As per dictionaries, the term ‘yoga’ defines itself as a discipline or a practice that is spiritual in nature and thrives on bringing out a harmonic relationship between mind and body.
It is also distinguished as a scientific art form of healthy living. So, now you might be wondering why ‘scientific’?
Well, yoga is based on subtle sciences so to say. The term ‘yoga’ is derived from a Sanskrit root word ‘Yuj’ which literally means ‘to join’ or ‘to unite’.
Indian historic scriptures reveal that practicing yoga leads to a balanced and healthy co-existence of mind and body and man and nature which is achieved by ‘joining’ or ‘uniting’ individual consciousness to that of something called the ‘Universal Consciousness’.
Yoga practitioners claim that it is a discipline that helps an individual to attain ‘moksha’ or Mukti which is a state of freedom and nirvana when one experiences oneness with the superior forces of the universe- and a person who has attained that is called a ‘yogi’.
Thus, the fundamental groundwork of yoga is all about freeing oneself from worldly attachments and suffering, living a healthy and harmonious life through self-realization and finally achieve the ‘ultimate state of liberation’- Moksha.
History and Origin of Yoga in a Brief:
The core values and discipline of yoga which is referred to as ‘Yoga Sadhana’, is said to have originated back in the 2700 B.C in the Indus Saraswati Valley Civilization. It is believed that yoga is as ancient since man started living in civilizations and therefore has its origin dated back thousands and thousands of years ago even before the birth of religions or belief systems.
As per the folklores, it was Lord Shiva who was the first yogi (Adiyogi) and therefore he is considered to be the first Guru of Yoga and hence is often referred to as Adi Guru.
The origin of Yoga is sufficed with a mythological story where it is said and believed that the Adiyogi (Lord Shiva) was meditating alongside the banks of a lake in the Himalayas when he shared his profound knowledge with the ‘seven sages’ who we know as the ‘Saptarishis’.
It was these seven sages who brought and carried forward this knowledge to different parts of the world including India. It is also said, that one of the seven sages, Rishi Agastya traveled the lengths and breadths of the subcontinent and established a distinct culture of a yogic way of life.
Therefore, it was here in India that this knowledge found its fullest expression and that trickled down through generations. Relics, seals, and fossils have been discovered by modern historians who suggest that this story could actually be true and also that yoga existed in India even thousands and thousands of years ago.
Over the years pieces of evidence have been found which suggest that yoga could have existed even before the pre-Vedic era because of their expansive mentions in the Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis, Puranas and also in various religious texts and epics of Buddhism, Jainism, Panini, etc.
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Development of Yoga:
Yoga is a subject that still remains obscure and uncertain mainly because of its oral transmission. However, its development can be traced back to a time which was around 5000 to 10000 years ago and then it was further divided into two broad periods in terms of its innovation, practice, and development. Let’s dig a little deeper into these and find out a little more.
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The Classical Yoga Period:
The classical yoga period roughly existed between 500 B.C and 800 B.C and this was the time when the innovations of yoga took place. Therefore, this was the most crucial time of the history of yoga.
It was during this time that the term ‘yoga’ was mentioned in one of the oldest sacred texts of the Hindus- the Rig Veda and over the years that followed, Brahmans and Muni Rishis developed and polished this whole concept and documented their knowledge and beliefs in the Upanishads.
The Bhagavad Gita which was written in 500 B.C has the most number of yogic scriptures and all of these documentaries explain how one can let go of the ego and be in sync with the universe. And that will be achieved only through self-realization, action, knowledge and most importantly through wisdom.
In the earlier days of the classical period, the concept of yoga put down in scriptures was a little disoriented and conflicted. It was during the middle phase that Patanjali, the father of yoga, gave a systematic and organized representation to yoga in his Yoga Sutras which have a great influence on modern-day yoga even today.
The Patanjali Yoga Sutras describes something called the ‘Classical Yoga’ which is also known as the Raja Yoga while sketching out of the ‘eight-limbed path’, its steps and stages which help yoga practitioners to attain Nirvana.
Ain the latter years of the classical period, which was post-Patanjali, various yoga masters, got together and innovated with yoga practices and came up with new concepts that would align the human body and mind. They believed in the ancient teachings of yoga but even rejected a few and brought into consideration that enlightenment could be achieved through our physical body itself. They even came up with Tantra Yoga which is believed to cleanse our body and mind by rejuvenating our physical existence.
These new innovations, discoveries, and explorations brought about a new kind of yoga in the West which is known as the Hatha Yoga and this particular form of yoga connects the physical body to the spiritual mind through practices that are centered in our body.
The Modern Yoga Period:
It is the latter century of the 1800s and early 1900s that is classified as the modern yoga period where yoga masters traveled far and wide and to the West where they attracted most of the followers.
It was Swami Vivekananda who began imparting the knowledge of yoga and the universal quality of world religions to people and it was then that Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India by T. Krishnamacharya. In 1924 T. Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga school in Mysore and later in 1936, a man named Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of River Ganga.
T.Krishnamacharya raised and imparted his knowledge to three students who carried on with their legacy and brought in more popularity to Hatha Yoga all over the world while Sivananda continued writing books and established various ashramas and yoga centers all over the world.
All this while, the popularity and the knowledge of Hatha Yoga trickled down through generations just as knowledge and did not receive an established entity until a woman named Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in the year 1947.
Since then there was no stop to the increasing popularity of not only Hatha Yoga but general yoga too. Numbers of followers increased and along with that came out pioneers of yoga reaching out to different parts of the world which in turn led to new schools and styles of Hatha Yoga and each of these schools and styles gave importance to the various kinds of aspects of the practice.