History of Yoga

The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old. The science of Yoga has its origin thousands of years ago, long before the first religions or belief systems were born.

In the yogic tradition, Shiva is seen as the first Yogi or Adiyogi, and the first Guru or Adi Guru. The Number of seals and fossil remains discovered in Indus Saraswati valley civilization show yogic activities and figures performing Yoga, suggesting the presence of Yoga in ancient India.

The above pictures are the seals excavated from the Mohenjodaro site show Pashupati (Lord Shiva) in yogic posture (Bhadrasana). They were sitting cross-legged with arms outstretched. The pose was of meditative state.

The History of Yoga can be divided into five main periods:

  1. Vedic Age
  2. Pre-classical Age or Epic Age
  3. Classical Age
  4. Post Classical Age
  5. Modern Age

Vedic Age

Vedic Yoga portrays ritualistic ceremonies, which requires yoga practitioners to transcend the boundaries of the mind, traced back to the period of Rig Veda. Great explorers of early yoga, naming a few, are Vasistha, Yajanavalkya.

Pre - Classical Age

This the main source, from which we get documented information about Yoga practices and the related literature during this period, are available in Upanishad texts. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by Rishis (mystic seers) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads.

Classical Yoga

The classical period is defined by Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the first systematic presentation of yoga. This was written sometime in the second century.

This text describes the path of Raja Yoga, often called 'Classical Yoga'. Patanjali organized the practice of Yoga into an ‘eight limbed path’ containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi. Patanjali is often considered the father of Yoga and his Yoga, Sutras still strongly influence most styles of modern yoga.

Post-Classical Yoga

A few centuries after Patanjali, many yoga masters have created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life which is called as Hatha Yoga.

Few of the Hatha Yoga Texts are:

  • Hatha Yoga Pradipika
  • Gheranda Samhitha
  • Hatha Ratnavali
  • Shiva Samhitha

Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India by the intensive work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga.

Modern Period

In the modern period Swami Vivekananda spread the wisdom of Yoga to the world, especially in the west. He classified the Yoga into four, namely:

  1. Karma Yoga
  2. Raja Yoga
  3. Bhakthi Yoga
  4. Jnana Yoga