About one in seven US adults have practiced yoga in the past year. Many people practice yoga to reduce stress, improve their sleep, or improve their overall health. Despite the growing popularity surrounding this ancient practice, many people have never heard the rich history of yoga.
Where did yoga originate, how did it spread, and what has yoga become since it began?
Keep reading to learn facts about yoga you’ve likely never heard before! Stretch your knowledge and learn about yoga around the world with this guide.
Yoga is a complex, ancient practice that traces back to Indian philosophy. It first began as a spiritual practice. Today, however, it’s become a popular means of improving your mental and physical health.
The earliest writings about yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves. Unfortunately, those leaves have since become damaged, lost, or destroyed.
We can trace the roots of yoga back over 5,000 years. However, some researches even think that yoga is up to 10,000 years old.
India’s ancient religious texts, called Vedas, were written in the Indo-European language Sanskrit. This language produced the literature and many of the techniques we now associate with yoga.
The word Sanskrit means refined, well-formed, polished, or perfected. Today, many of these terms are connected to the clarity we experience when practicing yoga.
The Sanskrit word “yoga” is translated in a few different ways. The word yoga was derived from the root “yug,” which once meant “to hitch up.” This previously referred to attaching horses to a vehicle.
Another definition is “to put to active and purposeful use” or “join.” These translations are meant to describe yoga as a method of unity or discipline.
Today, we call male yoga practitioners a yogi or yogin and a female practitioner a yogini.
The Yoga Sutra
Yoga originated from the oral tradition of teaching between a student and teacher directly. The first person to collate these oral teachings was the Indian sage Patanjali. He crafted the Yoga Sutra, which is a 2,000-year-old written work on yogic philosophy.
The collection includes 195 statements. It’s considered a philosophical guidebook for dealing with the challenges we experience as humans.
The Yoga Sutra created the framework that has since developed into current yoga practices. The collection provides guidance on how to master the mind and emotions to develop spiritual growth.
The word “sutra” means “thread,” though it’s also translated as “aphorism,” which means a tersely phrased truth. The term “sutra” can also mean a conversation of knowledge composed into the most concise description possible.
With this in mind, the art and science of yoga are like a tapestry woven from the threads of universal truths.
We can split the history of yoga into pre-classical, classical, and post-classical periods.
The pre-classical yoga history developed as Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) studied the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. They documented their studies, practices, and beliefs in the Upanishads. This work now contains over 200 scriptures.
The most popular Yogic scripture is the Bhagavad-Gîtâ. It was composed around 500 BCE.
The Upanishads recognized the ritual sacrifices mentioned in the Vedas and internalized it. They taught early yoga practitioners to sacrifice the ego through action, wisdom, and self-knowledge.
During this period, yoga was considered a melting pot of different beliefs, techniques, and ideas. However, many of these techniques conflict and contradict each other. It wasn’t until the classical period that yoga practices began to clearly develop.
The classical period in the history of yoga is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtras. As the first systematic presentation of yoga, the text describes the path of Raja Yoga, which is referred to as classical yoga.
Patanjali framed yoga as an eight-limbed path that required steps and stages. These steps are designed to help us obtain Samadhi, or enlightenment.
As a result, Patanjali is often considered the father of yoga. Many of his yogis influenced the style of modern yoga we’re familiar with today.
A few centuries after the classical period in yoga history, yoga masters began developing a new system. This post-classical system of practices was designed to rejuvenate the body while prolonging life.
These post-classical yogis in yoga history rejected the ancient Vedas teachings. Instead, they embraced methods that used the physical body to achieve enlightenment.
These yogis developed Tantra Yoga. Their radical techniques were developed to cleanse both mind and body from negative energies. The goal of Tantra Yoga was to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence.
Post-classical yogis explored physical/spiritual connections and utilized body-centric practices. Their teachings eventually paved the way toward the yoga practiced we’re familiar with today.
We started to see yoga around the world during the late 1800s and 1900s. Yoga masters traveled west, attracting new followers.
At the 1893 Parliament of Religions held in Chicago, Swami Vivekananda hosted a lecture regarding yoga and the universality of the world’s religions.
In the 1920s, Hatha Yoga was promoted across India. Soon, the first Hatha Yoga school would open in Mysore. A few years later, the Divine Life Society opened its doors.
These moments in yoga history lead to numerous yoga centers throughout the world. As yoga began picking up popularity in the west, the practices began to develop more clarity.
Today, yoga is practiced with an emphasis on physical postures (asanas) and breathing techniques (pranayama). Meditation (dhyana) is an essential element in modern practices as well.
Many people are starting to pick up yoga for themselves. Today, 74% of yoga practitioners have practiced for five years or less.
Yoga might help:
- Improve general wellness
- Reduce stress
- Support good health habits
- Improve mental and emotional health
- Support sleep
- Reduce back and neck pain
- Relieve menopause symptoms
- Help people with depressive or anxiety symptoms
However, many studies on the health benefits of yoga were completed using small groups. As a result, it’s important to note that yoga shows promise in offering these benefits; it’s not yet proven.
More people are seeking a private yoga teacher to help them experience these benefits themselves. By picking up yoga, you can develop techniques that can help ease your stress and improve your overall well-being.
The History of Yoga: A Rich History into Practicing Wellness
The history of yoga spans across the world. As yoga developed over the years, more people are utilizing the practice to improve the body and mind.
Searching for more ways to live a happier, healthier life? Explore the Health & Wellbeing section of the blog today!