History of Yoga

For serious practitioners and super enthusiasts

In yogic culture, Lord Shiva, the Hindu deity is considered to be the Adi Yogi meaning the first yogi. He is also called Yosheshwara, Lord of Yoga, being the first yoga teacher and guru. Shiva created the science of yoga and taught it to his wife Parvati and later to the seven ancient rishis, his disciples, 15,000 years ago in the Himalayas. Thus yoga was passed on to the rest of mankind.

Depictions of yoga postures have been found in excavations at Harappa and Mohenjodaro, ancient civilizations of the Indus River dating back 2500 BCE. The first mention of the word “yoga” was in the Rig Vedathe oldest sacred text of Hinduism written around 1500 BCEVeda in Sanskrit translates as knowledge. Knowledge of life. The Rig Veda gives the first known definition of yoga. Derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, it means “to yoke” or “to join”. Yoga then was a spiritual practice which aimed to create union between body, mind and soul as well as between the Individual Self and Universal Consciousness. In other words, to be one with the Supreme Being. Later texts like the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita expounded the spiritual aspects of yoga in greater detail and translated them into practical teachings.

Around 200 CE (the date varies among sources), the sage Patanjali who is known as the father of modern yoga codified all aspects of yoga into a format known as the Yoga Sutras which is a collection of 195 sutras or verses. “Sutra” means thread in Sanskrit. He presented classical yoga in an 8 limbed path that was supposed to lead to the final goal of Samadhi or Enlightenment. It served as a practical guide on one’s spiritual journey to find peace and freedom from suffering. The physical aspects of yoga and the practice of poses were to prepare one to sit for long hours for meditation.

Hatha yoga texts on the practice of physical yoga poses began to emerge sometime between the 9th and 11th century with origins in Tantra. Yoga masters created a system of practices to cleanse, purify and rejuvenate the body combining asana (poses), mantra, mudra, and bandha (energy locks) and chakra (energy centres). They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve Enlightenment. 
Then in the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters began to travel to the West attracting a lot of attention and followers. In 1893, a Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda arrived in America and gave lectures on yoga and the Hindu philosophy focusing on the practices of pranayama (breathwork), meditation and spiritual practices.

T. Krishnamacharya was a major influence on modern yoga and what we understand of it as a physical practice. He was responsible for the popularity of Hatha Yoga around 1920, establishing the first Hatha Yoga school in Mysore, India and contributed to the popularity of Hatha yoga both in the West and the East. His students like BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, Desikachar and Indra Devi (the first female student) popularised yoga further.

Krishnamacharya’s style of yoga was a blend of Hatha Yoga, British military training exercises and Indian gymanastics. That led to the dynamic asana practice now known as Ashtanga Yoga which had a huge influence on the development of Vinyasa and Power Yoga. Then in 1936, Swami Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy Ganges River. In 1947, Indra Devi opened her own yoga studio in Hollywood which sped up the growth of yoga and the development of different yoga styles in the West.

What started as a powerful Indian philosophy and spiritual practice morphed into a physical practice through the influence of various individuals. Now yoga and its various styles have achieved massive popularity throughout the world. 

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