Yoga: Its Origin, History and Development

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History of Yoga

Thousands of years ago, yoga teachings were transmitted directly from teacher to student, following the oral tradition of ancient times. It is, therefore, impossible to determine the exact moment at which yoga was created. We can trace their origin back about 5 thousand years ago, although some researchers believe that yoga could be 10 thousand years old.

The history of yoga is divided into four great periods of innovation, practice, and development.

Yoga Pre-classical

This is the period in which the majority of historians date the origin of yoga about 5 thousand years ago, developed by the civilization in Indus-Sarasvati in northern India. The word yoga is first mentioned in the Rig-veda, one of the oldest sacred texts in Indian literature, the basis of the Vedic religion (before the Hindu religion), composed orally in Sanskrit in the middle of the second millennium a. C.

The Rig-veda, together with three other texts, make up the Vedas, a collection of mantras, rituals, and songs of the Brahmins, the Vedic priests. Some of these priests performed religious rituals of sacrifice that required a great capacity of concentration to transcend reality and that they achieved through certain techniques of concentration, known as Yoga.

Classical Yoga

It is considered the most fertile and important stage in the history and development of yoga, encompassing the period between the years 500 BC. De C. y 800 d. De C. the practice of yoga extends and systematizes. Until then, during the pre-Classic Period, yoga had been a flurry of ideas, beliefs, and techniques that often conflicted and contradicted each other.

The most important text that defines this period and supposes the great break with the chaotic Preclassic period is the Yoga Sutra, from Patanjali, considered the foundational text of yoga. Patanjali synthesizes and organizes the practice of yoga on a path of 8 branches that define the stages to enlightenment (”samadhi ” in Sanskrit). It is a guide to help us integrate yoga into our daily life, which, among other aspects and not only covers the physical practice of yoga: postures (Asanas) and breathing exercises (Pranayama).

Yoga Post-classical

Several centuries after Patanjali, yoga masters created a system of practices intending to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. Until then, yogis had focused yoga practice on their ability to transcend reality, without paying attention to the body. These new masters rejected these beliefs and made the body the primary means to attain enlightenment. They developed Tantra Yoga, which included basic techniques to cleanse the body and mind and break the bonds that bind us to physical existence. The exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body-centered practices led to the creation of yoga best known in the West: Hatha Yoga.

Modern Yoga

It is the period between the end of s. XIX and early XX century, characterized by the popularization of yoga in the West, through the landing of yoga teachers of India, mainly in the United States. This period began in 1893 in the Chicago Parliament of religions, when Swami Vivekananda stunned the attendees with his teachings on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions.

However, in the early years of this period, yoga was considered merely as a unique philosophy of This somewhat exotic attracted the interest of a few. It was from the 1930s that yoga took off as a practice with great health benefits and linked to a healthier lifestyle and in line with nature. At the same time in India, Hatha Yoga became enormously popular thanks to the work of yogis as T. Krishnamacharya, who opened the first Hatha Yoga School in India.

The Great Masters of Modern Yoga

Krishnamacharya was a forerunner of Vinyasa Yoga (yoga that coordinates movements and breathing), and its teachings form the basis of modern yoga that is practiced today. Also, 3 of his disciples became influential yoga teachers:

    Svami Sivananda is considered one of the great gurus of contemporary yoga as he established a new system adopted by many other teachers, schools, and yoga practitioners, The Five Principles of Yoga: 1. Proper exercise (Asanas), 2. Proper breathing (Pranayama), 3. Relaxation (Savasana), 4. Proper diet (vegetarian), 5. Meditation (Dhyana).

  1. S. K. Iyengar was the creator of the Yoga Iyengar style, a softer variety of Hatha Yoga, in which postures are adapted to each person’s body using different supports such as blocks, ribbons or blankets.
  2. Pattaabhi Jois creator of Ashtanga Yoga, a more dynamic and demanding variety of Hatha, which is characterized mainly by certain and closed postures sequences that are always practiced in the same way and the same order.

Most schools in the world practice some kind of yoga that derives from the styles developed by these teachers, Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Bikram being the most popular; except for Kundalini Yoga, a rather different, more spiritual style, in which yoga postures are combined with moments of meditation, chanting and other practices.

As Camilo Carreiro explains in Deusto Salud’s blog, The Story Of Yoga is the story of the search for happiness and self-knowledge. The philosophy and techniques that make up Yoga has evolved over the centuries. They have adapted to our physical and spiritual needs, taking into account the modern way of life, but without moving away from their main goal: to become “jivamukti”, liberated beings.

And with this, we conclude this concise summary of the history of yoga. As you can imagine, 5 thousand years of history can give some more detail. So if you’ve wanted to learn more of the history of yoga, we suggest you read the not-so-brief article “A brief history of yoga” by Georg Feuerstein.