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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

The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred text, the Rig Veda, 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 Brief Introduction About the History of Yoga

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 or adiyogi and Parvati is adi shakti (the first energy)

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.

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, are the earliest organised representation of yoga. Sage Patanjali composed this form of yoga between 500 BCE and 400 CE. 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 revivalists like Swami Vivekananda. 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 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. From Einstein to Eliot to Emerson to Will Smith to Steve Jobs and great Western philosophers have drawn inspiration from the teachings of the Gita. People worldwide seek the Gita for answers related to life and its purpose. The Gita in turn 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.

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, as mentioned in the history of yoga, Patanjali, also considered the father of yoga, created a system that everyone could follow. It takes practitioner towards the ultimate goal of self-realisation step by step or limb by limb. Sage Patanjali popularised this ancient sacred practice, making it accessible to the common folk with his systematised Ashtanga or eight limb yoga. And Shavsa has brought it to your living room in its purest and most practical form.

These eight limbs 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

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 focussed 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 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.

Malasana

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 to rise takes years of concentration and practice.

Asanas for Chakras

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!).

The extraordinary gift of yoga started from a divine being’s desire to offer his companion the ultimate tool for achieving the highest potential and self-realisation. It has now become easily attainable through the efforts of great sages and yogis who have moved mountains to bring it to us mortal beings. It is a potent tool with the abilities that stand beyond the limitations of the mortal realm.

Yoga indeed is an endowment of the sacred realm. Shvasa's yoga plans and 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.

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History of Yoga: Origin & Evolution
Shvasa Editorial Team

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