The origins of yoga: the peaceful spirit

The oldest traces of yoga date back to around 3000 BC. In the 1920s, representations of figures in positions appearing to be yoga postures were found in the ruins of the city of Mohenjo-Daro, located in present-day Pakistan.

Some data indicate that the Indus-Saraswati civilization that lived in this city at this time was peaceful, oriented towards abstract concepts and spiritual life. As the texts relating the culture of this civilization remain indecipherable, there is no certainty. However, it can reasonably be said that yoga arose from the meeting of very ancient oriental spiritual currents, such as Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. The crucial point of all these currents is the search for peace in general (including internal peace), through principles such as respect, tolerance, non-violence, acceptance, self-knowledge, meditative practices. … This does not mean that at that time life was more peaceful. Putting so many means in place in the search for peace shows that it is no easier to achieve than in our modern world. Moreover, in several of these trends, we find the idea that the essential thing is not so much to reach the “peace” end of the line as the journey in this direction. The philosophy of yoga will even go beyond the notion of peace to work on the path of “liberation”: in a way the ancestor of our Western “letting go”.

Traditional yoga: liberation

The fundamental text of yoga, from which all styles of yoga today are derived, is the yoga-sutra. It was written by Patanjali, somewhere between 200 BC and 500 AC. This text defines the concepts of yoga and its different forms. It is made up of 195 sutras (aphorisms), divided into 4 chapters. The first chapter, Samadhi pada, exposes the obstacles to overcome and the postures to achieve in order to reach the state of serenity, “samadhi”. The second chapter, Sadhana pada, which can be translated as “on the way”, describes the different ways of yoga. We find there in particular the association of two forms of yoga, Kriya yoga, rather based on techniques, and Ashtanga yoga (yoga with eight branches), based on rules of life to be followed such as no -violence, honesty, contemplation, discipline, contentment, etc. The third chapter, Vibhuti pada, can be translated as “powers”. He describes methods for reaching a state of higher consciousness, while specifying that obsessive pursuit of this state would be counterproductive. Finally, the last chapter, Kaivalya pada, is the chapter of the famous “liberation”. We find there the notion of isolation of the yogi (time for oneself), to achieve freedom, and of unity of being with his body and the world around him. We have two elements that this text makes explicit; first, the fact that taking time to cultivate detachment is by no means a selfish act, then the idea that the path to liberation is an essential work which requires a lot of will, but which must not become a new pressure have inflicted. Action and thoroughness should in no way be confused with pressure and obsession.

Contemporary yoga: the western “letting go”

Over the centuries, many yogi masters have given more and more importance to the physical body as a means to achieve “liberation”. It is at this moment that Tantra-yoga appears. Often symbolized by a carnal scene between two beings of opposite sex, this represents, in reality, a spiritual interior fusion. This yoga consists of techniques to cleanse the body and the mind in order to free the knots that bind us to our physical existence. The exploration of the links between the physical and the spirit and all body-centered practices gave birth to the most famous yoga of today in the West: Hatha yoga. The first form of this yoga was based on fairly intense exercises, nothing to do with the gentle Hatha yoga that we know today. Finally, at the beginning of the twentieth century, yoga began to spread in the West. Several yogi masters worked to create a bridge between East and West by ensuring that yogi culture could be assimilated into Western culture. Since then, spirituality has remained a staple of yoga, but the emphasis has been on postures. This is why Hatha yoga, which relies particularly on physical exercises, is the one that has developed the most. A few decades ago, those who practiced yoga were still considered eccentric. Today, faced with the harmful effects of our hyperproductivist society, yoga is widely practiced in many forms, giving way to “laissez-faire” and free action, by countering the habits of a world where the individual is judged depending on the productivity of his actions and his appearance.

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