Yoga is Not from India. … Yoga originates and emanates from the Hearts & Minds, from the Physiology & Neurology, from the Spirit (be it a metaphysical spirit or not), of each Individual Human Being. This Yogic Essence was always there, waiting to be discovered, at least since the human species first arrived.
Yoga, then, at its foundation, is not a technique or a system. …
Yoga was not "created" or "invented." Yoga is a fundamental characteristic of Being Human that was discovered, even if it is "well hidden" from many or most of us. This is regardless of where in the world a person lives, or their religion, or of their belief system, whatever it is.
All the Techniques or Systems came later, some of them much later. They emerged in many forms as ways to draw out, develop or enhance this already existing phenomena, this essence, lying at the basis of Being Human.
The history of yoga is that a few people in India MIGHT have been the first to discover and apply yoga, to develop or refine it. But they did not create it. They did not invent it.
It was already there within all of us, waiting to be found and used, just as it was not till relatively recent history that people discovered that the blood circulates throughout the body. … But no one claims to have "invented" blood circulation.
Then more recently, surprisingly to most, there is in the New Testament of the Christian Bible strong evidence that this Yogic Essence was well known in the Middle East at the time of Jesus, 2,000 plus years go, and that He actually taught this essence to the masses of common people he came into contact with, or that they already knew about it. … We'll be discussing that shortly below.
And even FAR MORE recently, the physical yoga postures or asana, in the last hundred years, with a very small handful of exceptions, were initially intended strictly for health reasons. Then later, to enhance the mind-body connection. … This is a distinctly American Yoga form.
Arguing About What Yoga Is … Or Is Not
Every other week or three, there's another article or two on the internet arguing about what yoga history is, or is not, what yoga philosophy is, or is not, as if there were only ONE possibility.
Some say it's a religion; some say it's not a religion, but only spiritual. Some say it's merely a physical exercise, some say it's a complete system of healing for the body, mind and soul. There are many variations on these many possible themes.
From one point of view, they are ALL correct. From another point of view, they're all "wrong." … Wrong, that is, if they believe their own interpretation is the only valid one. From another point-of-view, there are, potentially, as many forms of yoga as there are people on Earth.
In at least one instance, recently in San Diego, California, the issue even made it to a court of law:
(Reuters) – A California judge refused on Monday to block the teaching of yoga as part of a public school's physical fitness program, rejecting parents' claims that the classes were an unconstitutional promotion of Eastern religions.
Judge John Meyer acknowledged that yoga "at its roots is religious" but added that the modern practice of yoga, despite its origins in Hindu philosophy, is deeply engrained in secular U.S. society and "is a distinctly American cultural phenomenon."
One common refrain from some members of the Hindu religion is that hundreds or even thousands of years ago, yoga history originated in India as a religious practice with a distinctly spiritual yoga philosophy. Eventually, in the 20th Century, upon reaching American shores, it morphed into other things, one thread being the modern "slow gymnastic" style exercises performed in a lot of yoga studios or health clubs, and nearly devoid of anything remotely spiritual.
Some Hindus decry this development, claiming that yoga is INHERENTLY a religious AND deeply spiritual practice, no matter what anyone says or does, or what's going on in their body or mind, or not, as they practice. And they seem to believe that the physical postures we are all familiar with are part of that "ancient Hindu tradition."
Then we have quite a few Christian and a few Muslim and Jewish religious leaders reinforcing the Hindu perspective (as in the court case above), insisting that yoga is an inherently religious AND spiritual practice, if not a gateway drug to evil practices inspired by the devil him- or her-self.
Again, quoting from the same Reuter's article:
However, the plaintiffs' expert, professor of religious studies Candy Gunther Brown, testified that yoga practice indoctrinates Hindu religious practices whether the individual knows it or not.
Brown cited research suggesting yoga practice changes the user's brain and thoughts, a sort of gateway drug to the occult, Meyer said.
The judge did not agree with her, saying, "Dr. Brown has an obvious bias and can almost be called being on a mission against yoga."
Now, I won't dispute the idea that yoga changes one's brain and thoughts. It most probably does, and that's one reason it is so valuable to so many people for so many things. But so does almost everything else of any useful consequence.
