The history of yoga is believed to be as old as civilization. The prehistoric roots and its gradual evolution and development are testimony to this fact. Ancient yoga derived from Indian asceticism to uniting in the “cosmic one.” Yoga history could be traced in the Upanishads, Vedas and even in Brahmanas. The yoga history was also illustrated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
How yoga derived its name? The history of yoga is recorded in our scriptures and it’s continuously evolving in recent times. Though yoga has evolved with changes in techniques and methods but the essence and goal remains the same. The word yoga derived from Sanskrit word “Yuj”, meaning to “unite”.
History of yoga in Indus valley civilization- The archeological excavations of ancient civilization shows that even before 3000 BC yoga had evolved. The artifacts and the “Yogi glyptic” are testimony to the fact. The various yoga postured relic’s depicts, some of the noteworthy yoga postures in them.
History of yoga in Vedic period – With evolution of Vedas the foundation of Hinduism was laid. The Vedas hold the ancient yogic teachings and hence is known as Vedic yoga. While some vague references of history of yoga could be found in the Vedas but practices could be found in the Brahmanas. The Rig Veda mentions yoga’s practice as yoga was essential with Vedic ritual. This dates back to 900 BC.
History of yoga in the Upanishads- This period is also knows as pre-classical yoga period. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad makes the reference of yoga meditation and is clearly reflected in 900 BC to 400 BC. The Mahabharata and the Bhagavad-Gita (oldest Yoga scripture) shows the yoga history in 500 BC and 200 BC resp. Even in Buddhism, the importance of yoga meditation and various yoga postures have been mentioned.
History of yoga in the Patanjali “Yoga Sutra’s”- This period is also known as the Classical period of yoga. The main attempt of Patanjali was to define and normalize classical yoga form and is known as Patanjali eight fold path of yoga (Eight Limbs of Classical Yoga).
Post classical yoga- Numerous sovereign yoga schools were developed during this period after the Yoga sutra period, hence the name Post classical yoga. The human body became filed of study along with the meditation which was missing is the previous years. A new system with numerous yoga exercises was developed. And thus Hatha yoga, Raj yoga and other branches emerged.
Modern yoga and its history- The Chicago summit and the famous lecture of Swami Vivekananda became a turning point with the introduction of Yoga to the Western world. Thus various yoga schools emerged and more and more people learnt this yogic form of exercise.
Yoga today in modern world- Yoga has gained immense popularity in recent years. Yoga has become a health movement. The westerner’s views and spirituality has changed a lot. Yoga’s has become a mandatory fitness regime. Yoga has evolved into more modern form like power yoga or Zen yoga.
Yoga has revealed through its long history. The vast oceans of Yogic literature and the motivation and drive makes all follow the true Yogic path.
Jay Franco has been a Yoga enthusiast since an early age. He is constantly trying to find practical ways of implementing this ancient knowledge into his Western lifestyle.
The best way to understand what Yoga Nidra is to understand who is practicing it.
The one who practices Yoga Nidra is a yogi and the clearest definition of what a yogi is comes from the Bagavad Gita 4:18 as follows: “One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, he is a yogi and has accomplished everything (he is in the transcendental position although engaged in all sorts of activities).”
This definition evokes the obvious questions, “What does inaction in action and action in inaction mean?”
Inaction in action and action in inaction means that your very being is doing . For example in deep sleep you are not consciously active yet there is no discontinuity to life.
The practice of Yoga Nidra approximates deep sleep. In the practice ‘you’ are inactive yet you are awake, alert and active as your true nature – thus you experientially understand ‘inaction in action’, ‘action in inaction’ and you also then know what it means to be a yogi who has accomplished everything.
In this light Yoga Nidra is the practice of inaction is action and action in inaction.
Yoga Nidra is a yoga practice and it is the result of that practice such that the journey is the destination.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.2 states ‘Yoga is the cessation of the modifications of the mind’. This sutra denotes both the process of dissolving mental modifications (i.e. modes of perception, sensations, psycho-emotional states, etc.) into the ‘mind-field’ (citta) and the result as mental treanquility wherein Awareness is pure and unmodified.
In this light it is clear that the practice of Yoga Nidra is Yoga as the union that is Presence when the ‘doer’ is relaxed-absent. In other words the mind is silent yet nothing has been lost; instead there is a clarity as seeing without the distortions or modifications that come from seeing through the lens of knowledge, memory and experience.
Thus Yoga Nidra is the practice of ‘yogic sleep’ as a means of being awake as your true nature.
Yoga Nidra is a means to see that cause and effect are two sides of the same coin. This is because what relaxes in the practice of Yoga Nidra is your thinking mind or what I call the ‘hamster mind’.
When your mind is silent you haven’t lost your mind – it is simply silent. Life continues while your mind is silent; what is different is that there is no distortion of what is seen as you no longer see things through the lens of knowledge, memory and experience. In this way there is an innocence in seeing as in infancy.
And it is patently obvious that you are not an infant. Thus you have the best of both – the innocence of the infant and the understanding of the adult. In this case what is seeing and acting is your fundamental nature which is awareness and here seeing and acting are not separate.
Lastly, this is not something that you are being asked to believe because it is self-evident when it is unfolding.
In this light it is clear that seeing is doing and that cause and effect are not separate; as stated above, they are two sides/phases of the same thing – like a wave.
Imagine what it would be like to wake up inside a dream where the physical limitations that you are familiar with during the waking state are absent. In their place you find an unbounded territory that you can explore any way you wish.
What makes this so beautiful and so awesomely powerful is that this is not difficult as everyone has had dream experiences like the situation described above; what is not commonly understood is that in addition to consciously dreaming, the seeds that you plant while doing so flower across all states of consciousness including the waking state. In other words yoga nidra is a means for you apply synergistic principles like ‘energy follows awareness’ and what is popularly called the ‘Law of Attraction’.
Lastly what is most incredible about this process is that you access it by being at ease and deliberately relax out of the conscious waking state and awake aware and alert in the boundryless realms of alpha, theta and delta where you can explore without limitations.