Yoga – A Brief History
Yoga has been practiced for around 5,000+ years. It emerged from the religious Yogis of India – who attempted to use yoga as a way to analyse their own spiritual state. Initially, yoga was a loose mix of ideas – similar to the way that it is practiced today by many people. Over time, however, yoga became more defined and different styles emerged. This branching off happened sometime in the Middle Ages, when different schools of thought about yoga began to materialize.
“The traditional purpose of Yoga, however, has always been to bring about a profound transformation in the person through the transcendence of the ego” – Yogi Georg Feuerstein
The date of origin is not what’s being discussed here, but the roots and benefits of this daily or weekly practice in the complete sense. Yoga in essence can be considered by some to hold its origin to be entirely a Hindu practice (by origin), in that it is a tradition inspired by and contained in Hindu philosophy and carried forward by Hindus alone until recent times. However, I am also aware that the origin of most things (the universe) can always be a point of discussion and opinion. So in the search for truth and open minded discussion. Feel free to add your comments below.
Yoga began with the first person wanting to be healthy and happy all the time. –Sri Swami Satchidananda
Timothy Burgin is a Kripalu & Pranakriya trained yoga instructor who has taken the time to explain Yoga’s history into it’s time periods. Bear in mind this is a western view point.
Yoga’s history has many places of obscurity and uncertainty due to its oral transmission of sacred texts and the secretive nature of its teachings. The early writings on yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves that were easily damaged, destroyed or lost. The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old old. Yoga’s long rich history can be divided into four main periods of innovation, practice and development.
The beginnings of Yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures. The most renowned of the Yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, composed around 500 B.C.E. The Upanishads took the idea of ritual sacrifice from the Vedas and internalized it, teaching the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga).
Meditation is painful in the beginning but it bestows immortal bliss and supreme joy in the end. –Swami Sivananda
In the pre-classical stage, yoga was a mishmash of various ideas, beliefs and techniques that often conflicted and contradicted each other. The Classical period is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtras, the first systematic presentation of yoga. Written some time in the second century, this text describes the path of Raja Yoga, often called “classical yoga”. Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an “eight limbed path” containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment. Patanjali is often considered the father of yoga and his Yoga-Sûtras still strongly influence most styles of modern yoga.
“Dharma (cosmic law) aims at the happiness of all creatures.”
― Paramahansa Yogananda,
A few centuries after Patanjali, yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment. They developed Tantra Yoga, with radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. This exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body centered practices led to the creation of what we primarily think of yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga.
Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom. –Buddha
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters began to travel to the West, attracting attention and followers. This began at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, when Swami Vivekananda wowed the attendees with his lectures on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions. In the 1920s and 30s, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga. Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga school in Mysore in 1924 and in 1936 Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy Ganges River. Krishnamacharya produced three students that would continue his legacy and increase the popularity of Hatha Yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois. Sivananda was a prolific author, writing over 200 books on yoga, and established nine ashrams and numerous yoga centers located around the world.
The importation of yoga to the West still continued at a trickle until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. Since then, many more western and Indian teachers have become pioneers, popularizing hatha yoga and gaining millions of followers. Hatha Yoga now has many different schools or styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of the practice.
“The deeper the Self-realization of a man, the more he influences the whole universe by his subtle spiritual vibrations, and the less he himself is affected by the phenomenal flux.”
― Paramahansa Yogananda
Michelle Goldberg is the author of The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West. Her book traces the modern Western practice of yoga to a Russian woman named Indra Devi. She was born in 1899 with the birth name Eugenia Peterson.
Devi became interested in yoga after reading about it in a book written by yogi instructor Ramacharaka. She studied the practice in India before introducing it to political leaders in Russia and Shanghai and, in 1947, bringing it to America, where her students included Hollywood celebrities like Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson. She introduced many poses which were not originally practised in yoga.
How Many Styles Of Yoga Are There?
There are lots of different types of yoga, each with their own set of distinctions. There is a common thread which runs through every style of yoga, allowing dedicated people to switch between styles until they find one that feels like a perfect fit.
An extensive list of yoga styles include:
- Vinyasa / Power
For a more in-depth look at all the different types of yoga styles, take a look at this helpful article.
Brief History of Modern Yoga Styles
Raja and Hatha yoga appeared in the 16th century. It wasn’t until the 20th century that yoga gained more widespread attention in the Western world. Nowadays, yoga is a multi-billion dollar industry with millions of practitioners around the globe. People take up yoga for a variety of reasons, such as de-stressing from their busy lives, dealing with chronic pain, low impact exercise, for its meditative benefits or for more spiritual and transcendent practices aligned with it’s initial teachings. No matter how it is practiced, it is such a positive daily or weekly ritual for people to practice and evolve into the different teachings and practices.
These two yoga styles became widely practiced. Let’s take a closer look at these branches of yoga.
Raja Yoga focuses on self-restraint and sense of mastery. This is designed to bring people closer to a higher force that is greater than them.
It teaches how the senses and thought waves in the mind (known as Vrittis) ascend so that a maximum level of concentration is reached.
The most important tenet of Raja is thought control. Self-analysis and self-observation are absolutely crucial. The yogi focuses on the chakras (astral nerve centres in the body), on the mind, and on the four elements: earth, wind, fire and water.
Through Raja, we find out what limits us in our potential and what helps our potential to grow. By focusing on the good in us, we develop our personal strength.
Hatha Yoga is the body-oriented part of Yoga. “Ha” means “the sun” and “Tha” means “moon”.
Hatha Yoga attempts to harmonise the two basic energies in our system: activating motivation and cooling tranquility.
Hatha Yoga says that the body is the temple of the soul, and should be maintained as such.
Hatha Yoga is designed to take care of the physical body through rigorous exercise and to cleanse the mind through an intense effort to rid the mind of unnecessary thoughts.
Science of Yoga
We tend to repeat fixed behavior patterns in a particular situation without giving any real thought to it.
That’s why we become so predictable, and why we tend to get bored with our routine lives. Then, to break the monotony, we seek more and more sensual pleasures.
They too, become a dull routine for us. It is said that Yoga can liberate us from this, where we finally discover that real joy was not outside, but inside of us. The real purpose of yoga, then, is to understand our relation to the universe and maintain that awareness for all waking moments.
Here at Fill Your Cup, we hope that our society evolves to be receptive enough for yoga to be part of everyone’s lives.
If you would like to collaborate, integrate or share your insights on yoga, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
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