All About Kundalini Yoga: A Brief History of Yoga & Patanjali’s Sutras

(Editor’s Note: This series is dedicated to sharing the knowledge contained in “The Aquarian Teacher”, the teacher training manual shared by all students of the KRI certified Kundalini yoga teacher training program.  This article is based on Chapter 4 of the manual. You can discover the wisdom in greater depth by taking the Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training course.)

 

“The ashrams and Gurus of ancient India used to be mental workshops.  They taught and molded the minds of people to be clear, strong and to act righteously under all possible circumstances.  If all the spiritual teachers started to teach faith in the Self and stopped teaching faith in a personality, this world would be heaven.  This existence with its infinite mind is at your command.  You need guidance and training to experience and manifest this.” ~Yogi Bhajan

The history of yoga is long and generated over many schools of thought and over thousands of years.  By appreciating and learning some of the background of the tradition, we are able to recognize patterns and order within the development of philosophy and thought.

Let’s tackle the timeline…

Prehistoric Epoch (?-1800 BC)

Archaeology only gives us hints about yoga during this time period, but fragments of writing from later time periods do reference yoga during this time.  Yogi Bhajan once taught that the oldest references in Tibetan scrolls mention flourishing civilizations over 40,000 years ago.  Massive shifts in weather forced migration that led to cross cultural fertilization and created many of the seeds for yoga traditions.   Closer to 1800 BC the archaeological record gets clearer and we know that cities containing as many as 50,000 people knew and practiced meditation and used symbols for the divine masculine and divine feminine.

Vedic Epoch (1800 BC – 1000 BC)

The cultural roots of yoga from this time period were influenced by the Aryans, a Sanskrit speaking people from central Russia.  At the core of their culture was a belief in self-discipline.  Their long period of invasion resulted in the Mahabharata, a huge epic poem of which the Bhagavad Gita later became a part.  Earliest versions reflect disciplines and sadhanas and a strong belief in transcendental states of being.  As the Aryan and Indus cultures merged, they spawned the Vedas (Book of Knowledge), composed by great rishis from a transcendent state.

Brahmanic Epoch (1000 C – 800 BC)

Priest class called Brahmins control yogic knowledge.  Highly ritualistic.

Upanishadic Epoch (800-500 BC)

The Upanishads are full of ecstatic writing from sages, both brahmins and ascetics.  A time of iconoclasm and reverence for teacher-student relationship.  King Janaka, a great master of Kundalini yoga, ruled during this time.  The Yoga-Upanishad deals directly with the instruction of yoga.

Gita Epoch (500 BC – AD 200)

A great period of transition. The teachings of the Upanishads were added to, and the Ramayana and Bhagavad Gita were written.  The Ramayana is the epic tale of love between Sita and Ram. It demonstrates the virtues that lead to liberation.  The Bhagavad Gita is a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna on a battlefield.  It teaches Karma Yoga.

Classical Epoch ( AD 200 – AD 800)

A great period of education when yoga philosophies were codified into 6 schools (Purva-Mimamsa, Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga, Vaisheshika, Nyaya).  The masterpiece “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” was written during this time.

Puranic Epoch (AD 800 – AD 1469)

The Puranas were written.  The emphasis on tantrism, and esoteric teachings on the chakras, glands and auras expanded.  The emphasis  turned to the discipline of daily sadhana to lift consciousness. The concept of being able to gain spiritual well-being without being an ascetic became accepted and this lead to a growth of Shakti philosophy, of which Kundalini yoga is one.

Bhakti Epoch (AD 1469 – 1708)

During this time period the status of the householder was elevated to that of cave-living ascetic.  During this time the knowledge of the 10 Sikh Gurus came forth, combining to create the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, said by Yogi Bhajan to be the fifth Veda, a completion and culmination of the texts.  The scripture itself is the Guru.  The Sikh Gurus emphasized non-attachment, service and the holy Naam.

Modern Epoch (AD 1708 – AD 2011)

The rule of Britian over India curbed the Bhakti devotional fervor and increased secularism and materialism.  In the early 1900s a wave of yogic teachers came to the West (Yogananda, Yogi Bhajan, et al.), leading to a great fusion of knowledge in the West and East.  The Modern Epoch is all about expansion, discovery and merger.

Aquarian Epoch (AD 2011 – ?)

This time is all about globalization.  Experiences must be authentic and universal.  Everyone will use tools that work, regardless of the traditions they are from.  How long and how beautiful this period of unity lasts will be up to us.  We are the pioneers of the Aquarian Age Yogi Bhajan’s teachings were specifically geared to support people during this age.

More about Patanjali’s Sutras…

Patanjali’s “Yoga Sutras” is the masterpiece of yoga.  They are an overview of the practice and purpose of yoga.  They were written assuming that you were deciphering them with the help of a teacher, so reading a wise master’s commentary on the subject can be extremely helpful.  It is believed that Patanjali systemized rather than originated the teachings within his text.

What’s the difference between Patanjali’s teachings and the teachings of Kundalini yoga?

Patanjali’s teachings are often called “Classical Yoga”.  These teachings were intended for monastics.  Kundalini yoga was always intended for householders, and so some of the finer points of practice and tradition vary.

Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) — The Eight Fold Path to Union

Samadhi — Awakening

Dhyana — Meditation

Dharana — Concentration

Pratyahar — Synchronization of senses and thoughts

Pranayam — Control of breath

Asana — Physical practice

Niyama — 5 Disciplines: Shaucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (purification), Svadhyaya (study), Ishvara pranidhana (devotion)

Yama — 5 Restraints: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (Sensory Control), Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)

 

How do the 3 minds (positive, negative and neutral) relate to the Eight Limbs?

Both Patanajali’s Sutras and the teachings of Yogi Bhajan are concerned with the control of the mind.  (Take a look at Yogi Bhajan’s masterpiece “The Mind” for more information on this subject.)

The negative mind is mastered with the yamas and niyamas.

The positive mind is mastered with asanas and pranayamas.

The neutral mind is mastered with pratyahar, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.

 

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for this wonderful timeline.

     
    Reply
  2. “Patanjali’s teachings are often called “Classical Yoga”. These teachings were intended for monastics. Kundalini yoga was always intended for householders, and so some of the finer points of practice and tradition vary.”

    In all of the decades of my involvment with yoga traditions other than Kundalini Yoga, I’ve never heard or been taught that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are for monastics. They are the foundation of all well-established and highly respected hatha yoga teacher trainings, whose students are definitely NOT monastics. More broadly, they are the foundation of a yogic lifestyle and the spiritual path for EVERYONE. They are extremely accessible as well as necessary for householders and renunciates alike.

     
    Reply

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