africa.
This civilization was highly prosperous, freeing up many people from having to spend large amounts of time tending to basic needs. As a result culture, music, art, architecture, philosophy and spiritual practice evolved and spread. The Civilization became an epicenter for new ideas, schools of thought, and spiritual practices.
Towards the latter half of the Civilization, increased wealth also gave rise to power and hierarchy within the society. During this time many of the practices became ritualised. Alongside the increased emphasis on ritual, the caste system became institutionalized.
The 4 castes: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra initially were simply linguistic terms used to describe a particular orientation within an individual.
For instance, Brahminwas used to describe a person who was “Spiritually oriented”, while Kshatriya was used to describe someone who was a leader or “Politically oriented”. Vaishya was used to describe someone who was an entrepreneur or “Materially/ business-oriented”. Shudra was used to describe someone who worked for others/ had no individual agency.
These terms were originally not pegged to birth or blood. Thus anybody could become anything. However, towards the closing period of the civilization, these demarcations became linked with blood, so that if you were born to a Brahmin, you would be a Brahmin regardless of whether you ran businesses, were involved in politics or worked the fields for others.
During the classical period, the first systematic presentation of yoga was put down in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The author, Patanjali, is believed to have compiled all available knowledge about attaining enlightenment (Samadhi) at that time and he structured it in a very systematic way.
Patanjali is often considered as the father of yoga and his Yoga Sutras still strongly influence all styles of modern yoga. Generally, the Sutras teach us that there is pain and suffering in life that should be avoided (heya), that this pain and suffering has a cause (heyahetu), that removal of pain is possible (hana), and finally that there are ways to remove the pain and suffering (hanopaya).
For those of you studying Buddhism, this might sound very familiar and should remind you of the ‘Four Noble Truths’. This makes sense as this scripture was supposedly written at the same time as when the Buddha lived. It is very likely that Patanjali and Buddha were taught by the same lineage of masters in the Indian Himalayas.
The rishis, yogis, and pandits (priests) mainly performed India’s ancient Vedic religion, with much emphasis on rituals. However, ‘spiritual seekers’ wanted a direct experience and not a symbolic ritual.
As a result of this desire, in the post-classical period, practices emerged to rejuvenate both body and life, which laid the basis of ‘Tantra Yoga’.
This encompasses a tradition with various techniques to cleanse the body and mind. Taking into account the inter-relationship between body and mind, the yogis formulated a unique method for maintaining this balance, rather than discarding the body (as was typical in the previous periods).
This method combines all postures with various breathing and meditation techniques that ensure peace of mind and physical health.
“Inspiration was found in nature and many practices were ‘realized’ that would attain from attachments of the world while still living within it. “
Still, it was important to experience the limitations of the human physical body and mind. Then tantra yoga offered practices to transcend them and open up to higher realms of reality.
According to the yogis, true happiness, liberation, and enlightenment comes from the union of the universal consciousness with the self (individual consciousness).
Definition of Yoga
Individual and Universal Consciousness’ Union
Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root word ‘yuj’, which means ‘to join’, or ‘to unite’. This union is between individual consciousness and universal consciousness.
One could also interpret this as the union between Ahamkara (Ego) and Atman (Soul). There are numerous practices and tools, which, when applied systematically, intend to bring us into this state of unified consciousness.
Yoga is one of the seven major philosophical systems that have originated in India. In yoga, the emphasis is on self-practice first. Patanjali, who is commonly referred to as the “Father of Yoga” was alive 2500 years ago. The practices within Yoga have been created by numerous sages and masters.
Patanjali was a pivotal player in bringing these teachings to the larger society in India. Thus, the origins of Yoga precede by a few thousand years. He wrote the Yoga Sutras, which contains 196 concise verses (Sutra’s) explaining the practice and the pathway to reaching Union (Yoga).
The Sutra’s are extremely concise. Each Sutra contains many layers of meaning.
“Based on where the spiritual aspirant is within his or her own path, they will interpret the Sutras differently”
This was the intention of Patanjali when he wrote the Yoga Sutras. He wanted these teachings to remain an inner experience rather than become ritualised dogma.
The word “Sutra” means thread. In this sense, Patanjali has provided us with the threads for us to weave our own cloth. Each teacher of Yoga philosophy then borrows these threads from Patanjali to weave their own cloth based on the state of their spiritual practice and life experiences.
Before the Yoga Sutras, no text existed solely focused upon the practice and philosophy of yoga. This is primarily because Yoga is considered to be Atman-Gyan (Soul Knowledge). The knowledge that can only be passed on from one soul to another.
The essence of Yoga cannot be passed on through books or other forms of media. Thus, the true teachings of Yoga were and always will be passed on as an Oral Tradition.
Prior to Patanjali, Yoga was mainly practiced by Sages and Masters who had renounced their material lives (i.e. family, career, friends, etc.). These Yogi’s were completely dedicated to spiritual practice and self-realisation.
After Patanjali, many more Grihastha’s (householders) began to take up the practice of yoga amidst their duties and obligations. Patanjali’s definition of Yoga is encapsulated in the 2nd Sutra, YogasChittaVrittiNirodhah, which can be transcribed to:
“Yoga is the Process of Controlling the Modifications of the Mind”.
Patanjali sees the mind as a projector. It creates our reality. Our awareness is fractured. It is spread thin, in multiple directions. Some of our awareness locked up in the past (memories) and some in the future. Our mind loses its innate ability to manifest reality as it truly wishes.
This is because the mind in itself is unsure of what it really wishes for. When the mind removes these distractions and is able to focus itself, it gains a tremendous power. In this sense Yoga is the process of collecting the lost fragments of our awareness/ psyche.
We begin to unify our minds wherein we begin to control our minds instead of being controlled by our minds. When the mind assumes this state of tranquility, awareness of the Soul (Atman) is apparent.
HINDUISM (SANATHAN DHARMA)
Sanathan Dharma can be seen as the foundational principle underpinning Hinduism. “Sanathan” means universal, and “Dharma” means religion or duty or purpose. Whether these beings are conscious or unconscious about it, self-realisation is the goal towards which all beings are heading.
Essentially a religion and spiritual tradition differ in the way power is used. Religion assumes power over the way individuals interact with the divine. They dictate the terms, rules and have a network of middlemen (priests) that are the go-between God and the individual.
On the other hand, a spiritual tradition provides one with the tools to become self-actualised. To be able to connect to a higher spiritual purpose without the need for any external authority. However, we must realise that all religions are ultimately founded upon spiritual traditions.
Therefore, there is a gradual gradient between a spiritual tradition and religion, whereby the distinctions between the two can oftentimes become blurred.