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Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India. There is a broad variety of yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Among the most well-known types of yoga are Hatha yoga and Rāja yoga.
The origins of yoga have been speculated to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions; it is mentioned in the Rigveda,[note 1] but most likely developed around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, in ancient India’s ascetic and śramaṇa movements.
The chronology of earliest texts describing yoga-practices is unclear, varyingly credited to Hindu Upanishads. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali date from the first half of the 1st millennium CE, but only gained prominence in the West in the 20th century. Hatha yoga texts emerged around the 11th century with origins in tantra.
Yoga gurus from India later introduced yoga to the west, following the success of Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world.
In Sanskrit, the word yoga comes from the root yuj which means “to add”, “to join”, “to unite”, or “to attach” in its most common senses. By figurative extension from the yoking or harnessing of oxen or horses, the word took on broader meanings such as “employment, use, application, performance” (compare the figurative uses of “to harness” as in “to put something to some use”).
All further developments of the sense of this word are post-Vedic. More prosaic moods such as “exertion”, “endeavour”, “zeal”, and “diligence” are also found in Indian epic poetry.
The ultimate goal of Yoga is moksha (liberation), although the exact definition of what form this takes depends on the philosophical or theological system with which it is conjugated.
According to Jacobsen, “Yoga has five principal meanings:
- Yoga, as a disciplined method for attaining a goal;
- Yoga, as techniques of controlling the body and the mind;
- Yoga, as a name of one of the schools or systems of philosophy (darśana);
- Yoga, in connection with other words, such as “hatha-, mantra-, and laya-,” referring to traditions specialising in particular techniques of yoga;
- Yoga, as the goal of Yoga practice.
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