Have you ever stopped during your Yoga class and wondered, “Where did this all begin?” or “What does Yoga actually mean?”.
The practice of Yoga is very simple and sometimes so complicated. As a practicing yoga enthusiast, it helps to understand the history of Yoga.
In this article, I will help you figure out the background of Yoga and how it came to be.
Today, over 300 million people worldwide practice yoga. It is a window into the ancient world and a gateway into modern global culture. As yoga continues to take the world by storm, it has become more than a way of life. Yoga stands as a symbol of unity. It has connected people from different nations, cultures, and beliefs. In looking at the history of this tradition, we find a vast and rich background.
The first human record of yoga can be traced to 5,000 years ago. A clay tablet from the Harappan Civilization was found by excavators. This Northern Indian relic depicted imagery of humans sitting in lotus position.
2,000 years later the next traces of yoga emerged. These were found in the form of a written collection penned by Indian sages.
The earliest known teachings of yoga are assembled in these sacred texts. They present rituals, stories, meditation instructions, songs, and mantras. These books were called the Rig Veda and the Upanishads. The scriptures are a predecessor to contemporary yoga. These books were the first texts to connect the practice of yoga to a higher spiritual being. These philosophies were largely unorganized though.
It was not until 200 B.C. that the texts would be properly codified. The sage Patanjali was credited with this grand achievement. While previous records of yoga practices existed, this was the first cohesive and uniform philosophy of yoga recorded. His writings would later be known as the yoga sutras. In modern-day, Patanjali teachings remain a major influence on all major branches of yoga.
Defining the Practice of Yoga:
So we know a little about the history of yoga, but how do we define it?
Yoga is composed of two main components.
The first component is physical practice. This deals with poses, stretches, controlled movements, and exercises. Also included in this category are relaxation techniques. Meditation and breathing techniques are two prominent examples.
The second component of yoga is concerned with spirituality and consciousness. Yoga is not merely an act of physical presence and movement. Our inner world plays a major role in this ancient tradition. Through acts of mindfulness, in both body and mind, practitioners gain an awareness of the self and connect more deeply to their being.
The duality of yoga is what distinguishes it from other spiritual traditions. It is the connection between the body and the mind that is central to yoga. The word Yoga itself means connection or unity. While yoga is primarily a spiritual discipline it is compatible with religious and non-religious people. In other words, it can be practiced by people of any belief system.
Ultimately, yoga utilizes the body’s senses, breathing techniques, physical activity, and mantras to shift the focus of the mind from the outer world to the inner world. Practitioners use these techniques to quiet the mind, still the body, and find peace and happiness in the present moment. By bringing awareness to the body and the minds of many workings, it is believed that the spirit finds rest, and a more centered self can be found. Regulation of emotion thought, and behavior also becomes possible through yoga.
What is Yoga in a Sentence?
What is the History of Yoga?
The exact origins of yoga are still unclear. This is a result of the early secrecy of yoga practices, and the difficulty in transcribing yoga from the oral tradition into written form.
In addition, many of the earliest yoga texts were destroyed or damaged. This is due to the flimsy materials used to write down the practices. Thus, while the first official record of yoga is marked at 5,000 years ago, many historians believe yoga can be traced as far back as 10,000 years.
Much remains uncertain, especially in concerns to the predecessor of yoga.
Yet, hints of its origins can be found in mythology. Some believe the practice has godly beginnings.
Lord Shiva, a god known as the destroyer of worlds, is proclaimed by some yogis as the first official yoga guru. He was said to have had seven disciples who spread the practice of yoga to the rest of the world. No true evidence of this can be found, but it makes for a fascinating story.
The Spread of Yoga to America
Yoga is well known in eastern countries, especially in its home country of India. Its rich history in eastern civilization has been well documented. Recently, however, yoga has spread worldwide. In the process, it has become a global phenomenon. In particular, westerns countries like America have adopted this ancient practice of mindfulness.
The advent of this cultural exchange first started in the 19th and 20th centuries. At this time yoga gurus began their journey to the west and brought their foreign teachings over to States. These yoga masters attracted sizable followings.
The most famous of these teachers was Swami Vivekananda.
He is often credited as the founder of western yoga movements. When he presented the teachings of yoga to a world religion fair in Chicago, he changed the future of yoga forever. By showing poses and translating the texts of yoga he shared his knowledge with the public. Swami took on many disciples during his time in America. His disciples used his teachings to continue the spread of yoga in America.
This would lead to the branch of Hatha yoga, which is still popular today. While interest was generated, yoga would not achieve mainstream popularity until the mid 20th century. Nowadays people all over America practice yoga.
The Original Purpose of Yoga:
So what is yoga used for?
At the core of yoga is a focus on the inner self and the discovery of our true nature.
Yoga calls on each of us to explore the intangible parts of our existence. This is done through a shift in perception, from outer to inner awareness. In yoga, you take time away from the external world, and our identity in that world, and look inward. We put into question everything we thought we were and search for who we could be.
In this sense, yoga is used as a tool to understand ourselves. It is thought that the better we understand ourselves, the better we know how to operate ourselves. In essence, we gain a higher sense of self and spiritual being through yoga.
Yoga isn’t about standing in fancy poses or staying still for hours on end. You can learn to still the body and perform acrobatic feats. That alone will not bring you into line with the teachings of yoga. The true purpose of yoga is to find our authentic selves. This is a self separate from what the outer world thinks we are supposed to be, and separate from our preconceived notions of ourselves. We stop identifying with the external. Instead, yogis dig down into the untapped parts of themselves. With this intent in mind, and with the addition of physical and mental practices, we tread down the path of enlightenment.
Mantras, meditation, and poses, are the technologies of yoga used to connect the physical body to our inner spiritual selves. In practicing these techniques we gain unity within our being. This connection allows practitioners to refine the mind and bring awareness to their inner and outer world. In short, the traditions of yoga ask us to open ourselves up and seek spiritual enlightenment.
How is Yoga Evolving?
In modern times, yoga has become more multifaceted. Many still practice more traditional forms of yoga, forms focusing on spirituality in connection to the physical. However, yoga has recently expanded into other realms. This can be seen in the evolution of yoga in the West. The health benefits of yoga have become a prominent focus in western practice. This new type of yoga tends to hone in on the physical aspects of the tradition, but still keeps in mind some of its spiritual tenants.
Yoga poses, stretches, breathing techniques, and mindfulness are seen as a way to treat several health ailments. Science has played a major role in shaping this side of yoga. Through the research conducted by scientists around the world, the positive effects of yoga on the body have become widely accepted.
Due to this, western health experts have started recommending yoga for the treatment of
- chronic pain,
- mental illness,
- high blood pressure,
- weight loss, and
- many other health complications.
Stress reduction seems to be a leading factor in the influx of new yoga practitioners.
On the less serious side, yoga is also being viewed as a way to get the body into physical shape. As a fitness activity, yoga can be used to build up physical strength and flexibility. Gyms across the country offer yoga classes as a form of trendy fitness and a fun way to relax.
Why You Should Try Yoga:
While the practice of yoga has changed and morphed over the years, it still works as an effective cultural vehicle, promoting the importance of mental and physical health. As a movement, it acts as a tool to collectively heal the mind and the body. Modern life had become more hectic and fast-paced over the years. Yoga, in any of its iterations, works to detach us from the trappings of a global society that shows no signs of slowing down. So whether you are looking for a new way to work out, a way to become more spiritual, or a way to improve your health, yoga is a must-try.
Let me know what you think of this brief reference guide to the history of Yoga in the comments section below.