While no one knows exactly when the practice of Yoga principles was first introduced, as it was established before the creation of modern language, Yoga can be traced back over 5,000 years. Some historians suspect that it may have been practiced in some forms as long ago as 10,000 years ago. Some experts suggest that there are roots that stretch further than that, hypothesizing that existed as long as humanity itself, a practice that may be innate to mental and spiritual health.
A spiritual discipline at its core, yoga is a practice that tries to establish harmony between an individual and their consciousness, establishing somewhat of an internal personal religion. This religion is meant to buffer the connection between the person and their environment. In theory, the universe is a manifestation of the same forces one has in themselves, by practicing yoga, the aim is to overcome personal suffering and to work towards a state of freedom and inner peace in all areas of life.
Yoga Through the Ages
By practicing mindfulness and getting in touch with the minute processes in your body, you can gain better control of yourself and how you feel. Boasting many devout followers, yoga is practiced in many different forms all around the world. There have been four distinct periods of innovation and form in the human history with yoga, each hosting its own unique focus while staying true to yogic fashion. In yogic lore, Shiva is recognized as the first yogi and serves as the mind from which the tenets originate. Used as a form of exercise to encourage physical and mental well-being, Yoga helps to strengthen concentration, personal discipline, and higher connectivity with the world around you. setting the stage for many future yoga enthusiasts.
Originally developed in Northern India in the Himalayas, it is fabled that Shiva imparted all his wisdom with seven sages who would carry the art across the globe. It has been noted by modern scholars the extreme parallels in practices within Ancient civilizations, even those separated by great geographical distances. Whether it be innate human tendencies popping up unique to one another or somehow these Yogis-past somehow pulled off an extreme feat of long-distance communication. These seven sages are thought to have been the mode through which these tenets of Yoga were communicated to other lands, explaining how it appears to have been present in many ancient civilizations.
Many fossilized remains believed to have belonged to the Indus-Sarasvati civilization depict images and symbols that suggest the practice of yoga. The name “yoga” also appears in the Rig Veda, a collection of cultural texts that consisted of rituals, songs, and instructions that were to be followed by the Vedic Priests. This practice developed over time, altered and refined by generations of “mystic seers” who documented their work in print. This era of Yoga practice encouraged direct spiritual guidance of an individual with the help of a personal Guru.
The Bhagavad-Gita, one of the most renowned yogic written scriptures, was composed around 500 B.C.E. Internalizing the concept of ritual sacrifice, this practice manifests this belief through self-knowledge, physical poses, and chants. During this Vedic period, the Sun as considered to be of great spiritual importance and has been incorporated as a spiritual symbol in yoga to this day.
Considered the most influential period in the history of Yoga, the Classical period gives birth to the iconic tenets of Yoga as it is popularly known. Dedicated to the religious teachings of Buddha and Mahavir, the first systematic presentation of yoga was introduced by the Sage Maharshi Patanjali who defined the practices of the time into a set of Yoga Sutras. These are essentially a written description of the rules used when practicing yoga.
Often referred to as the “father of Yoga,” Patanjali organized his form into an eight-part routine, enumerating the steps one can take through yoga practices to achieve enlightenment. This style of teaching, known as Hatha yoga maintains the strongest influence on modern styles of yoga teachings. This form of yoga emphasizes physically engaging the body, working to release tension and heal damage by finding balance within yourself.
A few centuries later, masters of yoga began experimenting with different practices that they meant to rejuvenate the body and increase overall health. This school of practice rejects the sacrificial practices of Ancient-Yogis, embracing oneness with the body as the true path to enlightenment. Tantra Yoga was developed in this time, harnessing radical methods of sexual intercourse, which is meant to cleanse the mind and body in efforts to break free from physical existence.
Many popular associations of yoga in the West stem from the physical-spiritual practices that were developed in this period as well as the classical period. A symbol often associated with the ever-popular, Hatha Yoga, is the iconic “yin and yang.” This symbol is meant to represent the opposing forces in our lives. Hatha, with roots “Ha” and “tha” meaning sun and moon respectively, references these opposing forces. Through directive behaviors, Hatha yoga seeks to combine mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises and physical poses to reach a higher state of being.
Although it has only been popular in America since the mid-twentieth century, the art made its way to the West sometime during the late 1800s and early 1900s. First introduced in the U.S. by Swami Vivekananda, he gave passionate lectures on the practice as well as presenting connections between the similarities of different sects of religion. Having found extreme success in India from the work of some of the preeminent yogis of the age, namely T. Krishnamacharya and Swami Sivananda, Hatha Yoga caught a wave of popularity in the 1920s-1930s. In 1947, Hollywood, California became home to what would become a highly popular yoga studio run by Indra Devi. By laying roots in one of the United States’ trendiest cities, Devi served to fan the flame of what became a mushroom cloud of Yoga practice in Western culture.
Hatha is the inspiration for all modern, physical yoga forms, with many different deviations within the umbrella. Numerous organizations and societies have been formed by some of the most highly-regarded yoga masters, whose students have gone on to cement their legacy and further popularize the teachings of Yoga. Producing many books, opening many centers, and establishing nine ashrams, the students of these great minds have become highly recognized as masters-in-their-own-right.
While there is an abundance of ways to practice tenets of Yoga, each dedicating focus to different aspects of healing and well-being, they all have their roots in Ancient human civilization. While some people may choose to only incorporate certain elements of yoga ritual into their routine, others may take it to the next level and adhere more strictly to yogic teachings. Through the practice of yoga, many students have learned how to live better balanced lives through cleaner and more mindful living. Yoga is a gift from our ancestors that teaches us positives way to engage deeply with our bodies and minds. This practice comes in so many forms with so many small incorporable ways to fit them in, any person is sure to find a something in yogic round out their lifestyle.
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