“Atha Yoga Anushasanam”
Atha means now, and Anushasanam is the Sanskrit word for discipline. The first sutra in the book Yoga Sutras says that ‘Now is the discipline of Yoga.’ This sutra promotes that Yoga is not only for the wellness of one’s body and mind, but it is a way of living.
Several ancient scriptures as the Yoga Sutras, detail the importance of Yoga.
List Of Ancient Books That Mention Yoga And Meditation
As of 2021, the roots of Yoga date back to nearly 5000 years ago, when it began to gain popularity in India. Followers of Hinduism and Buddhism have been ardent practitioners of Yoga since its inception.
Meditation is an even more ancient practice, with its presence evident from 1500 BC. in Indian scriptures. How did these ancient practices come to be known to us in the modern world? How did Yoga scholars unearth the information and guidelines regarding each asana? Let us find out more about the teachings of Yoga imparted by various Indian scriptures.
Here are some of the notable works where Yoga is mentioned:
- Bhagavad Gita
- Uddhav Gita
- Yoga Sutra Of Patanjali
- Hatha Yoga Pradipika
- Shiva Samhita
- Swara Yoga
- Vishnu Purana
- Bhagavata Purana
- Yoga Vasishtha
What Does Bhagavad Gita Say About Yoga And Meditation?
The Bhagavad Gita is among the most revered sacred scriptures of the Hindu religion. The Gita (as it is commonly known) is a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna. Arjuna was one of the five Pandava brothers who engaged in a nasty war with their cousins, the Kaurava brothers. The battle of Kurukshetra is legendary and finds mention in the famous Sanskrit literature Mahabharata.
The Gita describes how Lord Krishna guided warrior-prince Arjuna and allowed him to emerge victorious in the battle of Kurukshetra. Followers of Hinduism hold Bhagavad Geeta in very high regard. The book is revered as a practical guide to lead a peaceful life.
The Bhagavad Gita uniquely promotes the importance of Yoga. Most ancient scriptures encourage people to lead a life as a hermit would live. However, the Bhagavad Gita describes this practice as very difficult. The book mentions one quality about Yoga through the Sanskrit quote ‘Yogah Karmasu Kaushalam.’ It means that Yoga is a behavior or action that is perfect. Bhagavad Gita describes that appropriate behavior is a way to include more positivity in life. The sacred scripture also teaches that perfectly balanced behavior helps to keep negative energies away. Bhagavad Gita stresses the importance of meditation to achieve mental peace. One who has studied the Bhagavad Gita knows that Yoga is about reaching a state of balanced psychological and physical health, balanced emotions, and a balanced intellect. These are the very principles on which the art of Yoga and meditation bases itself.
There are several shlokas in the adhyayas of Bhagavad Gita, which offer a different yet relatable perspective on Yoga and its practical application in life.
How Do The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali Describe Yoga And Meditation?
Yoga Sutra Of Patanjali is often known simply as Yoga Sutra. Maharishi Patanjali compiled this book which describes every aspect of Yoga in great detail. This fine book is a practical guide to those who wish to embark on a spiritual journey. It consists of 196 sutras (aphorisms) that describe Yoga and meditation’s importance and its practical application. Yoga Sutra also provides guidelines on overcoming difficulties faced in the journey of spiritual progress.
Maharishi Patanjali has elaborated about Ashtanga Yoga (eight limb Yoga) and Kriya Yoga in this scripture. The Yoga Sutra consists of four distinct sections, viz. Samadhi Pada, Sadhana Pada, Vibhuti Pada and Kaivalya Pada. These Padas offer knowledge about performing Yoga poses, meditation techniques, the art of Pranayama, self-control, mental power, and overall astute behavior expected of a person wishing to attain a state of spiritual elevation.
What Do The Hindu Vedas Mention About Yoga And Meditation?
The Vedas are a highly revered collection of religious texts written in the ancient Sanskrit language. They offer a way of life, a form of conducting oneself and maintaining a healthy mind and body.
