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History of Yoga: Origin & Evolution

History of Yoga: Origin & Evolution

“Yoga is like music: the rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind, and the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

When delving into the subject of yoga, one's initial thoughts often goes towards yoga history, the origin of yoga, and the individual who first introduced it.

Yoga can be divided into ancient history and modern history. Ancient history dates back to over 10,000 years, while modern history dates back 100-150 years. It was after the industrial revolution that things changed. It was around that time that yoga began to be practiced for health purposes (around 100 years ago), and it is categorized as modern history. Noticeable changes have been observed over a period of time with yoga going on to become a health and well-being practice.

A Brief Introduction About the History of Yoga

The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred text, the Rig Veda, and there is a historical, educational and traditional background to the study of yoga. Let us dive deeper into the history of yoga to understand more about it.

A union of the mind and body (calm mind = calm body)

Yoga is the art and science intimately linked to the coming together of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. The term Yoga has its roots in the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’, which stands for a union. This union of the mind and body presents a human being’s relationship with nature. In our busy lives, our connection with other beings and consequently with nature is lost.

By taking a minute and simply breathing the right way, we can understand and reconnect with nature and the universal consciousness. The controlled yogic breathing called Pranayama, stimulates life energies.

Yoga brings an individual closer to nature and to their own higher natural state (think when you are/imagine yourself trekking in the mountains or swimming in the ocean). It attunes one to become one with all. Many yoga poses are named after nature and animals like the cat pose, the snake pose, the eagle pose, the lion pose and the mountain pose, which help us connect through movement, breath, and meditation.

Those who have experienced the joys of yoga, talk about the importance of the mind to the yoga path. Can our mind, which is always muddled with worldly distractions, ever achieve the detachment that yoga requires?

Well, the origin of this ancient practice goes back to the sacred realm. Only in the mind of an immortal could such a practice conceptualise.

A Divine Origin (definitely not scarred by human distractions)

The history of Yoga takes us back to the northern India region about thousands of years ago. We first come across the word ‘yoga’ in one of the four sacred texts of Hinduism, the Rig Veda. The exotic ancient paintings and carvings of the period throw light on the existence of yoga during this time. Figures resembling Lord Shiva (Pashupati) and his consort Parvati depict different yogic asanas and meditative postures.  

According to legend, it was Lord Shiva’s desire to enlighten and remind his wife Parvati about her real self that led him to introduce her to yoga. While Shiva was doing so, Nandi – the mount of Lord Shiva and his greatest disciple— overheard some of the teachings and passed it onto humans. Lord Shiva is considered the first yogi as per the Nath sect and hence called Adinatha.

History of Yoga

Then Come the Saptarishis (Seven Sages)

The legend then goes that Parvati too found it difficult to keep this secret art to herself and passed it on to Lord Brahma, the ultimate creator. Brahma, in turn, taught yoga to his sons Narada and Sanat Kumaras (the five sages who were cursed to become kids for the rest of their lives). And finally, this knowledge reached the seven sages or saptarishis of ancient India! The seven sages are extolled as the most revered and knowledgeable in the ancient Indian texts. And then it was the rishis who finally recorded this once-secret knowledge in the Upanishads, a series of over 2000 Hindu philosophical-religious sacred scriptures.

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The Father of Modern Yoga: Sage Patanjali

The credit for creating a systematic version of yoga, making it accessible to regular people goes to sage Patanjali. The Patanjali Yoga Sutras, known as the classical yoga text, dates back to around 2500 years ago, around the time of the Buddha. Sage Patanjali composed this form of yoga between 500 BCE and 400 CE. The Sutras are the earliest organized representation of yoga. Such was the popularity of this text that it became the most translated text of ancient India! Like all things amazing, yoga did lose popularity for a great many years but was revived in the late 19th century by many indian revivalists like Swami Vivekananda etc. For those interested in finding out about the history of the yoga philosophy of yoga, the Patanjali Yoga Sutras is the scripture to read.

Sage Patanjali

The Vedas and Upanishads

After this came the Vedic and Upanishad period, which is said to be at least 40,000 - 10,000 BCE. During this time several elements were very important, such as the stars and position of the constellation, rivers and the flow of the water. These elements appear in several vedic mantras too. So, when you trace this back, you get an idea of how old the vedas are. It was through satellite images that many could tell exactly how old these vedas are. 

The Vedas are ritualistic. Nobody questioned it or discussed it. It was practiced from generation to generation without questioning it. The Upanishads, on the other hand, signify sitting next to a Guru to learn and understand concepts that a student would not be able to grasp on their own. It is about sitting close to the Guru for hours to discuss and even debate a subject. Some of the Upanishads were written as recent as 300-400 years ago. The Upanishads were classified based on their subject matter, such as yoga Upanishads, Sankhya Upanishads, etc. Breath, pranayama, and several other yoga practices were already mentioned in the Upanishads. Questions such as what prana does, what is panchkoshas, why is it significant, etc. are all there in the Upanishads. 

