Yoga becoming popular because of its powerful properties regarding both physical and mental health. But do you know the history of yoga? What exactly is yoga? Most of us have joined at least one yoga class as a way to do more physical exercise. And many of us do yoga on a daily basis.
In this article, we’ll take a brief look at the four main periods in the history of yoga that have impacted most on the creation and development of modern yoga.
When did yoga begin in India?
People practiced yoga during the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. It was first introduced in Rig Veda, a collection of hymns describing meditation practice and the discipline of meditation.
What was the original purpose of yoga?
Our history of yoga starts with the Vedic period (3000 BC to 800 BC). The original purpose of yoga was to train the body and mind to self-observe and be aware of their own nature. During this period, the Vedic people relied on the rishis (the prophets) to teach them how to live in divine harmony and understanding of the world.
Yoga: A Definition
Before we explore the history of yoga, first, we should understand the meaning of yoga. Yoga! We may be too familiar with this term. The word yoga itself first appeared written in the ancient and sacred texts of Hinduism – the Vedas. In particular, yoga appeared for the first time in the Rig Veda, the oldest of these scriptures.
The word “yoga” comes from the root “yuj,” which means “to yoke.” This is no longer commonplace in the English language, so you might find it strange and not catch its meaning.
Yoking was a practice used for connecting and tapping two animals. They would be “yoked” with each other (usually at their neck) so they can then perform tasks (such as plowing a field). So basically, the yoke is to create a union, and this is often how we hear yoga defined today.
History of Yoga: A Brief History of the Major Periods
In spite of more than a century of research, we still don’t know much about the earliest beginnings of yoga. Often, it is believed that yoga is originated in India for 5,000 years. Others suppose it goes back more than 10,000 years.
The long rich history of yoga can be classified into four main periods: Vedic, Pre-Classical Yoga, Classical Yoga, Post-Classical Yoga. Now, take a closer look at each one briefly.
The History Of Yoga- Vedic Yoga (3000 BC to 800 BC)
Our history of yoga begins with the Vedic period. This era is related to when the Vedas, four ancient scriptures (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda) were created. The Vedas themselves are the scriptures of Brahmanism (Brahmin was a dominant priesthood in ancient India and should not be confused with Brahma, the Hindu god of creation).
Vedic Yoga is the oldest form of yoga dating back to the Rig Veda period, perhaps the oldest book in the world. The Sanskrit word Veda implies “knowledge,” while the Sanskrit term rig (from ric) implies “praise.”
So, the sacred Rigveda is a collection of hymns describing meditation practice and discipline of meditation dating back to around 1,500 before the Common Era (B.C.E). This is the oldest Sanskrit text and the oldest work in any Indo-European language. It is broadly understood that the first mention of the Sanskrit word “Yuj”, which is the root of the word “yoga”, first appeared in Rigveda.
During this period, the Vedic people relied on the rishis (the prophets) to teach them how to live in divine harmony and understanding of the world.
This period was the first time yoga practitioners living in seclusion were recorded. Vedic yoga practitioners felt that living in seclusion, close to nature, was the most favorable environment to practice. The rishis loved to live in forests, that’s why many modern-day yogis prefer to leave civilization.
The History Of Yoga- Pre-classical Yoga (800 BC to 250 BC)
The Pre-Classical Yoga period covers an extensive period of nearly 2,000 years until the second century A.D. Preclassical Yoga comes in numerous forms and guises.
This era is determined by the creation of the Upanishad, a collection of 200 Vedic texts. The central concepts of these texts are:
- the Brahman (the ultimate reality in the universe)
- the Atman (the transcendent self or self)
- the relationship between these two ideas.
Both the Vedas and the Upanishads are believed to form the basis of religious concepts for Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
The pre-classical period culminated in the creation of the 700-verse Bhagavad Gita considered the oldest known yoga sutra and the most well-known of all Hindu texts. Its message is not to turn around, but to be active against world evil. In its present form, the Bhagavad-Gītā (abbreviated as Gītā) was composed around 500 BC. and since then has become a daily source of inspiration for millions of Hindus.
Its teachings are central to the point: Living means being active and, if we want to avoid problems for ourselves and others, our actions must be benign and also out of the grip of the ego. A simple problem, really, but hard to do in everyday life!
Preclassical Yoga also contains many schools of which the teachings can be found in the two excellent national epics of India, Râmâyana, and Mahābhārat.
The History Of Yoga- Classical Yoga (184 BC to 148 BC)
The classical Yoga period is defined by Yoga Sutras, written by the sage Patanjali in the second century A.D. In the Sutras of Patanjali, Yoga is presented in a standardized and accessible way. The word ‘sutra’ comes from‘ a thread ’and so 195 Yoga sutras are called the thread of wisdom.
