To address Ben’s comment in the last post (5,000 years?), I want to say that to some extent, I agree. But there is a difference between the “kinds of consciousness one accesses by practicing yoga” and yoga. They are not the same thing. Calling something yoga before yoga existed is questionable.
I like Ben’s assertion: “anything that brings one closer to the full embodiment and expression of oneself to be ‘yoga,’” but it’s also very time and place specific. What the “self” means in rural China and what it means in New York City are two very different things in 2010, much less 5,000 years ago. The idea of being one’s “true self” is not universal. It doesn’t even hold the same meaning for everyone right now, 2010, in NYC.
But this wasn’t what I was speaking to in the last post. I was objecting to teachers and others stating that yoga is 5,000 years old without explaining what they mean by yoga, so students don’t think that hanumanasana (for example) is 5,000 years old. Even worse—teachers not knowing themselves that hanumanasana isn’t likely 5,000 years old.
That said, we don’t know definitively that hanumanasana isn’t 5,000 years old. We just don’t know that it is any older than a hundred or so years, which makes 5,000 quite a number to throw out casually. I agree with what Ben is getting at, which, I think, is that the practice of yoga is in some way eternal, and that yoga existed before it was known as such. Edwin Bryant, a scholar of Yoga and Hinduism at Rutgers, believes that, “The origins of yoga are in primordial and mythic times.” In saying this, I’m switching gears and appealing to a less quantitative way of understanding, which we often neglect and devalue, and the practice of yoga can help us cultivate and respect. Though Vedism and Tantrism are both textual traditions, text is not the only source of knowledge or knowing. Just because we haven’t proved something scientifically (in whatever discipline) or textually does not mean it’s untrue.
So, while I doubt that the Primary Series was the rage in ancient Pakistan, I do think that the roots of yoga have been around since we have. Thanks for the interesting comment, Ben.