Trace the Brief History of Yoga: Its Origin and Development

Origin and History of Yoga

Yoga is believed to have started from the very dawn of civilisation. As per ancient Vedic texts, Lord Shiva is considered the first Yoga teacher. As mentioned earlier, Yoga is also widely considered an ‘immortal cultural outcome’ of the Indus Valley Civilization that dates back to 2700 B.C. Yoga encompasses both material and spiritual upliftment fundamental while remaining grounded in basic human values. Yoga in ancient India is evidenced by numerous seals and fossil remains from the Indus Valley Civilization, depicting Yogic motifs and figures engaged in Yoga Sadhana. These artefacts also suggest the influence of Tantra Yoga through phallic symbols and seals of Mother Goddess idols.

Trace the Brief History of Yoga: Its Origin and Development
History of Yoga


Yoga in the Pre-Vedic period (2700 B.C.)

  • Depiction of Yoga is recorded in folk traditions, Vedas, Upanishads, Buddhist and Jain traditions, Darshanas, Mahabharata and Ramayana, theistic traditions of Shaivas and Vaishnavas, and Tantric traditions.
  • There are also depictions of primordial or pure Yoga manifested in the mystical traditions of South Asia. It was when Yoga was practised under the direct guidance of a Guru.
  • It was a part of Upasana, and Yoga Sadhana was built into their rituals. The Sun was given the utmost importance during the Vedic period.
  • Though yoga was practised in the pre-Vedic period (2700 B.C.), the great Sage Maharshi Patanjali systematised and codified yoga practices through yoga sutras.
  • After Patanjali, many eminent Yoga masters contributed to the field’s development through their well-documented practices and literature. This documentary evidence spans from the pre-Vedic era to the period of Patanjali, solidifying the existence of Yoga throughout this timeline.


Evolution of Yoga between 500 B.C. and 800 A.D.

  • The evolution of yoga between 500 B.C. and 800 A.D. can be explored with related literature during this period, i.e. the 4 Vedas, the 108 Upanishads, the two epics (Mahabharata and Ramayana), the 18 Puranas, and the numerous Smritis and teachings of Buddhism, Jainism, and Panini, etc.
  • Tentatively, the period between 500 B.C. and 800 A.D. (1300 years) is considered the classical period because this was the most critical period in the history of Yoga.
  • It was the period when commentaries of Vyasa on Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita, etc., came into existence. This period also saw two great religious teachers of India –Mahavir and Buddha.
  • The concepts of Pancha Mahavrata (five great vows) by Mahavir and Ashta Marga (eight-fold path) by Buddha can well be considered as the early nature of Yoga Sadhana.
  • A more explicit explanation of these concepts can be found in the Bhagavad Gita, which presents the concepts of Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Karma Yoga.


Evolution of Yoga between 800 A.D. and 1700 A.D.

  • The period between 800 A.D. and 1700 A.D. (900 years) has been recognised as post-classical.
  • This period marked the teachings of great Acharyatrayas such as Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhavacharya, Suradasa, Tulasidasa, Purandardasa, and Mirabai, who were great contributors during this period.
  • The Natha Yogis of the Hatha tradition, such as Matsyendranatha, Gorakshanatha, Chauranginatha, Swatmarama Suri, Gheranda, and Srinivasa Bhatt are some of the great personalities who popularised Hatha Yoga practices during this period.


Evolution of Yoga between 1700 A.D. and 1900 A.D

  • The period between 1700 A.D. and 1900 A.D. (200 years) is considered Modern. In the modern period, great Yogacharyas such as Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Paramhansa Yogananda, and Swami Vivekananda have done excellent works to the development of Raja Yoga.
  • During this period, Vedanta, Bhakti Yoga, Natha Yoga, and Hatha Yoga flourished.
  • The Shadanga Yoga of Gorakshashatakam, Chaturanga Yoga of Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and Saptanga Yoga of Gheranda Samhita were the main tenets of Hatha Yoga.
  • Nowadays, people are firmly convinced that Yoga practices help preserve, maintain, and promote health.


Development of Yoga in the modern age

  • Yoga has spread all over the world through the teachings of great personalities like Swami Shivananda, Shri T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Kuvalayananda, Shri Yogendra, Swami Rama, Sri Aurobindo, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, Acharya Rajneesh, Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S Iyengar, and Swami Satyananda Saraswati.
  • These different philosophies, traditions, lineages, and Guru–Shishya paramparas of Yoga have led to the emergence of other traditional schools of Yoga –Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Dhyana Yoga, Patanjala Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Laya Yoga, Raja Yoga, Jain Yoga, Bauddha Yoga, etc.
  • Each school has its principles and practices leading to the ultimate aims and objectives of Yoga.
  • However, the widely practised Yoga Sadhanas (Practices) are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana (Meditation), Samadhi, Samyama, Bandhas and Mudras, Shatkarmas, Yukta-ahara, Yukta karma, Mantra japa, etc.
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