One of the best known early expressions of Brahmanical Yoga thought is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali , the original name of which may have been the Pātañjalayogaśāstra-sāṃkhya-pravacana (c. sometime between 325 - 425) which some scholars now believe included both the sutras and a commentary. As the name suggests, the metaphysical basis for this text is the Indian philosophy termed Sāṃkhya. This atheistic school is mentioned in Kauṭilya's Arthashastra as one of the three categories of anviksikis (philosophies) along with Yoga and Cārvāka. The two schools have some differences as well. Yoga accepted the conception of "personal god", while Samkhya developed as a rationalist, non-theistic/atheistic system of Hindu philosophy. Sometimes Patanjali's system is referred to as Seshvara Samkhya in contradistinction to Kapila's Nirivara Samkhya. The parallels between Yoga and Samkhya were so close that Max Müller says that "the two philosophies were in popular parlance distinguished from each other as Samkhya with and Samkhya without a Lord."
Description of an early form of yoga called nirodhayoga (yoga of cessation) is contained in the Mokshadharma section of the 12th chapter (Shanti Parva) of the Mahabharata (third century BCE). Nirodhayoga emphasizes progressive withdrawal from the contents of empirical consciousness such as thoughts, sensations etc. until purusha (Self) is realized. Terms like vichara (subtle reflection), viveka (discrimination) and others which are similar to Patanjali's terminology are mentioned, but not described. There is no uniform goal of yoga mentioned in the Mahabharata. Separation of self from matter, perceiving Brahman everywhere, entering into Brahman etc. are all described as goals of yoga. Samkhya and yoga are conflated together and some verses describe them as being identical. Mokshadharma also describes an early practice of elemental meditation. Mahabharata defines the purpose of yoga as the experience of uniting the individual ātman with the universal Brahman that pervades all things.
What is often referred to as Classical Yoga or Astanga Yoga (Yoga of eight limbs) is mainly the type of Yoga outlined in the highly influential Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The origins of the Classical Yoga tradition are unclear, though early discussions of the term appear in the Upanishads. The name "Rāja yoga" (yoga of kings) originally denoted the ultimate goal of yoga, samadhi, but was popularised by Vivekananda as a common name for Ashtanga Yoga,[note 19] the eight limbs to be practised to attain samadhi, as described in the Yoga Sutras. Yoga is also considered as one of the orthodox philosophical schools (darsanas) of Hinduism (those which accept the Vedas as source of knowledge).
^ Andrew J. Nicholson (2013). Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History. Columbia University Press. p. 26. ISBN 978-0-231-14987-7., Quote: "From a historical perspective, the Brahmasutras are best understood as a group of sutras composed by multiple authors over the course of hundreds of years, most likely composed in its current form between 400 and 450 BCE."
In 1989 and 2003, the Vatican issued two documents: Aspects of Christian meditation and "A Christian reflection on the New Age," that were mostly critical of eastern and New Age practices. The 2003 document was published as a 90-page handbook detailing the Vatican's position. The Vatican warned that concentration on the physical aspects of meditation "can degenerate into a cult of the body" and that equating bodily states with mysticism "could also lead to psychic disturbance and, at times, to moral deviations." Such has been compared to the early days of Christianity, when the church opposed the gnostics' belief that salvation came not through faith but through a mystical inner knowledge. The letter also says, "one can see if and how [prayer] might be enriched by meditation methods developed in other religions and cultures" but maintains the idea that "there must be some fit between the nature of [other approaches to] prayer and Christian beliefs about ultimate reality." Some[which?] fundamentalist Christian organizations consider yoga to be incompatible with their religious background, considering it a part of the New Age movement inconsistent with Christianity.
The Maitrayaniya Upanishad, likely composed in a later century than Katha and Shvetashvatara Upanishads but before Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, mentions sixfold yoga method – breath control (pranayama), introspective withdrawal of senses (pratyahara), meditation (dhyana), mind concentration (dharana), philosophical inquiry/creative reasoning (tarka), and absorption/intense spiritual union (samadhi).