The question is, who is in control of where that change leads your brain?
And if going through certain physical motions constitutes a spiritual practice, would a Catholic Priest say that eating some crackers with some wine means you just took Communion? … Not very likely.
But here is where it REALLY gets Interesting. From a different article, this one from the BBC:
Whether that is compatible with Christianity, Islam and other religions is debatable.
To those in the know, for example, the yogic asanas, or positions, retain elements of their earlier spiritual meanings – the Surya namaskar is a series of positions designed to greet Surya, the Hindu Sun God.
Ancient Yoga Postures? … Well, NO, Not Really
Well, from my studies of yoga history, there is, in actual Sun Salutations, NO Hindu Sun God associated with "Ancient Yoga" postures. In fact, any such "spiritual association" of Sun Salutations was added on in the 20th Century by religious or spiritual opportunists (regardless how well-intended they might have been) seeking ways to reveal, promote or sell "yoga" to certain groups of people.
As Mark Singleton points out in his extremely well researched book, Yoga Body, 99% of all yoga postures, including Sun Salutations, are NOT to be found in ANY yogic texts or history prior to around 1900. And all those physical "yoga postures" we know of today were imported to India from European gymnasiums in the early 1900s for purposes of improving the physical fitness of Indian males who were stereotyped around the world as "too weak."
Ironically, as we'll discover in future posts, nearly ALL of the "spiritual" aspects or implications of 99% of physical yoga postures were added on during the 20th Century, and much of the "spiritual yoga posture" paradigm originated here in America, not India.
In fact, according to Singleton, the practice of physical "yoga" postures in India had more to do with the American YMCA than any ancient influences.
<<< OMG, the YMCA? That must make some people shudder! >>> …
During the first half of the twentieth century the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was instrumental in making physical education morally and socially acceptable in India. YMCA philosophy consisted of the values and ideals of American Christianity, also coming to include a notion of physical exercise as “a somatic tool of moral reform” and a focus on the balanced development of mind-body-spirit – an approach it shared with the gymnastic systems of the period.
SO … WHAT Do We Make Of All That?
First of all, I would like to point out that this thing we call "yoga," distilled down to its very essence, belongs to NO one person, NO group, NO religion, NO nation … AT ALL.
Certain practices, techniques or systems emerging from the essence of yoga might have been invented, developed or refined in places like India, by certain individuals. But the essential phenomena of "yoga" itself underlies and transcends ALL such locations, beliefs or cultures.
Yoga Emanates From The Very Essence Of Being Human.
Yoga, in this view, is a basic function of the human heart, mind, physiology and neurology. What does this mean? The essence we refer to with the word yoga is a core element of the inner workings of ALL human beings, existing at the very deepest levels of what it means to BE a Human Being.
The Trick is bringing these processes from the mostly unconscious to the, as much as possible, fully conscious. … That is where the techniques, practices and systems come in.
But even that gets ahead of the game here. There's another Big Surprise in store …
Intersection of Physical & Mental, of Conscious & Unconscious
One understanding of the phenomena many of us call "yoga" can be found in the definition of the Aramaic word "naphsha" which, ironically, was a central tenet of what would become the Christian religion during the time of Christ himself. (The Old Testament version of the word was nephish.) … Or at least it was until it got "lost" in translation.
Maybe naphsha was "lost" intentionally? … It's quite difficult to keep power & control over people who are able to fully & freely function in fundamentally free-thinking and self-responsible ways. Such people do not need leaders to rule over them, be they political or religious. … The Church-State combine might have preferred their subjects to be more subservient.
Personally, since I got started in meditation when I was only 13 years old, I was always uncomfortable that the entire Bible did not seem to have anything about meditation in it. It seemed so important, yet it was missing. When I discovered the word naphsha, I got a LOT more interested in what else the books of the Bible had to say that was clouded in mystery or maybe even purposely hidden.
