HISTORY OF YOGA Yoga as we identify it today is the product of a complex spiritual evolution that has taken place over centuries, the exact history of Yoga is uncertain. The earliest signs of Yoga can be traced to Stone Age Shamanism, both Shamanism and Yoga have cultural similarities. The shamanistic civilization revered the sacred art of discern the cosmic order through inner vision; they used rituals to create shifts in their perceptual field to communicate with the spirit world. Shamans were the precursors of the Yogis.

The development of yoga can be traced to over 5,000 years ago, evidence of yoga postures were found on stone drawings dating from these times. Archaeological findings from the Indus Valley Civilization, revealed a portrait of a Yogi meditating in what looks like an Asana, it is known as the Pashupati seal.

Yoga’s long rich history can be divided into five main periods: Vedic Yoga, Pre-Classical Yoga, Classical Yoga, Post-Classical Yoga and Modern Yoga.

Vedic Yoga

Vedas are a compilation of hymns and rituals which contain a comprehensive key to cosmic evolution, the Sanskrit word Veda means "knowledge". The Vedas contains the oldest known Yogic teachings and is considered divine revelation. Teachings found in the Vedas are called Vedic Yoga, this teachings revolves around the through of reuniting the visible material world with the spiritual world transcending the limitations of the mind. During this time, the Vedic people relied on rishis (Vedic prophets) to teach them how to live in divine harmony, understanding the world.

Later, texts known as the Brahmanas were written as commentaries explaining the hymns of the Vedas. The Aranyakas are texts which details rituals for Yogis living in the seclusion of the forest, most Brahmanas have one or more Aranyakas associated with them.

The actual word “Yoga” was first mentioned in the Rigveda, the Rigveda; which dates back to approximately 1,500 before the Common Era; is a collection of hymns describing the practice of meditation as a discipline.

Pre-Classical Yoga

The Pre-Classical Yoga period covers an extensive period of approximately 2,000 years; the creation of the Upanishads marks the beginning of this period, they are a huge work containing over 200 scriptures which describes the idea of karma, the cycle of birth and death, the moral causation from past actions and first mentioned the Koshas (one of five coverings of the soul), these explain three subjects: the ultimate reality (Brahman), the transcendental self (Atman) and the relationship between the two.

Around 500 B.C.E., the Bhagavad-Gita was created; it is a beautiful story of a conversation between the God-man Krishna and the prince Arjuna. In the Bhagavad-Gita, three aspects must be brought mutually in our existence: Bhakti (devotion), Jnana (knowledge), and Karma (cause and effect). The Gita then tried to unify the Yogic traditions of Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Karma Yoga searching the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge and it is because of this that it has gained importance

During this time, Yoga found its way into Buddhism too, the Buddha saw that the suffering is caused by desire, greed, and delusion, its Yoga stresses the importance of Meditation and ethics over Physical Postures.

A revered figure named Vyasa, categorized the Vedic hymns into the 4 Vedic texts: Rigveda ("Knowledge of Praise"), Yajurveda ("Knowledge of Sacrifice"), Samaveda ("Knowledge of Melodies"), and Atharvaveda ("Knowledge of Atharvan"). Atharvan was a legendary Rishi.

Classical Yoga

The classical Yoga period is defined by the Yoga Sutra, composed by Patañjali, In Patañjali’s sutras; Yoga is presented in a standardized and approachable way; Patañjali has often been called the founder of Yoga because of this work. Patañjali believed that every individual is composed of Prakrti (matter) and Purusha (spirit) and that the goal of Yoga is to free the spirit from the material world. This is in severe dissimilarity to Pre-classical and Vedic Yoga, which signify the unification of the matter and the spirit.

The 195 sutras (words of wisdom) that comprise the Yoga Sutra expound the practice of yoga into an eight-limbed path of self transcendence, these are:
  1. Yama – Self-restraint or ethical conduct
  2. Niyama – Personal and religious observance of purity, devotion and study
  3. Asana – Physical activity
  4. Pranayama – Breath control or regulation
  5. Pratyahara – Abstraction of the senses
  6. Dharana – Concentration
  7. Dhyana – Meditation that leads to Samadhi
  8. Samadhi – Absorption in the sublime and blissful awareness
Patañjali’s concept was prevailing for some centuries that some Yogis focused entirely on Meditation and ignored the practice of Asanas.

Post-Classical Yoga

Yogis of the past had not paid much attention to the physical body as they were focused on meditation and contemplation. A few centuries after Patañjali, Yoga took a turn, the new generation of yoga masters beginning to probe the hidden powers of the human body, developing a system where different exercises, in conjunction with deep breathing and meditation, would help to rejuvenate the physical body, prolong life and achieve enlightenment. The human body was regarded as the temple of the immortal soul.

The Post-Classical Yoga period gave a dramatic increase in Yogic literature and brought big changes to Yoga, with the developing of Hatha Yoga and other branches of Yoga. During this time Yoga flourished and nowadays is practised throughout the world. In contrast to classical Yoga, Post-Classical Yoga is focused in the appreciation of the present moment and the affirmation of the unity of everything

Modern Yoga

Yoga arrived to the West during the late 1800’s. It can be attributed to many gurus, including Swami Vivekananda, a student of Ramakrishna who was commissioned to attend the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago causing deep impression on the Americans. Other important Yoga gurus include Swami Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Sivananda Radha, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, Yogi Swami Sivananda, Swami Satchidananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who popularized Transcendental Meditation in the 1960’s. Dalai Lama is a great yogi from Tibet; he was awarded the Nobel price for peace and has inspired many westerners to learn more about Buddhism and Yoga.

Yogi Swami Sivananda taught the Five Principles of Yoga which are:
  1. Proper Relaxation (Savasana)
  2. Proper Exercise (Asanas)
  3. Proper Breathing (Pranayama)
  4. Proper Diet
  5. Positive Thinking and Meditation (Dhyana)
Yoga now has several different schools or styles, all emphasizing the diverse aspects of the practice. Hatha Yoga practitioners learn to recognize reality and use physical resources in order to achieve self development.

Nowadays, Yoga is the mainly diversified spiritual practice in the planet; it has gained enormously popularity throughout the last few years, and these days over 30 million people follow the Yoga message of peace.