It is also important to note Sankhya, the mother philosophy of yoga. It is one of the six Indian philosophies. It is also known as Shad Darshanas. It is based on the dualistic philosophy and it is rooted in the Vedas, Upanidhas and Bhagavad Gita. 

The Bhagavad Gita and Yoga

The Bhagavad Gita, clearly the most popular holy scripture of Hinduism, is also the most famous Yogic scripture of all times. The word yoga, yogi, yogeshwara frequently occurs in the Gita. The Gita is a text on yoga. This was around 5000 BCE, 7000 years ago. Sri Krishna gives Arjuna several options, which are the streams of yoga, to solve his confusion and indecisiveness. Not only hindus but people worldwide look at Gita for answers related to life and its purpose. From Einstein to Eliot to Emerson to Will Smith to Steve Jobs and popular Western philosophers have drawn inspiration from the teachings of the Gita. The Gita consists of Hindu ideals of dharma (duty), bhakti (worship), karma (actions), moksha (liberation of the soul). The Gita illuminates the path for many; simplifying difficulties by teaching us how to live life. Chapter six of the Bhagwad Gita talks about the Classical yoga text, that is, the yoga sutras and it also mentions asanas.

Bhagavad Gita

Rise of the Remarkable Ashtanga Yoga

The ancient texts were in Sanskrit, the language of the learned, and the practice was limited to those who renounced the world for higher purpose. In addition, the level of concentration and dedication required to attain the ultimate state of trance or samadhi made it impossible for ordinary people and householders to become expert yogis. They also failed to get detached from worldly things and relations.

However, Patanjali, also considered the father of yoga, created a system that everyone could follow. This was centuries after the Bhagavad Gita, around 400 BC. It takes the practitioner towards the ultimate goal of self-realization step by step or limb by limb. Sage Patanjali popularized this ancient sacred practice, making it accessible to the common folk with his systematized Ashtanga or eight limb yoga. And Shavsa has brought it to your living room in its purest and most practical form.

These eight limbs of yoga are are: ethics (yama), discipline (niyama), yoga postures (asana), breath control (pranayama), withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and absorption or trance or nirvana (samadhi).

Yoga Scripture

The Nath Yogis from Gorakhpur 

Shiva is said to be the founder, however we hear the name Adinatha, who is Shiva. There is a lineage starting from Matsyendranath, and then several others mentioned in many Hatha Yoga texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Tantric practices were popular during this time. Hatha texts were unorthodox, and not mainstream practices like the Sutras. It was only around 1000 years ago when these texts were compiled. 

Hatha Yoga: When the Sun and the Moon Intertwine

The forms of yoga most popular in the western world can all be traced to Hatha Yoga. At the basic level, Hatha Yoga involves achieving the perfect balance between the two forces of existence. ‘Ha’ stands for the sun, while ‘tha’ stands for the moon. The Pingala (solar energy) and Ida (lunar energy) within us are brought into harmony to create awareness for a higher consciousness. Ida comes up from the left side of the spine ending at the left nostril. Pingala is a reflection of Ida, ending up at the right nostril. While Pingala depicts the solar energy, with its warmth, extroverted, masculinity; Ida depicts the lunar energy, which is cool, feminine, and comforting.

In the history of yoga, the process of Hatha Yoga starts by working the body with asanas. This is followed by pranayama, followed by meditation, and finally, you achieve the ideal state of higher consciousness (all worth the hype you thought yoga was all about)!

Yoga as we Know it Today

Ashtanga Yoga as laid down by sage Patanjali is the inspiration of modern-day yoga. At the centre of this philosophy are asanas. Yes, the same asanas that are so easily available to us today!  These very asanas paved the way to samadhi, the ultimate enlightenment, through sage Patanjali’s ‘eight-limbed path’. Most of the yoga practices today are a spin-off of this path. Therefore, sage Patanjali is called the father of modern yoga.

Relax and Breathe

Pranayama is the practice of breath control and regulation in yoga, creating a free flow of energy. Etymologically, it comes from the Sanskrit root Prana (life energy) and Ayama (to draw out). Pranayama is the fourth limb and an essential part of Patanjali’s eight-limb path of yoga as stated in the history of yoga.

While most modern yoga practices focus on Hatha Yoga and Asanas, the most ancient practices only focused on pranayama and mediation alone to achieve the ultimate state of awareness. So, breathe in and let your worries out.