Patanjali believes that every individual can achieve the “stillness of the ripples of the mind” and thus composed the Sutta based on an eight-step system for mental and emotional purification and self-transcendence. This 8-step system and the 8-fold meditation path is also known as Raja Yoga:
The History Of Yoga- Post-classical Yoga (800 AD to 1700 AD)
Yoga was introduced to the West in the early 19th century and it is predictable that many of its Eastern teachings and philosophies were gradually Westernized. It was this period that saw many teachers and gurus travel to the West.
One such character is Swami Sivananda, who wrote more than 200 books on yoga and philosophy and contributed greatly to the post-classical era of yoga. Other notable names emerging from this period include Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, one of the most powerful yoga teachers of the 20th century, who is also regarded as the father of modern yoga.
Then came Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, dubbed the ‘giggling guru’ because he often laughed during television interviews. Maharishi developed Transcendental Meditation and this is probably one of the things that he will be most remembered for.
Transcendental Meditation (or simply TM as it is commonly known), is a technique practiced by 5 million people worldwide, and among its supporters include many famous figures. Moreover, it also stimulated medical research on Yoga at many American universities.
The History Of Yoga- Modern Yoga (From 1863 AD onwards)
The history of the modern yoga era is widely thought to start with the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.
It was here that Swami Vivekananda made a big and left a lasting impression on the American public. Vivekananda was urged by his teacher Ramakrishna to find his way to America to share the message of Yoga.
Thanks to some well-wishers who realized the inner greatness of this adept of Jnana Yoga, he was invited to the Parliament and became the parliament’s most famous diplomat. In the following years, he went everywhere attracting many students to Yoga and Vedanta.
His books on Yoga are still helpful and interesting to read. There were a lot of Yogic teachers before Vivekananda who left India for Europe but their influence had remained local and ephemeral.
After Swami Vivekananda, the most common teacher in the early years of the Western Yoga movement was Paramahansa Yogananda, who came to the U.S in 1920.
Yogananda’s influence on the West was most notable, and five years after his arrival, he established the Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles, CA where it still exists today. In 1946 he issued his well-known book “Autobiography of a Yogi.” It makes for fascinating reading and has influenced many people around the world.
Besides, there are other important Modern Yogis comprise:
|Influential Mordern Yogis||Their Contribution To History of Yoga|
|Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya||Referred to as the “Father of Modern Yoga.”|
|Swami Sivananda Saraswati||Founder of the Divine Life Society in Rishikesh, India.|
|Swami Rama||Founder of the Himalayan Institute. He is famous for his amazing bodily command.|
|Maharishi Mahesh Yogi||Founder of Integral Yoga and the author and translator of one of the most-read versions of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.|
|Yogi Bhajan||Established the 3HO (Happy Healthy Holy Organization), and was also the founder of the popular tea brand Yogi Tea.|
|His Holiness the Dalai Lama||Though you may not consider the Dalai Lama a yoga teacher, his teachings and message are really Yoga in practice. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and has inspired many westerners to discover more about Buddhism and the Yogic Path.|
|Paul Brunton||A former journalist and editor, and the author of A Search in Secret India, which introduced the great sage Ramana Maharshi to Western seekers.|
|Swami Satchidananda||Founder of Integral Yoga and the author and translator of one of the most-read versions of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.|
There are four primary types of yoga:
Besides, there is also Hatha Yoga, which has become the most broadly known form of yoga practice in the West today.
Other styles of asana-based yoga consist of:
- Iyengar yoga
- Restorative yoga
- Prenatal yoga
- Yin yoga
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Yoga is a fantastic exercise for any age as we can reap many yoga benefits through this discipline like increasing flexibility, gaining strength, and relieving stress. It’s great to know the development and history of yoga as well as amazing yoga facts. This is a brief summary of the history of Yoga.
If you have never practiced yoga, it’s time to try this discipline. If you’re too busy, you can do it at home. Yoga journal: complete home practice is a great choice for you. Start with basic poses such as skipping pose, extended mountain pose, open-angle pose, reverse triangle pose. Give it a try and you’ll know why so many people keen on it and why is yoga so expensive.
Hopefully, this article helps you to have a certain understanding of the origin and history of yoga.
If you find this article useful, don’t hesitate to share the comprehensive breakdown of the history of yoga with the yogis in your life. Or if you have any opinion about the history of yoga, or want to supplement any information about the history of yoga, feel free to share with us.