The actual history of yoga has many places of obscurity and uncertainty due to the oral transmission of its sacred text and the secretive nature of its teachings. The early writings of yoga were transcribed on crisp palm leaves that were easily lost, damaged or destroyed. The developments of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, with some researchers urging that it could be as good as 10,000 years ago. The long history of yoga can be divided into four main periods of innovation, practice and development.
This was the beginning of yoga that was characterized by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India, 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts called the Rig Veda. Vedas represented a collection of texts that contained songs, rituals, and mantras used by the priests.
Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the priest as they documented their practice and beliefs in the Upanishads. This was an extensive work that contained more than 200 scriptures. The Upanishads took the idea of ritual sacrifice from the Vedas and internalized it, teaching the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action, and wisdom.
The classical period is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras, which is the first systematic presentation of yoga. This stage tries to categorize the various ideas, beliefs and techniques that conflicted and contradicted each other during the pre-classical period. The classical period existed sometime in the second century.
Patanjali described the practice of yoga into an eight-limbed path that contained the steps and stages towards achieving self-enlightenment. Patanjali is often viewed as the father of yoga and his yoga-sutras strongly influence most styles in today’s modern yoga.
A few centuries after the existence of Patanjali, yoga masters created a system of practice that was designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. These masters rejected the teachings of ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body, as the actual means of achieving the enlightenment.
Tantra yoga was developed with revolutionary techniques to cleanse the body and mind and break the knots that bind the physical existence. The exploration of the physical-spiritual connections and body-centered practices led to the creation of what is referred to as Hatha Yoga.
Yoga practice began to gain popularity in the west at the beginning of the 19th century. It was deeply influenced by the spiritual and religious ideas that represented a radical break from the grass-root yoga lineage from the Indians.
In the late 1800s and 1900s, the yoga masters began to travel to the west. This attracted a lot of attention and followers. It started in 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago when Swami Vivekananda wowed the attendees with his lectures about yoga and the universality of the world’s religions.
In the 1920s, Hatha yoga was significantly promoted in India with the notable works of T Krishnamacharya, Swami and others practicing the Hatha. Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga School in Mysore while, in 1936, Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of holy Ganges River. Sivananda was a prolific author who wrote over 200 books on yoga and established nine ashrams with numerous yoga centers located around the world.
The importance of yoga to the West continued until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. After that, more western and Indian teachers have become pioneers, popularizing the Hatha yoga and gaining millions of followers.
Today, we have very many styles in which yoga is practiced. It has evolved substantially over time. Even if we wanted to preserve it exact way it was thousands of years ago, really we could not. Yoga is undergoing a punctuated step in its evolution. Emerging new styles are cropping up with lots of academic focus.
The India civilization can claim to be the oldest enduring civilization in the world. Yoga practitioners have largely benefited from the India’s protracted experimentation with life and the exploration of the mysteries of the mind.
To create a good life, we are not looking at the ancient practices of yoga, but the current practices that are shaping the art. The great evolution of yoga is returning focus from the ancient things to present things. Modern yoga creates an awesome way of connecting ourselves, our creativity and our intuition.