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These meditations were seen as being supported by the other elements of the eightfold path, such as the practice of ethics, right exertion, sense restraint and right view. Two mental qualities are said to be indispensable for yogic practice in Buddhism, samatha (calm, stability) and vipassanā (insight, clear seeing). Samatha is the quality of a stable, relaxed and calm mind. It is also associated with samadhi (mental unification, focus) and dhyana (a state of meditative absorption). Vipassanā meanwhile, is a kind of insight or penetrative understanding into the true nature of phenomena. It is also defined as "seeing things as they truly are" (yathābhūtaṃ darśanam). The true nature of things is defined and explained in different ways, but an important and unique feature of classical Buddhism is its understanding of all phenomena (dhammas) as being empty of a self (atman) or inherent essence, a doctrine termed Anatta ("not-self") and Śūnyatā (emptiness). This is in sharp contrast with most other Indian traditions, whose goals are founded either on the idea of an individual soul (atman, jiva, purusha) or a universal monistic consciousness ( Brahman). Vipassanā also requires an understanding of suffering or dukkha (and thus the four noble truths), impermanence (anicca) and interdependent origination.
The earliest references to hatha yoga are in Buddhist works dating from the eighth century. The earliest definition of hatha yoga is found in the 11th century Buddhist text Vimalaprabha, which defines it in relation to the center channel, bindu etc. Hatha yoga synthesizes elements of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras with posture and breathing exercises. It marks the development of asanas (plural) into the full body 'postures' now in popular usage and, along with its many modern variations, is the style that many people associate with the word yoga today.
According to Crangle, some researchers have favoured a linear theory, which attempts "to interpret the origin and early development of Indian contemplative practices as a sequential growth from an Aryan genesis",[note 4] just like traditional Hinduism regards the Vedas to be the ultimate source of all spiritual knowledge.[note 5] Thomas McEvilley favors a composite model where pre-Aryan yoga prototype existed in the pre-Vedic period and its refinement began in the Vedic period.
Theosophists including Madame Blavatsky also had a large influence on the Western public's view of Yoga. Esoteric views current at the end of the 19th century provided a further basis for the reception of Vedanta and of Yoga with its theory and practice of correspondence between the spiritual and the physical. The reception of Yoga and of Vedanta thus entwined with each other and with the (mostly Neoplatonism-based) currents of religious and philosophical reform and transformation throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Mircea Eliade brought a new element into the reception of Yoga with the strong emphasis on Tantric Yoga in his seminal book: Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. With the introduction of the Tantra traditions and philosophy of Yoga, the conception of the "transcendent" to be attained by Yogic practice shifted from experiencing the "transcendent" ("Atman-Brahman" in Advaitic theory) in the mind to the body itself.
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The Yoga Sutras are also influenced by the Sramana traditions of Buddhism and Jainism, and may represent a further Brahmanical attempt to adopt yoga from the Sramana traditions. As noted by Larson, there are numerous parallels in the concepts in ancient Samkhya, Yoga and Abhidharma Buddhist schools of thought, particularly from 2nd century BCE to 1st century AD. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is a synthesis of these three traditions. From Samkhya, the Yoga Sutras adopt the "reflective discernment" (adhyavasaya) of prakrti and purusa (dualism), its metaphysical rationalism, as well its three epistemic methods of gaining reliable knowledge. From Abhidharma Buddhism's idea of nirodhasamadhi, suggests Larson, Yoga Sutras adopt the pursuit of altered state of awareness, but unlike Buddhism's concept of no self nor soul, Yoga is physicalist and realist like Samkhya in believing that each individual has a self and soul. The third concept Yoga Sutras synthesize into its philosophy is the ancient ascetic traditions of meditation and introspection, as well as the yoga ideas from middle Upanishads such as Katha, Shvetashvatara and Maitri.
The tantra yoga practices include asanas and breathing exercises. The Nyingma tradition practices Yantra yoga (Tib. "Trul khor"), a discipline that includes breath work (or pranayama), meditative contemplation and other exercises. In the Nyingma tradition, the path of meditation practice is divided into further stages, such as Kriya yoga, Upa yoga, Yoga yana, Mahā yoga, Anu yoga and Ati yoga. The Sarma traditions also include Kriya, Upa (called "Charya"), and Yoga, with the Anuttara yoga class substituting for Mahayoga and Atiyoga.
According to Pāṇini, the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samādhau ("to concentrate"). In the context of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the root yuj samādhau (to concentrate) is considered by traditional commentators as the correct etymology. In accordance with Pāṇini, Vyasa who wrote the first commentary on the Yoga Sutras, states that yoga means samādhi (concentration).