History of Yoga!


The history of yoga dates back to 4-8 thousand years ago and is linked to the Indus-Saraswati civilization. The civilization was advanced and exported goods throughout the Middle East and Africa. 

Historical Development Of Yoga

Historical Development Of Yoga


The history of yoga spans from four to eight thousand years ago to the current day. Much evidence from history and ancient books links this practice to the great Indus-Saraswati civilization. 

The Indus Saraswati civilization was the largest civilization in the ancient world and exceptionally modern for its time. It is named after 2 rivers that flowed through India, The Indus-Saraswati river valleys of Bharatvarsha (present India and Pakistan) were the home to the ancient civilization of Indus-Sarasvati. Due to the turn in pronunciation, the ‘Indu’ used to be called ‘Hindu’. And the complete civilization of the Indus river valley came to be known as Hindu.

Seals of Mohanjodaro with image of 'Pashupati' or Lord Shiva

Indus-Sarasvati was a maritime society, that exported goods throughout the Middle East and Africa. The triangular amulet seal uncovered at Mohanjodaro archaeological excavation site depicts a male figure sitting crossed-legged on a low platform, with arms outstretched. His head is crowned with the horns of buffalo. The likeness of the seal and understanding of surrounding culture has led to its widely accepted identification as ‘Pashupati’, Lord of Beasts or Lord Shiva. The pose is a familiar one to yogic Shiva, the meditation ascetic contemplating divine truth in “yoga posture”. Depending on the perspectives and evidence found from Mohanjo-daro seals describe the age of Yoga practice. 

In the yogic lore, Shiva is seen as the first yogi or Adiyogi, and the first Guru or Adi Guru. Several Thousand years ago, on the banks of the lake Kantisarovar in the Himalayas, Adiyogi distributed his profound knowledge to the legendary Saptarishis or “seven sages”. The sages carried this powerful yogic science to different parts of the world, including Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa, and South America. Interestingly, modern scholars have noted and marveled at the close parallels found between ancient cultures across the globe. However, it was in India that the yogic system found its fullest expression. Agastya, the Saptarishi who traveled across the Indian subcontinent, crafted this culture around a core yogic way of life.

Some historical researchers have proved that yoga was in existence during the time of the Indus Valley civilization, Vedas and Upanishadic heritage, Buddhist and Jain traditions, Darshanas, epics of Mahabharat and Ramayana, theistic traditions of Shaivas, Vaishnavas, and Tantric traditions.


Traditional Yoga Practices

There was a primordial or pure Yoga that has been manifested in mystical traditions of South Asia. This was the time when Yoga was being practiced under the direct guidance of the Guru and its spiritual value was given special importance. It was a part of Upasana and yoga sadhana was incorporated into their rituals. Sun was given the highest importance during the Vedic period. The practice of ‘Surya namaskar may have been invented later due to this influence. Pranayama was a part of the daily ritual during those days.

Pre-Vedic Period (2700 BC)

Pre-Vedic Period (2700 BC)

The main sources, from which we get the information about Yoga practices and the related literature during this period, are available in Vedas (4), Upanishads(108), Smritis, teachings of Buddhism, Jainism, Panini, Epics (2), Puranas (18), etc. In the Hindu tradition, there are four Vedas namely Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda. No direct explanation of the word yoga can be found in any of the Vedas. But the meaning of other important yogic terms such as asana, pranayama, mudras, meditation techniques, cleanliness techniques, Yama and Niyama, and the dharnas are all elaborated in the Vedas. The asanas explained in the Vedas were more focused on meditation. The pranayama explained in the Yajurveda is similar to Anuloma Viloma. 

Upanishads are the essence of Vedas. Out of all the Upanishads available, there are 10 which are of utmost importance. These 10 Upanishads talk about yoga and its various aspects. The pancha kosha theory which is used in the treatment of diseases through yoga is elaborated in the Taittiriya Upanishad. While the Kathopanishad explains how to attain Samadhi. Other Upanishads with information related to yoga are Ishavasya Upanishads, Kenopanishad, and Svetasvatara Upanishads. 

Smritis laid out the disciplines one needs to follow in his life. The Smritis which talk about yoga are Yajnavalkya Smriti, Manusmriti, and Harita Smriti. These smritis also explain the four stages of life namely:

  1. Brahmacharya
  2. Grihastha
  3. Vanaprastha
  4. Sanyasa

The two main epics which give out major details about yoga are Ramayana and Mahabharata. Ramayana explains the moral disciplines, Yama and Niyama in detail.

