Whether you are a yoga fan or are just now discovering the art, knowledge of the history of yoga can help you appreciate its origin, understand it as a life transforming facet and effectively incorporate it into your life to shed those extra pounds and experience what yoga has to offer.
So we must start at the beginning. Yoga is believed to be as old as civilization. Scholars have traced the origin of yoga to Stone Age Shamanism. Like yoga, Shamanism’s major aim was to improve the condition of human life, heal community members and act as a spiritual mediator.
The earliest archaeological evidence depicting the history of Yoga dates back to 3000 B.C. It is found in stone seals featuring yoga poses. More effectively, yoga history is divided into four periods which clearly detail its evolution into the modern yoga. These include:
This period is represented by the Vedas; the sacred scripture of Hinduism. The Vedas have evidence of the oldest Yogic teachings called Vedic Yoga or Archaic Yoga. Vedic Yoga involved rituals and ceremonies designed to connect people to the spirit world and surpass the mind’s limitations. Vedic yogis; also called rishis were consulted for spiritual illumination.
This era began with the 200 Upanishad scriptures that related ultimate reality to the transcendental self. However, the Bhagavad-Gita, which was created in 500 B.C., is a more vivid representation of the history of yoga and is devoted entirely to Yoga. The Gita brought together three facets: Bhakti (loving devotion), Jnana (contemplation or knowledge) and Karma (selfless actions). By so doing, it united Bhakti, Jnana and Karma yoga.
It was also during the pre-classical period that yoga found its way into Buddhism, with Lord Buddha being the first Buddhist to study yoga. Buddhist scriptures taught physical postures and meditation.
Classical yoga is marked by the creation of Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. The 195 maxims expound on Raja Yoga using Patanjali’s Eightfold path of yoga or the Eight Limbs of Classical Yoga which are:Yama (ethical values)Niyama (observing purity, tolerance and study)Asanas (physical exercise)Pranayama (controlled breathing)Pratyahara (withdrawing to prepare for meditation)Dharana (concentration)Dhyana (meditation)Samadhi (ecstasy)
This is the most modern era marked by an abundance of yoga literature and widened yoga practice. Post-classical yoga differs from previous yoga practices in that it teaches one to accept reality and live in the moment rather, than get liberated from reality.
Yoga found its way into the West in the early 19th century. It was first studied as Eastern Philosophy before becoming popular among vegetarians and health conscious people in the 1930s. By 1960s several Indian yogis had popularized yoga such as Maharishi Mahesh who taught Transcendental Meditation and Sivananda who popularized the now widely used principles of yoga, which include:
Savasana (proper relaxation)Asanas (physical exercise)Pranayama (proper breathing)Dhyana (meditation and positive thinking)Proper diet
Today, yoga has crossed geographical and spiritual boundaries and is practiced globally as a means for health and wellness.