"The practice of yoga is the commitment to become established in the state of freedom. This practice will be firmly rooted when it is maintained consistently and with dedication over a long period of time. Freedom is that triumphant state of consciousness which resides beyond the influence of desire, when the mind ceases to thirst for anything it has seen or heard about, even what is promised in the scriptures. And supreme freedom is that complete liberation from the world of change which results from becoming the absolute Self."
From the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali (1.13 - 1.16)
The first time I learnt that this text was written 2500 years back, I was fascinated by the depth of thinking that our forefathers and ancestors had. Modern benefits of yoga and meditation are being proven by science but I wanted to dig deeper into its origins.
Picked up a book called Story of Yoga and it has been a fascinating ride to learn about the origins and how different yoga was in different timelines.
Modern yoga has gone through multiple cycles of Chinese whisper and hence reading about the origins with the story of yoga through time would give me more clarity on how it came to be.
The earliest evidence we have of an advanced and well organised culture on India soil is of the Indus Valley civilisation (3000BC-1500 BC). Excavated at Mohejadaro, one of the principal cities of the civilisation, is a small steatite seal measuring barely two inches square. It depicts an impressive seated that looks like a deity, or a king, sitting with legs crossed in mulabandhasana, a posture later to be much favoured by tantric yogis.
A lot of knowledge in ancient India was passed by word of mouth so that text wasn't misinterpreted by people who read it. This is one of the reasons why there's very few written text and more rote knowledge passed down in India.
Spiritual knowledge in India was always an aural tradition, passed on by word of mouth and made fast by personal praxis. Even the priestly custodians of sacred knowledge and ritual were not necessarily able to read or write, for what ensured the faultless transmission of their teachings was personal contact, mind to mind, heart to heart, hand to hand. Once it appeared on the Indian scene as a science of transformation, yoga was always a living body of practice transmitted in the context of the guru - disciple relationships and secured by the close monitoring of individual progress.
From around 2500BC to 500BC was the Vedic era, named after the scripture that form the backbone of orthodox Hinduism, the Vedas. There are four collection of hymns : Rig Veda, the knowledge fo the divine Word; Sama Veda, the knowledge of the sacred songs; Yajur Veda, knowledge of the sacrificial formula; and Atharva Veda, the knowledge of the laws of nature.
Appended to the corpus is a huge corpus of subsidiary texts collectively known as upavedas and vedangas. Taken together, this literature covers many different aspects of life in great detail : religion, sacred ritual, health and medicine, architecture, astrology, warfare, the arts. There was very little focus on body-yoga in these texts.
When the word yoga is used in these early texts, it appears to be with descriptions of dying warriors being hitched to his chariot ascending to celestial realms of the sun.
The upanishads were esoteric teaching that came out during the vedic age. Part of the vedic corpus known as aranyakas : "the forest treatise"