The Four Periods and Six Schools of Yoga

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Navodita traces the antiquity of yoga and its four periods. She also outlines the six schools of Yoga, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

Yoga, it is said, is as old as the Vedas. However, no physical evidence supports the claim that Yoga is as old as civilisation. Earliest archaeological evidence of yoga is stone seals of around 3000 B.C. depicting yoga poses. We can today divide the history of Yoga into four periods:

Vedic period: Vedas are the sacred scriptures of Brahmanism, -day Hinduism’s basis. The Vedas contain the oldest known Yogic teaching; hence such teachings are called Vedic Yoga.

Pre-classical Yoga: The creation of two hundred numbers of Upanishads marks the pre-classical Yoga. The Upanishads describe the inner vision of reality resulting from devotion to Brahman. These explain the teachings of Vedas further. Around 500 B.C. Bhagavad Gita came up. Currently, scholars take this as the oldest known yoga scripture.

Classical Period: The Classical period is the one in which Lord Patanjali scripted the ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’.

Post-classical period: The post-classical Yoga differs from those of previous periods since it focuses more on the present. It no longer strives to liberate a person from reality but rather one to accept it and live at the moment. Isha Yoga, etc. fall under this category.

Today, there are six main schools of Yoga:

  • Hatha Yoga or Yoga of postures
  • Raja Yoga or Yoga of self-control
  • Kundalini Yoga or Yoga of energy
  • or Yoga of action
  • Jnana Yoga or Yoga of mind
  • Bhakti Yoga or Yoga of devotion

The Yoga, as stated by Patanjali is enumerated through Sanskrit and hence contains only the main and the important . The first aphorism of the first part introduces Yoga as:


This means the discipline of Yoga is stated henceforth. That is to be understood and followed. The next aphorism states the nature of Yoga.

Yoga Chittavrittinirodhah

This means that Yoga is all about controlling the thought waves of the mind. The thoughts, , emotions arising in the mind are vrittis, which should be controlled. This is called Yoga. The broader perspective is expected and the word chitta here means individual consciousness, which covers all states of conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious.

While trying to control the vrittis (thoughts, emotions, feelings), certain disturbances are created which stop or divert the growth. Patanjali has addressed them as antary (disturbances) creating chittavikshepa.

  • Vyadhi– disease
  • Styan– danger
  • Samshay– doubt
  • Pramad – carelessness
  • Alasya – laziness
  • Bhranti – hallucinations
  • Alabdhabhoomikatva – non-achievement of stage
  • Anavasthitattva – instability

Thus, a traditional school of Yoga follows one of the above-mentioned Yogic paths or traditions. There are different paths of Yoga explained in different ancient texts.

The Yoga Vashishtha, for example, is one of the finest gnostic texts of India. The Yoga Vashishtha is part of the great Indian epic Ramayana. The Ramayana tells the tale of Lord Rama, the rightful heir to the throne of Ayodhya who is forced into a fourteen-year exile in the jungles. The Sage Vashishtha is a preceptor and spiritual guide of Lord Rama. The Yoga Vashishtha is a dialogue between Lord Rama and his spiritual guide Vashishtha. Vashishtha answers the questions of the young Prince Rama, who has been on travels in his kingdom and returns weary and disinterested in life. Prince Rama asks about human existence, the fleeting nature of life and relationships. He asks deep and direct questions regarding the creation of the , the nature of existence and the Self.

Vashishtha, the master of the Self-responds with mind-boggling tales and direct insights. Cutting through all frills and fancies, Vashishtha gets to the heart of the matter. The Self only is, all else is ignorance and illusion.

Stories within stories within stories make this text unique. The complex structure of storytelling combined with the highest philosophical truths leaves an indelible impression in your mind. Yoga Vashishtha is also considered to have a strong Buddhist influence.

It is divided into six parts:

  • Vairagya Prakaranam – About dispassion
  • Mumukshu Vyavahara Prakaranam – About the behavior of the Seeker
  • Utpatti Prakaranam – About creation
  • Sthiti Prakaranam– About existence
  • Upasama Prakaranam – About dissolution
  • Prakaranam – About

The core philosophy of this text is – the world never existed in the past, nor exists now, nor will exist hereafter.

The very essence of the teachings, is often repeated in the following verse:

This world appearance is a confusion,

Even as the blueness of the Sky is an optical illusion,

I think it is better not to let the mind dwell on it, but to it. (1.3.2).

Another oft-appearing expression is ‘kakataliya’. A crow alights on a coconut tree and in that very moment a ripe coconut falls. The two unrelated events seem to be related though there is no causal relationship. Such is life. Thus the universe was just an ‘accident’.

Next time, we will be back with more on different schools of Yoga, texts, and different Yogic thoughts.


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Navodita Pande has been practicing yoga since she was 9 years old in Iyengar Yoga. In April 1995, she performed at the International Yoga Seminar. In January 2003, Navodita taught at Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mandir in New York. Navodita had a Yoga show on NDTV 24×7 and was also the official yoga trainer for Miss Delhi contestants in 2007. She currently teaches Yoga and Reiki to
people in Kanpur.