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Yoga is believed to have started when civilization began several thousand years ago. It is believed to have originated even before the first religion. Shiva is the first yogi or “Adiyogi”, and the first Guru or Adi Guru.
As per the legend, the “Saptarishi” or seven monks or sages were given the profound knowledge of Yoga by the “Adiyogi”. It was passed onto them verbally and they carried the rich knowledge to all the known continents of today.
Agastya muni, one of the Saptarishi, is believed to have travelled across the subcontinent and spread the yogic culture. Yogic science is said to have bloomed to potential only in India.
Numerous fossils of seals of Indus Saraswati valley civilization with Yogic figures performing Yoga Asanas suggest the presence of Yoga in ancient India. Tantra Yoga is depicted in the phallic symbols, seals of idols of mother Goddesses. Yoga was practiced un
der the direct guidance of Guru and its spiritual value was given special importance. Upasana and yoga sadhana was inbuilt in their rituals. Sine the Sun had the highest importance during the vedic period, ‘Surya Namaskara’ may have been invented during this period.
Pranayama was practiced daily as a ritual. Maharshi Patanjali, a great sage, systematized and codified the existing practices of Yoga. After Patanjali, many Sages and Yoga Masters contributed greatly towards the preservation and development of Yoga through their practices and literature.
Hence, the rich history of Yoga can be divided into 4 basic development stages
- Pre-Classical Yoga
In 2700 BC, the first pre-Vedic evidences of Yoga were seen from the literature durin
g this period. These were mainly Rig Ved, Atharva Ved, Sama Ved, Yajur Ved, Upanishads, Buddhism, Jainism, Panini, Ramayana, Mahabharata, The Puranas, and The Bhagvad Gita.
Yoga is assumed to have its beginning in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India more than 6000 years ago. Rig Ved had the first mention of the word “Yoga”.
The Upanishads are a humongous collection over 200 scriptures done by Brahmans and Rishis for the purpose of documenting Yoga in its refined form. Bhagvad Gita is the most famous of these Yogic scritures and was composed around 500-600 B.C.
- Classical Yoga
500 BC – 800 A.D. is the Classical period and the most prominent period in the history for the development of Yoga. The narratives of Vyasa on Yoga Sutras and Bhagawadgita were written in this period. Buddha and Mahavir established the 2 great religions of Buddhism and Jainism during this period. Mahavir introduced the concept of 5 vows (Pancha Magga) and Buddha introduced 8-fold path (Ashta Magga). These are considered as the sutras of Yoga sadhana.
It is better explained in Bhagvad Gita and it elaborates concept of Gyan yoga, Bhakti yoga and Karma Yoga, which are 3 types of Yoga and the highest example of human wisdom, leading towards peace even in the modern age. Patanjali introduced the “eight limbed path” leading towards Samadhi or enlightenment through Yoga and hence, he is often considered as the father of Yoga.
- Post Classical Yoga
800 A.D. – 1700 A.D. is the Post Classical period wherein the teachings of many prominent Rishis came ot the forefront. Acharyatrayas Adi Shankracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhavacharya, Suradasa, Tulasidasa, Purandardasa, Mirabai were the great contributors during this period.
Several centuries after Patanjali, a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life were developed by Yoga Masters, rejecting the learnings from Vedas and embraced. They considered the body as the means of achieving enlightenment. This was Tantra Yoga, which radicalized the art of cleansing the mind and body. This merged exploration of physical & spiritual connections lead to the creation of Hatha Yoga in the West. It was also popularized by the Natha Yogis of Hathayoga Tradition like Matsyendaranatha, Swatmaram Suri, Gheranda, Shrinivasa Bhatt, Gorkshanatha, Cauranginatha.
- Modern Yoga
1700 – 1900 A.D. is the Modern period. Great sages who were experts in Yoga Asanas were called Yogacharyas. Yogacharyas like Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Paramhansa Yogananda, and Vivekananda contributed towards the development of Raja Yoga during a time when Vedanta, Bhakti yoga, Nathayoga or Hatha-yoga flourished.
The 1800s and 1900s saw the Yoga masters travelling to the West to spread the wisdom of Yoga. They attracted great following and support.. The first such occasion was In 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, where Swami Vivekananda wowed the attendees with his lectures on Yoga and the universality of the world’s religions. Between 1920-1930, T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda greatly promoted Hatha Yoga. In 1947, in Hollywood, Indra Devi opened her Yoga studio, which pioneered Yoga popularization.