Yoga to be fit

A new six-limb yoga crystallising

As early hatha-yoga crystallised as a yoga style – indicating that it was moving into elite strata and their cultural field of liberation – it accordingly became re-constructed, subsumed and ranked. The text Yoga-bija forms an interesting example of early hatha-yoga’s incorporation into elite yoga discourse. It used a distinction which emerged at that time and which is often used today: hatha-yoga’ versus raja yoga. Hatha-yoga was linked with pranayama and the body, while raja-yoga was linked with samadhi and meditation. Together they formed maha-yoga. This definition would become the typical understanding of the distinction between hatha and raja (Gharote 1980, Birch 2011). The Yoga-bija was a clear example of how hatha-yoga became assimilated and subordinated traditional meditative yoga discourses: here hatha-yoga only prepared the body for the real significant meditative yoga work.

Thus in parallel with hatha and other Tantric techniques taking their form from about twelfth to fifteenth century, we can follow how they reverberated into elite Brahmin and Saivite discourses. In these circles the notion raja-yoga was popular and it was used as a synonym for samadhi meditation. We see in this raja-yoga discourse – for instance in the Amanaskayoga – how those elite milieus try to constrain the influx of tantric practices like laya, mantra and hatha and subsume them to their superior❠existing meditative practices (Birch 2011).

Yoga styles were often classified by how many limbs they contained. Some later Gorakhnath texts’ talked about a four-limb yoga consisting of mantra-, laya-, hatha- and raja-yoga. However the yoga taught in one of the Goraksa-sataka versions was a six-limb yoga: asana – pranasamrodha (pranayama) – prathyahara – dharana – dhyana – samadhi. Most Saivite yoga styles were six limbs, and the text – reflecting a Saivite milieu – consciously stepped into their discourse. It is however noticeable that tarka (insight) is not listed here as a limb, because tarka figured in most Saivite six-limb yoga. Instead, the list followed closely the sequence of Patanjali’s eight-limb yoga in the Yoga Sutra. I will return to a more detailed analysis later.

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