History of Yoga
I am a person of random thoughts. Any thought can hit me anytime, irrelevant of time and space. A few years back I was in my yoga class and a random thought hit me yet again. It was: who must have really thought about this art of body poses, meditation and how did they know that putting your legs behind your back can help you in any way. Yeah….Just a random thought.
Afterward, I started studying yoga thoroughly and came to know that it has a long enriching history. Well, it should’ve been obvious to me before because it’s like a thousand years old art, how’s it possible to survive and flourish so long without creating any history.
Let us try to be more acquainted with yoga and its history all along.
Yoga and its meaning:
Before analyzing the history of yoga, let us understand the meaning of yoga.
If you will Google the meaning of yoga, you will get various meanings and definitions. There are so many definitions of yoga in Bhagavad Gita itself. These are:
- "Yoga is said to be equanimity"
- "Know that which is called yoga to be separation from contact with suffering"
According to Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, “Yoga is the suppression of the activities of the mind.”
Another one from Vaisesika Sutra, “Pleasure and suffering arise as a result of the drawing together of the sense organs, the mind, and objects. When that does not happen because the mind is in the self, there is no pleasure or suffering for one who is embodied. That is yoga.”
You will notice one thing in all the above definitions that these are India regional traditions and philosophical yoga definitions. There is almost negligible mention of the physical aspect of yoga, the way it is promoted in the western countries. Hence, I have said it once, I’ll say it again; Yoga is for everyone irrespective of size, shape, deformity, and disability, etc.
Origin of Yoga
There is no definite known origin of yoga. It is said that yoga started with the first civilization itself, long before the establishment of any faith or religion. However, it is estimated that yoga is at least eight to ten thousand years old.
History of Yoga On The Basis Of Yoga Time Periods
As we know, Yoga is thousands of years old and so evidently from time to time; it must have had some changes or improvement. So to get a better picture, how yoga evolved during all course of time, let us briefly go through the time periods.
The history of yoga can be broadly categorized in four periods. These are
- Pre-Classical Yoga Period
- Classical Yoga Period
- Post-Classical Yoga Period
- Modern Yoga Period
Pre-Classical Yoga Period
Yoga is widely believed to be originated in Indus Valley Civilization. It is believed that Rig Veda was the first sacred text in which the word “yoga” was mentioned. Also, in the Pre-Classical Yoga Period, the mighty sages advanced and polished yoga. All their principles, practices and ideas were documented in the Upanishads which includes more than 200 scriptures. Though, the Upanishads took many ideas from the Vedas like Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga.
Classical Yoga Period
The Classical Yoga Period is widely known for the conception of The Yoga Sutras. Its aim was to normalize and characterize Classical Yoga. Besides, Patanjali, the writer of the Yoga Sutras, was the first to provide organized, efficient and methodical management or presentation of yoga.
In his work, he focused on eight limbs of yoga. They are:
- Yama- constraints
- Niyama- observances
- Asana- physical exercises
- Pranayama- control of breathing
- Pratyahara- the sense of extraction
- Dharana- concentration
- Dhyana- meditation
- Samadhi- ecstasy
Post-Classical Yoga Period
Post-Classical Yoga Period had a lot of shifts than Pre Classical and Classical Period. In this, a practitioner was not supposed to seek liberation from his\her faults or weakness. Rather, he\she was taught to accept it and live their life. The connection between physicality and spirituality was explored in this yoga period.
Maharishi Mahesh and Guru Sivananda were few of the teachers who popularized yoga practice in this time period.
Modern Yoga Period
This period belongs to very recent times. Modern yoga generally consists of practicing postures or Asanas, Vinyasas, Pranayama, and Meditation. As you must have observed, the physical aspect of yoga was never a central focus in any period. However, in the Modern period, these practices are the core of modern yoga. Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and Iyengar Yoga created by Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar respectively under Modern Yoga. There are near one thousand yoga asanas exercised in Modern yoga.
Yoga has a glorious history. Its approach and ways have changed over the years. Moreover, it is all the process an uphill struggle in the past that gives yoga the widespread recognition it deserves and gets today. So keep learning and keep practicing yoga.
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