The art and the science of healthy living is called yoga. The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’, which means to join or to unite. Yoga is basically a spiritual discipline which is based on an extremely subtle science that concentrates on bringing great harmony between mind and body. According to Yogic sacred writings, the practice of Yoga brings about a union of individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness. Yoga is believed to balance the three doshas (Vata , Pitta & Kapha). The prime focus of yoga practice is to live with a sense of freedom in all aspects of life, health and harmony. One who experiences this oneness of existence is said to be in yoga, called a yogi. Therefore, the prime objective of Yoga is self-realization, to overcome all types of sufferings leading to a state of salvation or freedom implied as mukti, nirvana or moksha. Read on to know more about the rich history of Yoga.
History Of Yoga Through The Ages
The history of Yoga has many places of anonymity and uncertainty due to its verbal transmission of sacred texts and the secretive nature of its teachings. Some writings on yoga were put on fragile palm leaves that were easily damaged, destroyed or lost. Yoga has a rich, 5,000-year history, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old because it is such a multifaceted practice. Yoga in the past has intertwined with religion, philosophy and exercise, hence putting down an exact origin has proven difficult. In this article, we’ll take a look at the five main periods which have been most influential in the innovation, practice and development of yoga.
Vedic Period (2500 – 1500 BC)
Our journey to discover the history of yoga starts with the Vedic Period. This period relates to when the Vedas, four ancient scriptures – Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda were created. The Sanskrit word “Yuj”, which is the root of the word ‘yoga’, first occurred in the Rigveda, dates back to around 1500 BC. In the Atharvaveda, there is a mention of the importance of the control of breath. Several seals and fossils have been found, with figures performing Yoga asanas which suggests that yoga was practiced even in those early stages of civilization. In the beginning, the Vedas were orally passed on from one generation to another. Written records came much later; hence it’s very difficult to give precise dates. Teachings in the Vedas are called Vedic yoga where people relied heavily on ‘rishis’, a Vedic term used to describe an enlightened person. It was during this period that the yogis living in seclusion was recorded for the first time.
Pre-Classical Yoga (4500-2500 BC)
The Upanishads took birth in this era with a collection of more than 200 sacred Vedic texts. Yoga was gradually refined and enhanced by the sages who archived their practices and convictions in the Upanishads. They explain the meaning hidden in the Vedas, elaborating on the workings of the mind and spirit through personal teachings. They espouse meditation and mantra recitation towards the ultimate goal of attaining enlightenment. Here they also talked about different yogic techniques, like pranayama, pratyahara, sound, and meditation. The pre-classical period culminated in the creation of the Bhagavad Gita, which is credited as the oldest known yoga scripture and is the most famous of Hindu texts. While the Gita is dedicated entirely to yoga as it existed at the time, very little is actually devoted to the practical elements of the practice that we know so well today.
Classical Yoga (100 BC – 500 AD)
The Classical period is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtras, where the Sutras offer guidance to help the reader create peace and obtain enlightenment. While yoga has been practiced for over 5,000 years, it wasn’t until 2,000 years ago that Indian sage systematized the practice of yoga and documented the Yoga Sutras, so that others could follow their work. Classical yoga period saw the emergence of the eight limbs of yoga organized by Patanjali. Patanjali is considered the father of yoga and his Yoga-Sûtras still strongly influence most styles of modern yoga. In this era, Yoga was a combination of various ideas, beliefs and techniques that contradicted and conflicted with each other.
Post Classical Yoga (500 – 1300 AD)
Yoga masters dismissed the teachings of the old Vedas and held onto the physical body as the way to achieve enlightenment a few centuries after Patanjali. They created Tantra Yoga, a system of practice designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. Here there were radical techniques to purify the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. The exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body centered practices led to the creation of what we primarily think of yoga in the West. It was this period that saw many teachers and gurus travel to the West. Hatha yoga gained popularity during this period. Most of the asanas that we practice today are part of Hatha yoga.
Modern Period ( 1700 AD – Till Date)
In order to get attention and more followers, Yoga masters began to travel to the West in the early 1900s. Since then, many teachers have become pioneers in popularizing hatha yoga. Hatha Yoga now has many different styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of the practice. Modern yoga, the form practiced in homes, studios and gyms by many around the world can be seen as just as complex as how it used to be.
The history of yoga has seen a long and illustrious journey to reach the 21st century. History of yoga has undergone many changes, despite all this; the essence of yoga remains the same. Yoga is a consistently evolving practice and form of exercise which will continue to develop, grow and evolve.