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Brief history of yoga

yoga ancien
yoga moyen age
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raja yoga
histoire du yoga - moyen âge
histoire du yoga

Yoga as an ascetic and contemplative practice appears in the sacred texts of ancient India around 500 BC.  During the Middle Ages, yoga was already differentiated in a multitude of forms, independent or connected to the most varied sects or philosophical and religious currents. 

Through oral tradition from master to disciple, with the support of a substantial number of classical texts, yoga has spanned more than a millennium of Indian history.

  The yoga practiced today in the West in fact only brings us certain aspects of traditional yogic practices, most often in a form that has been amply modified and "adapted", to make it compatible with the Western mentality . This does not mean that yoga has lost its strength or its authenticity, on the contrary: the growing and worldwide success that it meets today demonstrates its universality and timelessness.

ancient yoga


Yoga originated as an ascetic practice , linked to the renunciant sects of ancient India. 

The ancient Vedic texts (the Vedas , 1500-500 BC), contain the earliest citations of techniques for developing mind control through meditation. 


In the following periods, we find similar themes in the Upanishads (VI-III centuries BC), some of which are entirely dedicated to yoga. It teaches how to come to the contemplation of the soul through physical and mental practices that distract the mind from external disturbances, thus creating states of deep meditation.


The most famous poems of the Indian tradition, the Mahabharata (IV century BC-III century) and in particular its sixth book, the Bhagavad-Gita , treat the theme of yoga in depth, as an element now inseparable from spiritual life. upper classes of society .


" Let the yogi constantly strive to concentrate his mind (on the Supreme Self) in a solitary place and all alone, master of himself, pure of desires and the ardor of possessing " Bhagavad Gita VI-10.


The Middle Ages and the classical age of yoga (IV-XI centuries)


During the Middle Ages, different forms of yoga developed, corresponding to the birth of the main philosophical schools of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. 

Yogic practices become at this time an integral part of a spiritual path. They are codified and systematized to become a means of asceticism and detachment from the real world and allow spiritual or religious elevation.


Yoga and Buddhism

The Pali Canon (transcribed from the oral tradition in the 1st century), fundamental text of Buddhism, contains the first attempts to systematize yogic practices, derived from the ascetic tradition. There are ascetic practices aimed at detaching the mind and absorbing it in meditation. 


Raja yoga


The most significant text in the yogic tradition is Patanjali's Yogasutra .

This work was composed between 100 and 500 AD by the sage Patanjali . The work is made up of brief aphorisms (sutras) that bring together and codify several centuries of knowledge about the theory and practice of yoga.
The second sutra contains the very definition of yoga:

Yoga citta vrtti nirodah

“Yoga is the arrest of the fluctuations of the mind”

In other words, yoga is the means so that the mind, of an unstable nature and out of our control, is no longer the veil preventing the clear vision of the essence   of our true being.

Patanjali describes yoga as the arrest of the fluctuations of consciousness , which results, as described in the sutra quoted above, in the possibility of the soul to shine, to be known and experienced experientially._cc781905- 5cde-3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_

According to the tradition of Yoga, as well as all spiritual traditions, this result is the ultimate realization to which the human being can aspire.

This control is made possible by practicing the eight aspects, or limbs (ashtanga), of yoga :


  1. yama , the moral prohibitions, namely non-violence (ahimsa), truth (satya), not stealing (asteya), restraint (brahmacarya), non-covetousness (aparigraha);

  2. niyama , the rules of conduct: cleanliness (saucha), contentment (santosha), ardor or austerity (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya) and surrender to the Lord *(Isvara Pranidhana) (*define Isvara).

  3. asana , postures. “The   yogi conquers his body through the practice of asana and makes it the worthy vehicle of his mind. A soul without a body is like a bird without its wings. (BKS Iyengar, Light on Yoga).

  4. lengthening and controlling the breath, pranayama ( see dedicated chapter );

  5. the withdrawal of the senses, pratyahara ;

  6. concentration,  dharana ;

  7. meditation,  dhyana  ;

  8. samadhi , absorption, the final goal of yoga (see dedicated voice).


According to Patanjali, the practice of the eight limbs of yoga requires both detachment from the diversion caused by desires (Vairagya) and constant discipline with diligent practice (Abhyasa).  


hatha yoga


Hatha Yoga , or "yoga of strength" is based on a system of complex postures   (asana) and breathing techniques (pranayama) to achieve deep meditative states._cc781905-5cde- 3194-bb3b-136bad5cf58d_

These practices have very ancient origins, but were systematized around the 11th century by the natha sect, founded by the sage Matsyendranath and then developed by his disciple Gorakhnath

The goal of hatha yoga is the awakening of consciousness and the recognition of its identity with the Absolute . This enlightenment passes through methods capable of deeply purifying the body (the "passing through the fire of yoga") to make it "divine", indestructible and immortal, most of which are described in the hatha-yoga-pradipika (link) of Svatmarama (15th century), essential text of hatha-yoga. Other reference texts are the gheranda-samhita (link), the Siva-samhita and the Siddhasiddhanta-padhati.


Bakhti yoga


The bakhti movement (= " devotion to a personal God "), born in southern India between the 6th and 9th centuries, is a yogic current whose goal is the mystical union of the human soul with the divine through acts of devotion and unconditional love towards personal divinity (Isvara)

Bakhti-yoga is described in the Bhagavad-Gita as the highest   form of yoga, superior to karma-yoga (the "yoga of action") and jnāna-yoga (the “yoga of knowledge”).

hatha yoga
bakhti yoga

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