History of Yoga
The true history of yoga is shrouded in mystery. There is no way to tell exactly how long this ancient tradition has been practiced. We understand that yoga evolved in the East from ancient texts known as the Vedas. These four spiritual scriptures detail postures and experiences which define yoga even today. Classic Hindu literature dates the Veda back almost ten thousand years. How long yoga was practiced prior to that, might always be unknown.
Modern yoga is thought to have evolved in the past five thousand years. Typically associated with ancient Indian culture, yoga is mentioned in the Mahabharata and in the most famous of Hindu scriptures, the Bhagavad Gita. These writings are among the most influencial “textbooks” of yoga. The Bhagavad Gita chronicles the teachings of Lord Krishna as he instructs a young warrior. These teachings include discussion on bhatiki yoga, karma yoga and jnana yoga among others. Together, all styles of yoga are combined to create fluidity between the soul, the body and the mind.
The Yoga Sutras of Maharishi Patanjali are considered the first presentation of the technical forms of yoga positions. These sutras or threads are thought to date back 2500 years or more. Included in the text are the most prominent yogic practices and the Ashtanga or eight-limbed system. Each limb of the system represents an achievement in yoga. Cleanliness, posture, ethics, sense withdrawal, breath control, concentration, meditation, and oneness, are all represented in Ashtanga Yoga. For many centuries, yoga was passed down as an oral tradition. Ashrams or hermitages were located in secluded forests hidden from the average person. Each teacher allowed only one student to learn yogic principles and the knowledge passed slowly from generation to generation.
In the late 16th century, yoga began to evolve from a more spiritualistic practice to the modern version that is commonly taught today. This new version of the yogic principles concentrates on developing a healthy, strong and flexible body, with less importance placed on spiritual development. The interest in yoga declined steadily until the emergence of several prominent teachers or yogis. In the late 1800s, Indian gurus combined yoga styles to create a practice which appealed more to the new generation. Gone were the lengthy meditative practices and in their place, a new physically challenging yoga emerged.
Today’s yoga incorporates ancient meditation styles and poses with modern marketing techniques. The exercise industry incorporates yoga into a healthy physical activity for weight-loss and blood pressure reduction. The practice of yoga has traveled the world and become popular with almost every culture imaginable. Yoga studios and teachers are available in almost every nation and especially in the Western world. This combination of Eastern philosophy and Western marketing has created a yoga that is vastly different from its humble origins. Evolving in its appeal to the masses has allowed yoga to stand beside modern exercise techniques as an equal.
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