Out of the available Puranas, eighteen of them are of great importance. The Bhagavata Purana explains bhakti yoga. The Linga Purana elaborates on details about Yama, Niyama, and Pranayama. Vayu Purana mentions the details about dharana, pratyahara, and dhyana. Based on the information available in these texts and as per the teachings of Jainism and Buddhism, the practice of yoga kept evolving through the pre-Patanjali period. 

Classical Period (500 BC - 800 BC)

Classical Period (500 BC - 800 BC)

Though Yoga was being practiced in the pre-Vedic period, the great Sage Maharshi Patanjali systematized and codified the then-existing practices of Yoga, its meaning, and its related knowledge through his Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, viyog leads to yoga. He explains the process of separation. According to Samkhya philosophy, all beings are made up of Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha is consciousness and Prakriti is nature. The practice of yoga is connected with the separation of these two. Separating awareness from identification with a mind-body vehicle. The purpose of yoga is to liberate purusha from Prakriti. 

After Patanjali, many Sages and Yoga Masters contributed greatly to the preservation and development of this practice through their well-documented practices and literature.

The period between 500 BC – 800 A.D. is considered the Classical period which is also considered the most fertile and prominent period in the history and development of Yoga. During this period, commentaries of Vyasa on Yoga Sutras and Bhagavad Gita, etc. came into existence. Apart from Patanjali, two great religious teachers came into existence with their unique knowledge for liberation. The concept of Five great vows – Pancha mahavrata- by Mahavir and Ashta Magga or eightfold path by Buddha – was also part of Yoga Sadhana. 

The classical period was also included by Bhagavad Gita which elaborately presented the concept of Gyan yoga, Bhakti yoga, and Karma Yoga. These three types of yoga are still the highest example of human wisdom & path of liberation, and even today people find extreme levels of spiritual transformation by following the methods as shown in Gita. In the second century, Patanjali composed the text of 195 sutras known as Yoga Sutras. The very important commentary on the Yoga sutra by Vyasa was also written. During this very period, the aspect of mind was given importance and it was clearly brought out through Yoga sadhana, Mind and body both can be brought under control to experience equanimity.

Post Classical Period (800 - 1700 AD)

The period between 800 A.D. – 1700 A.D. has been recognized as the Post Classical period wherein the teachings of great Acharyatrayas-Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhavacharya-were prominent during this period. The teachings of Suradasa, Tulasidasa, Purandardasa, and Mirabai were the great contributors during this period. The Natha Yogis of the Hathayoga Tradition like Matsyendaranatha, Gorkshanatha, Cauranginatha, Swatmaram Suri, Gheranda, and Shrinivasa Bhatt are some of the great personalities who popularized the Hatha Yoga practices during this period. During this period the practices of Tantra and Hatha started populating among yoga practitioners.

Modern Period (1700-1900 AD)

Modern Period (1700-1900 AD)

The period between 1700 – 1900 A.D. is considered a Modern period in which the great Yogacharyas- Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Paramhansa Yogananda, Vivekananda, etc. have contributed to the development of Raja Yoga.

This was the period when Vedanta, Bhakti yoga, Natha-yoga, or Hatha-yoga flourished. The Shadanga-yoga of Gorakshashatakam, Chaturanga-yoga of Hathayogapradipika, and Saptanga-yoga of Gheranda Samhita, were the main tenets of Hatha-yoga.

Contemporary Period

Contemporary Period

Now in the contemporary times, everybody has conviction about yoga practices towards the preservation, maintenance and promotion of health. Yoga has spread all over the world by the teachings of great personalities like Swami Shivananda, Shri T.Krishnamacharya, Swami Kuvalayananda, Shri Yogendara, Swami Rama, Sri Aurobindo, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, Acharya Rajanish, Pattabhijois, BKS. Iyengar, Swami Satyananda Sarasvati, and more.

Current Categorization

Different variations and changes have been introduced in ancient yogic practices are categorized as below:

Psychosomatic Yoga

Modern Psychosomatic Yoga is a form of yoga involving Body-Mind-Spirit training. According to De Michelis, it emphasizes practical experience, places relatively little restriction on doctrine, and is practiced in a privatized setting. Like in Shivanana Yoga Ashrams

Transcendental Yoga

Emphasizes the mental techniques of concentration and meditation as taught by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and some Buddhists Organizations of the 21st century.

Denominational Yoga

A form of yoga centered around Neo-Hindu gurus; each school places emphasis on its own teachings, and provides its own belief system and hierarchy. The environment is cultic, sometimes sectarian. Like Brahma Kumaris, Osho, Bikram Yoga, etc.

Postural Yoga

That consists largely but not exclusively of the practice of asanas. This is the combination of multiple asanas in a flow or series. Eg vinyasa, aerial yoga, etc.

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