History of Yoga

Yoga is a simple form of exercise that unites the mind-body and soul during practice.

Yoga got immensely popular in the western world in the late 19th century and 20th century. It was made popular by many famous Indian gurus who traveled to the west to preach their findings and create awareness about yoga.

History of Yoga

Yoga’s history dates back to 5000 years. It originated in India and was developed by Indus-Sarasvati civilization. The word yoga was first mentioned during pre-Vedic traditions (around sixth and fifth centuries BCE) in Rig Veda.

The information is in the form of songs, mantras, and rituals used by Vedic priests.

It was developed during ancient India’s ascetic and śramaṇa movements. However, a chronology of ancient yoga-practices is unclear to date.

But some researchers say there is a possibility that Yoga could have been originated and developed before 10,000 years.

In the western world, yoga is mostly seen as the modern form of Hatha yoga which mostly includes various postures called asanas.

Swami Vivekananda popularized yoga to the western world with his new adaption excluding Asanas.

Yoga’s history can be divided into five different frames which include Pre-Vedic India, Vedic Period, Pre-classical Era, Classical Era, and Middle Ages.

Researchers claim Yoga went through several transformations over these years and we have fewer transcripts about its practices during ancient times.

Pre-Vedic India

Yoga has a pre-Vedic history. There are also claims that Yoga could have been originated during Indus Valley Civilization.  Noted scholars like Marshall, Eliade discovered Pashupati seal at Indus Valley Civilization site. They claimed that the seal depicted a figure in a position resembling an asana used for meditation, Mulabandhasana.

Vedic Period (1700–500 BCE)

Researchers claim that Yoga must have been developed during this period as a sequential growth from Aryan Genesis. But famous scholar Thomas McEvilley says another model where the pre-Aryan yoga prototype existed in the pre-Vedic period. He also adds that its refinement began during the Vedic period.

According to the researchers, the word Yoga was first used in hymm 5.81.1 of Rig Veda. It is a dedication to the rising sun (god) in the morning (Savitri). It is interpreted as “Yoke” or “Yogically Control”

However, Rig Vedha doesn’t describe Yoga or its practices. Early references to Yoga practices were mentioned in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the earliest Hindu Upanishad. Later these mentions became part of yoga.

 Pre-classical era (500–200 BCE)

Yoga’s practices and concepts’ began to emerge in texts during this period.  The texts were mentioned in Bhagavad Gita ,Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata ,middle Upanishads and on Early Buddhist texts.

It is during this period which is around sixth and fifth centuries BCE, Yoga practices developed and practiced by many common people.

Werner says Buddha is the actual founder of Yoga though he admittedly used some practices of yoga teachers.

“The Buddha was the founder of his [Yoga] system, even though, admittedly, he made use of some of the experiences he had previously gained under various Yoga teachers of his time.”— he says.

Mahabharata, written roughly around the third century contains the description of nirodhayoga , an early form of Yoga. Nirodhayoga focuses on self-realization.

Yoga was also seen on Bhagavad Gita. It has 18 chapters and explains about three important types of yoga in the sixth chapter. It explains about Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action), Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of Devotion) and Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge).

The Gita named each of its chapters with a different yoga name.

Classical Era (200 BCE – 500 CE)

200 BCE – 500 CE is the period of  Mauryan and the Gupta era’s. It is during this period Yoga was popularized and many scholars systematically complied and texted the practices of Yoga. Notable works include Visuddhimagga, the Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra, Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, and the Yoga-Yājñavalkya.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the best known early expression of Brahmanical Yoga. Karel Werner argues the systematic depiction of started with the creation of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Middle Ages (500–1500 CE)

Hatha yoga emerged during this period. It is during this period Yoga was taken across different countries.

During this period medieval Hinduism advocated the concept of personal god(Bhakthi Yoga). This was initiated by alvars during the sixth century and made popular throughout India during 12 to 15th centuries.

Yoga in Modern Times

During the mid and late 19th-century, many yoga guru’s traveled to the west and preached their learnings and practices. The important thing to note is, gurus advocated the benefits of yoga and neglected the Hinduism connect.

Soon grabbed the attention of educated people and  N. C. Paul published his Treatise on Yoga Philosophy in 1851

Swami Vivekananda , a Hindu teacher took yoga to Europe. His teaching excluded asana’s as mentioned earlier.

In modern times Yoga is primarily considered as exercise and a method to get relief from stress and depression. It is getting popular pretty fast and there is a huge demand for professional yoga teachers.

Yoga is slowly becoming the subject of academic inquiry.  Medknow along with Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana University publishes the peer-reviewed open-access medical journal called International Journal of Yoga.

In the past ten years, there is an increase in the number of papers published on Yoga and its benefits on depression, stress, and lower back pain.

The School of Oriental and African Studies teaches a Masters’s Degree in Yoga Meditation. It also hosts the Hatha project and chases the history of physical yoga.

Researchers say that Yoga is going to be treated in a better way by the upcoming generation and we could soon expect mandatory Yoga classes in Schools.

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