Yet in the Christian Bible, this word and what it references is the Missing Link to a Western Interpretation of a Meditative Approach to Life and Being, which led me to my ideas of …
Yoga for the WEST of US
Quoting from a short article on naphsha I wrote here: http://www.dslyoga.com/yoga-west/mental-yoga/naphsha/ :
The highly important Biblical word Naphsha refers to a preconscious aspect of mind, somewhere between the limbic system and cerebral cortex [or including both], either allowing for a linking between conscious processes and ones deeper, unconscious Self, or indicating these are not really separate functions at all.
In his Sermon on the Mount in the New Testament, Emmanuel, also known as Jesus Christ, used the word naphsha multiple times. He was referring to an internal source of the consciousness and power of all the people he was speaking to, mostly peasants of the day. Yet Aramaic was a widely known word and concept, and it is said even the Buddha used the language and the term naphsha all the way over into Asia.
Importantly, this means the concept of naphsha was well known by The People in Middle East, even the Peasants, for at very least 2,000 plus years, and probably much farther back. They had a more than rudimentary, even if simple, understanding of a deeper, integrated personal consciousness and inner realities:
There can be no doubt that the concept to be cued by naphsha is one of the most fundamental of all the Aramaic comprehensions utilized by the prophets.
In the Aramaic teachings of Jesus, He states all law hangs upon two Commandments as follows:
“Love the Lord your G-d in your entire mind, and with your whole naphsha, and in all your actions, and in all your thoughts.”
“Love your neighbor as your naphsha.” (Matthew 22:36-39)
The first appearance of naphsha here is usually rendered as “soul”. The second is rendered as “self”. The concept “soul”, while of Greek origin, is a cornerstone of Christian teaching. The concept “self” is a cornerstone of psychiatry and psychology. Usually these two words, self and soul, are seen to be somewhat conflicting, yet under the Aramaic language they are the same word; “naphsha.”
Clearly, the concept behind naphsha is unknown in the west. Scholars have long sought to unify “soul” and “self” without success. If the meaning of naphsha could be ascertained, the unification is obtained, for the word is source of both “soul” and “self” in western ethics.
We will discuss the importance of these observations in upcoming posts. But here's a hint:
[It] … is abundantly clear that naphsha, at the time of Jesus, was generally understood as the control entity behind the physical, mental, and behaving self. With the unification of cause and effect implicit in Aramaic and the unification of a control course for the mental and the physical implicit in these uses, naphsha, therefore stands for all mental and physical conditions and the control source of mental and physical development. This span of meaning lays the basis for its translations into the varied English words, “soul”, “self”, “itself”, and “life”.
Some people would argue that you cannot get more "yogic" than that, depending, of course, on what your experience and preferred lineage is.
So at some point in the Middle East, at least 2,000 years ago, these things were reasonably well known by many people. Does it REALLY matter who figured it out first? Or when? Or even HOW? …
Such events are of course interesting, but too many people seem too attached to the details, to peripheral ideas that just do not make a difference in your day-to-day life. … Unless you make your living as a spiritual historian, I guess. (That would be Ken Wilber of Integral Institute, and maybe Mark Singleton, mentioned above, but there are probably not a lot of other job openings for such positions.)
Yet for the moment, in regards to India being the Home of Yoga, it is well-known there was a far earlier "Aryan invasion," or more likely an infiltration, of the Indian sub-continent. Extensive historical blood type research says the migrations started in northern Africa, moved northward through the Middle East, then northwest toward Europe and Eastward toward Asia.
Meaning much or all of Indian culture was probably developed from migrations originating in parts much further West, including the Middle East. This might well have included those who originally discovered the processes of naphsha, even if in a primitive form. This is something we might never know.
All this infringes a bit on much of current yoga history and philosophy, and the idea that India necessarily "discovered" this Yogic Essence, let alone "invented" it.
But again, does it even matter who or where it was first discovered, or when? Even if it were a brand new thing, discovered last week, or even yesterday, would that make it any less important? Any less profound? Any less useful? …
I think not.
In the Next Post, we'll talk about what this Yogic Essence actually is, and American Yoga, in closer detail.
Thanks for Reading,
David Scott Lynn (DSL*)
* DSL: Your Hi-Touch Up-Link to the Inner-Net
Inner-Net: Your Psycho-Neuro-Musculo-Fascial System