What Your Body Tells You

Your body speaks with movements. In literal terms, asanas are nothing but body postures. The typical meditation pose in a sitting position is the most basic form of asana. Hatha Yoga, the new type of yoga to take over the world of yoga is nothing but an extended form of asanas and in more recent times, exercise poses where one can recline, balance, twist, stand and invert. To achieve the ultimate goal through yoga, asanas should come naturally to you natural and make you feel comfortable. Definitely not the complex web of poses that they appear to be! There are 840,000,000 asanas, and Hatha yoga alone has 84. At Shvasa, we teach more than 500 asanas, how to safely practice them and their benefits. In time, many new asanas have come up to suit modern-day practitioners by yoga experts such as  Yogendra, Kuvalayananda, and Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois, and B.K.S. Iyengar. These experts promoted yoga and took it to the western world as recently as a century back.


Asanas for Chakras

The relevance of asanas in our modern world has been remarkable. Asanas are linked to our emotions. The state of our mind often reflects in our postures. This is how by working on our asanas, we can change our feelings, thinking and understanding. You can activate the energy points with asanas or chakras of the body, giving the body the ability to work magnificently. The way it is supposed to! The correct practice of asanas and kriyas stimulate the kundalini points, paving the way for obstruction-free flowing of energy through the body. Yoga harmonises the mind and the body in a perfect union. It stimulates various parts of the nervous system such as the parasympathetic systems too.

However this practice is used very loosely in modern time, to stimulate the chakras to allow the kundalini chakras to rise takes years of concentration and practice.

Asanas for Chakras

Yoga indeed is an endowment of the sacred realm. Shvasa's LIVE online yoga classes are established in sage Patanjali’s original eight limb yoga. Our masters are trained in the Himalayan ashrams, make the most of this extraordinary gift accessible to you through our unique live classes. So why chase dreams when Shvasa yoga is here to offer you the real slice of ‘heaven on earth’ in the western world as recently as a century back.

Who is the father of yoga history?
The "father of yoga" is often referred to as Patanjali, a sage in ancient India who is believed to have lived sometime between the second century BCE and the fifth century CE. Although little is known about him, Patanjali is credited with compiling and systematizing the knowledge of yoga into a text known as the Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras is a collection of 196 aphorisms that provide a philosophical guidebook for most of the yoga that is practiced today. It covers not only the philosophy and aim of yoga, but also the methods and techniques to achieve the states of consciousness that yoga practices aim for.
What is the history of yoga in Indian culture?
Yoga's history in Indian culture is deep and expansive, dating back over 5,000 years. It was first mentioned in the Rig Veda, one of the oldest sacred texts in the world, but it was in the Upanishads, another set of ancient Indian scriptures, where the philosophy of yoga began to take shape, emphasizing the unity of all life and the pursuit of self-realization. This philosophy was further developed in the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, two foundational texts in the yoga tradition. Over the centuries, yoga evolved and diversified into various schools and practices within the major Indian religious and philosophical traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. In medieval times, Hatha Yoga emerged, emphasizing physical postures and breath control. During the British colonial era, yoga experienced a decline but saw a re vival in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, led by figures like Swami Vivekananda.
What is the history of yoga and its benefits?
Yoga originated in ancient India over 5,000 years ago as a philosophical and spiritual practice. It was a significant aspect of several Indian philosophical systems, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, where it was used to promote spiritual growth and understanding. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, figures like Swami Vivekananda and Tirumalai Krishnamacharya helped introduce yoga to the Western world, where it eventually evolved into a popular form of physical exercise and stress management. While the philosophical and spiritual aspects of yoga remain important to many practitioners, yoga in the West is often associated with postures or "asanas," which are used to promote flexibility, strength, and balance. The benefits of yoga are vast. Regular practice can lead to improvements in physical health, including increased flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular health. It's also associated with improved mental health, as it can help reduce stress, improve mood, and promote a more positive outlook.
Who made yoga famous?
Yoga has a long and complex history, and it's hard to attribute its popularity to a single individual. It's a spiritual, mental, and physical practice that originated in ancient India around 5,000 years ago. Over time, many influential yogis have contributed to its development and spread globally. Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk, played a crucial role in introducing yoga to the Western world in the late 19th century through his lectures and writings. However, it wasn't until the 20th century that yoga started gaining significant popularity in the West, thanks in large part to figures like Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, often referred to as "the father of modern yoga," who taught some of the most influential yoga teachers, including B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi.
History of Yoga: Origin & Evolution
Arunima Singhdeo

Arunima is the Founder & CEO of Shvasa. She was the cofounder and COO of which raised approx $20mn in funding from Accel Partners and Tiger Global, which was later acquired by The Mahindra Group. She was also a Vice President at Infoedge India - a successfully listed Internet company. Arunima is a Master Yoga & Meditation teacher with over 2000 hrs of practice and 1000 hrs of teaching Yoga. Her two passions are yoga and the internet.

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