What is Yoga? An Introduction to Yoga in Theory and Practice Flashcards Preview

YS-101 An Introduction to the History and Philosophy of Yoga > What is Yoga? An Introduction to Yoga in Theory and Practice > Flashcards

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Yoga today

Yoga Journal 2016 US Market Research Study:

- 36 million practitioners in 2016 (9% population), up from 20.4 million in 2012

- 16 billion spent in 2016, up from 10 billion in 2012

- 28% of Americans have participated in a yoga class at some point in their lifes


Yoga in India today

Government of India taken keen interest in yoga

- department of AYUSH: promote yoga, ayurveda, traditional Indian medecine

- International yoga day proposed to UN by PM Narendra Modi in 2014

- 177 nations co-sponsored resolution


What is Yoga?
9 answers

- sequenced stretching and breathing

- mind-body regime to improve mental healh and physical health

- spiritual discipline or religious practice

- path to enlightenment

- technique for transcending the world

- disciplined way of acting/being in the world

- bodily discipline used to attain woldly and political powers

- commercial product and professional industry

- free from all suffering


Defining Yoga

- The act of yoking an animal

- yoke itself

- in astronomy, conjunction of planet or stars and constellation

- mixing together various substances

- denote a service, recipe, method, strategy, charm, incantation, fraud, trick, endeavor, combination, union, arrangement, zeal, care, diligence, industriousness, discipline, use, application, contact, sum total and the Work of alchemists


Early Definitions of Yoga in Sanscrit Texts (4)

Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind - Yogasutra

Yoga is the union of the self and the Lord - Pancarthabhyasa

Yoga is skill in action - Bhagavadgita

Yoga is the direct means to perceive reality - sutra in Shankaracarya's Brahmasutrabhashya


Modern VS Premodern yoga

- today the word yoga is practically synonym with the practice of asana

- While posture has always played an important role historically in yoga traditions, asana has typically been one of many methods or techniques

- The concept of asana, its function, and capacity within Indian yoga traditions changed greatly over time and new scholarship is only emerging

- the fundamental centrality of asana is but one feature which distinguishes modern yoga from our premodern sources

- others include: the idea of a large group class, the primary demographic of female practitioners, our modern therapeutic and science-inflected understanding of health and wellness, etc


Modern Postural Yoga

Given the centrality of asana in contemporary expressions of yoga, scholars refer to this as Modern Postural Yoga

First coined by Elizabeth De Michelis in her book a History of Modern Yoga


Modern Yoga expression

"The expression Modern Yoga is used as a technical term to refer to certain types of yoga that evolved mainly through the interaction of Western individuals interested in Indian religions and a number of more or less Esternized Indians over the last 150 years. It may therefore be defined as the graft of a Western branch onto the Indian tree of yoga. May be the youngest branch of this tree and seems to be the only one to have stretched across the oceans to continents other than Asia. " - Elizabeth De Michelis


What about premodern yoga?

"Pure" or "traditional" yoga, often contrasted with modern yoga

modern vs premodern not unproblematic, assumes rupture, discontinuity


2 opposing Historical "Yoga Positions"

Essentialists: yoga is a 5000+ old timeless, unchanging, revealed by Vedic sages

Constructivists: Yoga (i.e postural yoga) was invented during the colonial period, and exported transnationally

Neither of these positions hold against historical evidence. The "truth" likely falls somewhere in between


Emic vs Etic

Emic - is a perspective that emerges from within a particular culture/tradition (i.e indigenous)

Etic - is a perspective that emerges from outside, looking in (i.e the distant-observant scholar)


Origin story #1

Gorakshavijaya: Near the shores of Candradvipa (moon island), Parvati requests teachings of yoga from Shiva. But she fells asleep and teachings received by fish with a boy in his belly, Matsyendra "Lord of the Fish"


Origin story #2

Bhagavadgita: Krishna tells Arjuna "this immutable Yoga I proclaimed to Vivasvat (solar deity), Vivasvat told it to Manu, and Manu declared it to Ikshvaku. Thus received from one another, it was learned by the royal seers. However in the long course-of-time this Yoga was lost here on earth. This ancient yoga, verily I proclaim to you today, for you are my devotee and friend. Truly this is the unexcelled secret.


Emic accounts from Yogashastras

These "insiders" accounts from within the yoga traditions are not "historical" narratives, but rather:
- mytho-poetic
- convey and construct meaning, not necessarily history-as-it-was
- emphasize divinity, revelation
- scriptural and spiritual authority
- guru-shis.ya (teacher-student) relations
- parampara (disciplic succession)


Indus Valley Civilization

2600-1900 BCE (Bronze Age)

were located in present-day Pakistan's Punjab and Sindh provinces

Along with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, one of the great civilizations of the ancient world

population- 5 million at peak

Highly advanced cities and architecture: grid-like city layouts, sewage system, central baths (for rituals?), advanced arts and culture


Mohenjo-daro clay seal no.420

From IVC

Sir John Marshall (1931) director-general of ASI

"yogic" posture


Pashupati (Lord of the beasts)


Conclusion: the quest of origins

- The gap between the IVC material culture, and the earliest textual evidence for the discipline called yoga is approximately 1000 years

- Moreover, the first instances of the word yoga in ancient Sanskrit texts (i.e the Vedas) do not refer to meditation, or spiritual practice, but rather to the "yoking" of an animal to its chariot

- This makes it very difficult, if not historically implausible, to speak of an Indus Valley "yoga" tradition- considering the concept did not exist