Vyasa Rishi, a great Indian sage, wrote the Vedas in an era that can be dated back to 3000 B.C. There are four Vedas viz. Yajur Veda, Rig Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.
The four Vedas offer knowledge of religious and spiritual importance to priests, sages, hermits, and those wishing to walk on the path of spiritual elevation.
The concepts laid down in the Vedas offered readers a way to lead a righteous life.
Rig Veda mentions the benefits of Yoga and meditation. The philosophies preached in the Vedas complement each other. Vedas describe the effect of Yoga on the overall persona. The knowledge offered by Vedas offers a way to reach a stage of samadhi (highest level of awareness).
How Do The Upanishads Portray Yoga And Meditation?
The Upanishads, also known as Vedanta, are a collection of texts written in the Sanskrit language. Upanishads narrate in detail the principles and ideology on which the Hindu religion bases itself. Like other ancient scriptures revered by the followers of Hinduism, the Upanishads also teach about the right way of living, the importance of spiritualism, and maintaining a healthy mind and body.
Yoga Upanishads, a part of the Upanishads, are dedicated exclusively to the art of Yoga and its contribution to sound health. The techniques of various yoga postures, dhyana (meditation), Pranayama (breathing exercises), are discussed in the Yoga Upanishad.
The Upanishads are an epilogue to the Vedas. In the ancient system of Hindu Gurukuls, a student received knowledge of all the sacred religious texts and practices.
What Is Said About Yoga In ‘The Hatha Yoga Pradipika’?
‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika,’ a work of Nath Yogi Swatmarama, is a guide to understanding the concepts and principles of Hatha Yoga. This 15th-century compilation is written in the ancient Sanskrit language.
Hatha is the most widely practiced branch of Yoga in the western world. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how the ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ has influenced modern Yoga principles and practice. This revered book consists of 389 shlokas (verses) divided into four distinct chapters. The book imparts teachings about yoga postures, Pranayama (breathing exercises), chakra (abstract points of energy distributed in the body), nadi (paths within the body for the flow of subtle energy), and satkarma (cleansing of mind and spirit attained through good deeds).
Hatha Yoga Pradipika advocates the importance of a spiritually elevated existence. The means to achieve this is by practicing Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga is a state of mental bliss and calmness where one remains undisturbed and unaffected by the happenings in the material world. Hatha Yoga Pradipika aims to teach the process of physical and psychological cleansing required to attain the goal of Raja Yoga.
What Is The Connection Between Shiva-Samhita And Yoga?
The origins of Shiva-Samhita can be traced back to as early as five centuries ago. It is a highly revered book giving a detailed description of several aspects of Yoga. The book has five distinct chapters. The Shiva -Samhita is such a descriptive text that its summary itself would fill an entire book.
Read a brief description of the teachings of each of the five chapters of Shiva-Samhita below.
The first chapter of Shiva-Samhita underlines the importance of Yoga to achieve spiritual progress. ‘There is one eternal true knowledge’ is how chapter one begins. It is attributed to the spiritual and philosophical connection one develops after years of practicing Yoga.
The second chapter introduces readers to the abstract concepts of Nadi and jiva their functioning. A nadi is an abstract channel through which the jiva (vital force of the body) flows. Yoga influences and is influenced by all these. The second chapter imparts teachings on the correlation of Yoga with these abstract concepts. The nadi and jiva are representations of the external universe within the human body.
Chapter three of Shiva-Samhita teaches the theory of practicing Yoga poses. It provides a detailed description of the five elements of nature (wind, earth, water, fire, space) and their influence on the human body. The third chapter also details why it is essential to have a guru to influence one’s life.
The fourth chapter asserts the influence of Yoga on Siddhi and Kundalini. Kundalini is the energy lying dormant within the human body. An infinite source of power present within us is Siddhi. Years of practicing Yoga, Pranayama, and dhyana (meditation) lead to the path of attaining Siddhi and activating your Kundalini. Chapter four of Shiva Samhita offers detailed knowledge of this spiritual path.
