Ancient Yoga Vs. Modern Yoga

April 1, 2019



"Yoga is a journey,"


I keep reading in Yoga books and listening to from my teachers and fellow yogis.

It seems this is true for Yoga itself. And what a journey! 


Yoga has been in a process of evolution (and devolution) which spans more than 5000 years!
In these modern times, like everything in our own life, Yoga seems to be changing faster than ever! 


I'm optimistic because many of us can see through this worrying devolution and fragmentation. We know all people have now the opportunity to find the real teachings of our Ancient Sages, Gurus and Richies.


Yoga teaches fearless; oneness; contentment, therefore I can only have hope and be not afraid of serving the pure Yoga, its beautiful philosophy, its scientific findings and its technical practices. 

I’m not here to criticize, this development, as many traditionalists do; I believe that the modern “asana-ization” of Hathe Yoga is proving a good thing, a way to draw hyper, body-image-conscious Westerners into the field and get them hooked.
(Richard Rosen, Original Yoga)

Further reading: What is Yoga?




Ancient Yoga  
1. Yoga and the Vedic Period 
2. The Guru
3. Different schools, different methods, …  
4. More than 5000 years old in the making 
5. The decline of Yoga 

Modern Yoga 
6. India teachings travel to America 
7. Yoga (Asana) ballooning 




One's hope
8. The future of Yoga, my attempt to predict its future 
9. Rediscovering our Spirit. 
10.Reaching all beings  
11.A possible better world

Ancient Yoga  

An oversimplification of my current interpretation of Ancient Yoga is of a personal and social, if not exclusive, educational process, a complete system of techniques, tools, behaviours, thinking, acting, etc. Created during centuries of experimentation, to makes us stronger and better beings at all levels - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. 


Ancient yoga seems it was enshrouded in mysticism and ritualism.


The teachings of yoga were passed orally to the proven Sadhaka by his Guru, a “teacher who serves others as a spiritual guide” (*1). The relationship would be ritualised and the yoga aspirant was supposed to stay in the guru-kala till the end of his instruction. 


Mainly, schools would follow Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra teachings, though it was clear that some schools of thought had less or different limbs or yogangas

Yoga, like all forms of esotericism, presupposes the guidance of an initiate, a master who has firsthand experience of the phenomena and realizations of the yogic path. Ideally, he or she should have reached the ultimate spiritual destination of all yogic endeavour - enlightenment (bodha, bodhi), or liberation (moksha). Thus, contrary to the “pop” Yoga espoused by a large number of Westerners, authentic Yoga is never a do-it-yourself enterprise.
(Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition)

1. Yoga and the Vedic Period 

It seems the practice of yoga in Ancient Vedic times was not formalised and linked to cerimonies to do with fire, the Homas. 


To perform Homa, the sages had to sit immobile for days, weeks, even months in “Asanas”, straight, still, sitting positions of the body. The Mantras chanted required tremendous breath control (Pranayama). The ritualistic accuracy and purity required intense Dharana (concentration). 
(Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani, The History of Yoga from Ancient to Modern Times)

 2. The Guru




The guru was not just the person to learn from, but also to serve without questioning. "Devotion to the teacher should always be practiced, because the teacher is none other than the Divine” (*2).


Feuerstein, mentions that “according to the Kula-arnava-Tantra (12.64) such service - the text actually uses the word shushrusha, meaning “obedience” - is fourfold: service through one’s bodily self (atman), through material means (artha), through respect (mana), and through a good disposition (sad-bhava)”.



There is no one greater in the three worlds than the guru. It is he who grants “divine knowledge” (divya-jnana) and should be worshiped with supreme devotion. 

Yoga-Shikha-Upanishad (5.53) (*2)



An initiation ritual would be performed. This would be the sadhaka's rebirth, a “surrender in order for the transcendental Self to shine forth” (*2). The aspirant would then become part of his guru’s paramparai. The guru and his aspirant would gather in sat-sang and aspirants would learn from this oral tradition. The aspirant would become a antevasin - living with, attending and serving his guru - and very much a bhakta, a devotee. He should expect to be repeatedly tested during his study and course to Moksha.

3. Different schools, different methods, …  

Some authors defend that yoga would start with Hatha (style) yoga and then the sadhana would evolve to Raja yoga:


According to both Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika and Gheranda-Samhita, the first stage of traditional Hatha Yoga isn’t the behavioral injunctions - the yamas and niyamas, as it is in Patanjali’s yoga - but asana.
(Richard Rosen, Original Yoga)


It seems yoga was already fragmented and different schools or followers of different types of yoga had their priorities and their methods. The scriptures seem to support this because they provide different guidelines, different limbs (yogangas) and even different meanings of yoga itself.


…yoganga (a compound of yoga and manga), commonly translated ‘limb of yoga’, but better rendered ‘auxiliary of yoga’ when yoga means the goal rather then the method. (*3)


It seems though that the most venerated and followed yoga was Patanjali’s YogaSutra system, which would be called classical yoga or even Raja Yoga - meaning Royal Yoga.


The yoga Sutras establish the higher purpose of the yogin and the search for the higher states of consciousness.


Mark Singleton mentions, though, the “scarcity of information regarding asana in the sutras” (*4).

Contrary to today, in ancient times, the yoga systems seem were not coherent in their yogangas


Patanjali lists eight limbs. The rishis Vyasa (Mahabharata), Yajnavalkya (Yoga Yajnavalkya), and Vashista (Vasishta Samnita) mention the same number.  
(Gregor Maehle, Astanga Yoga, Practice & Philosophy)

Richard Rosen presents a table showing us that the different schools had from fourfold systems to fifteenfold systems, with most schools having sixfold or sevenfold systems. This is also defended by other authors which mention that most schools omited the Yamas and Niyamas from their teachings.


Since we are asked to practice ethics in all life situations, later teachers argued that they were not exclusive to yoga and for this reason did not need to be mentioned as a limb of yoga. Another argument brought forward was that the ethics shouldn't be included since they do not directly contribute to Samadhi.

(Gregor Maehle, Astanga Yoga, Practice & Philosophy)



more on the Yamas and Niyamas >


Other considered main schools are Hatha Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Laye Yoga, Kundalini Yoga; and others which yoga seems to mean practice like Buddhi yoga - practice of discriminative knowledge, samnyasa yoga - practice of renunciation, dhyana yoga - practice of meditation, samadhi yoga - practice of exactas, guru-yoga - practice that has the spiritual teacher as its focus, nada-yoga - yoga of the inner sound, kriya - yoga - ritual action, vedantic asparsha-yoga - intangible yoga, etc.


more on the Different Types of Yoga >

The practice of elements of yoga one recognises today, are described in texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika


Seems Hatha yoga was developed to help the body in its processes of purification, and the purification of the mind concerning Nidis (Naris), chakras, prana, and asana