Chapter five of the Shiva-Samhita is the most prolonged and most extensive. It describes how Yoga helps in the spiritual elevation of self. Chapter five has Mantras (chants of spiritual or religious importance) to attain the highest level of Siddhi. This chapter discusses the abstract energies and driving forces within the human body like the chakras (points of high energy concentration distributed across the body).
Despite being a detailed narrative about Yoga, Shiva Samhita describes only four yoga poses. The book mentions eighty-four other asanas without explaining them. The author of Shiva Samhita (written in the City of Benaras) remains unknown to this day. The compilation has been addressed to Lord Shiva and his Ardhangini (better half) Goddess Parvati. Hatha yoga is the point of focus for this book written in the Sanskrit language.
How Has The Importance Of Yoga been Detailed In Swar Yoga?
Swara Yoga is an ancient Sanskrit compilation focusing on a form of Yoga with the same name. Swara Yoga is the science of breathing. Three hundred and ninety-five sutras (aphorisms) constitute the Swara Yoga. Goddess Parvati asked Lord Shiva questions, who answered them and wrote the entire dialogue in this ancient Hindi scripture.
This book shares the knowledge about how powerful the simple act of breathing is. Shiva Swarodaya teaches that breath is a medium for the life force to act through. Swara Yoga establishes a correlation between the five elements of nature (earth, wind, fire, water, and space) and the action of breathing. The practice of Swara Yoga helps to reach a state of internal calm by balancing mood swings.
The Shiva Sarvodaya describes three types of swaras (flow of breath through the nostrils).
- Ida (inhaling and exhaling from the left nostril) is a form of breathing corresponding to our physical being.
- Pingla (inhaling and exhaling from the right nostril) is a form of breathing that corresponds to our mental being.
- Sushmita (inhaling and exhaling from both nostrils) is a form of breathing that corresponds to our spiritual being.
The book Swara Yoga also establishes a connection between the technique of Swara Yoga and Ayurvedic principles. Regular practice of Swara Yoga helps to balance Doshas. Dosha is a state of imbalance between the various flows of energy within the body.
Yoga Vasishtha: A Great Compilation On Yoga
Sage Vasistha gave a discourse to Lord Rama while the latter was still a young prince. The Sanskrit language book Yoga Vasistha reflects this discourse in the form of 29,000 verses. While Sage Vasistha is the creator of this ancient book, Maharishi Valmiki gets credit for its compilation.
The Yoga Vasistha describes in detail the philosophy and ideology behind the practise of Yoga as we know it today. Meditation finds special mention in the fifth book of the Yoga Vasistha series.
The book, like most other Hindu scriptures, promotes the idea of the immortal soul and the reincarnation cycle. Yoga is one of the ways to prepare the physical body to become detached from the immortal atman (soul), and to progress towards the ultimate spiritual goal of moksha (salvation).
The Vishnu Purana and the Bhagavata Purana are two of the greatest inclusions of the Mahapuranas. There are a total of eighteen Mahapuranas imparting knowledge of life through ancient legends. The Vishnu Purana asserts that regular practise of Yoga paves the path to get spiritually closer to Lord Vishnu. The Bhagavata Purana holds the practise of Yoga in high regard. The book details the importance of Yoga in attaining one’s spiritual goals. It also offers insight into the ideal ways to practise Yoga.
Almost all the great scriptures closely related to the Hindu religion promote the importance of Yoga. The modern-day practice of Yoga is to weight loss, stress relief, treatment of chronic illnesses, and good mental health. However, the ancient teachings of Yoga highlight a significant factor that remains untouched in a Yoga studio. Yoga is a way to achieve spiritual progress. It is a tool to shape one’s ideology and enlighten one’s life. Yoga is not just a form of physical exercise; it is a way of living. Practicing Yoga leads to improvement in every aspect of life.