Yoga originated in ancient India and is defined as a group of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines or practices. It aims to foster harmony in your body, mind, and surroundings. There are many schools of yoga, and practices in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.
With time, yoga transformed immensely and has undergone a dynamic shift in the last 100 years, and modern yoga contains a lot of physical postures and exercises that were probably not practiced years ago. Let’s dig deep into the history of yoga, i.e. when, where, and how it originated.
According to popular belief, yoga was invented some 5000 years ago, in Ancient India. However, two main theories explain the history/origin of yoga.
Two Theories Surrounding the Origin of Yoga
The history of yoga is linked to two general theories, i.e. a linear model and a synthesis model.
- Linear Model – This model holds that yoga originated in the Vedic religion (the religion of the ancient Indo-European-speaking people who entered India about 1500 BCE from the region of present-day Iran), as an important part of the Vedic textual corps and greatly influenced Buddhism. According to Edward Fitzpatrick Crangle, this model aligns with Hindu scholars.
- Synthesis Model – This model is aligned with the Western definition of yoga, according to which, it is a synthesis of non-Vedic, Vedic, and indigenous elements.
Explanation of Linear Model – Yoga that Originated from Ancient India
Yoga has its strong roots and origins within Buddhism and Hinduism. Let’s explain the linear model and the history of the more traditional version of yoga.
During the Vedic Period, people came to know about yoga for the first time. This was the time when a large body of religious texts, known as Vedas, was created. This scripture consists of hymns, containing the earliest knowledge about yoga. The lessons learned from Vedas are performed during many ceremonies and rituals and are called Vedic Yoga. These lessons help people excel mentally.
Vedic Period is also marked by an increase in the number of yogis, who preferred to spend their time in seclusion and stay close to nature, by performing different types of yoga. They were also known for staying in jungles and away from city life. This is why many yoga centers today are located in places close to nature.
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The Pre-Classic period of Yoga revolved around many spiritual concepts. The main two concepts were Atman and Brahman. Atman is the essence of an individual while Brahman is termed as a universal or unchanged consciousness/spirit, which underlies all things. Although these are discussed differently, both of them are related and in some schools of Hindu thought, Brahman and Atman are considered the same.
The pre-classic period of yoga was a combination of these two concepts. The famous Hindu scripture, Bhagavad Gita, was also formed during this time that talks about the importance of yoga, and how it can improve your life.
Beginning of Classical Yoga
Although yoga has been around for 5000 years, it was only made official around 2000 years ago, when Patanjali (a famous author) organized the yoga content in the form of a book, i.e. Yoga Sutras, a collection of Sanskrit sutras on theory and practice of yoga, making it easier for common people to practice.
These Yoga Sutras were the pioneers of classical yoga and helped many yogis achieve ultimate enlightenment and peace, and it was made compulsory for many yogis to go through it.
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The Eight limbs of Yoga
During the period of classical yoga, eight limbs of yoga worked as a breakthrough. These are eight yoga steps that must be practiced in the order they’re listed below. You can only start the second step after mastering the first one. They are as follows, with the principles they’re meant to teach.
- Yama – Yama helps us follow rules of ethics to treat people in our surroundings, in a non-harming and truthful way.
- Niyama – According to experts, Niyama are practices that help us practice self-discipline. These practices include attaining bodily cleanliness, being content with uncontrolled circumstances, continuous practicing, and not doing yoga to achieve the world’s bodily standards.
- Asana – It is the practice of yoga postures, that are easy to start and also bring you joy. Pantajali taught that it’s important to take your time with a specific yoga posture and then move on to the next, to increase wellness in the mind and body.
- Pranayama – Our breath significantly controls our energy to deal with things. Pranayama is breath control and makes breathing a mindful practice, which also changes the way our central nervous system reacts to stress.
- Pratyahara – Helps us find ultimate peacefulness, through a sense of withdrawal. The easiest way to do this is to close your eyes while practicing Asana.
- Dharana – Dharana is concentration, i.e. keeping only a single thing in mind. A focused mind helps in deep mediation. You may look at a still object, such as a candle, during meditation, to train the mind in this way. Dharana promotes mindful living.
- Dhyana – Dhyana is meditation, which means fully being present in the moment. Dhyana means taking some time out of your busy lives to sit in a quiet place and meditate.
- Samadhi – Samadhi is enlightenment that converts us from human-doings to human beings. It is the ability to stay indefinitely in the present moment, which can only be achieved after practicing the above seven limbs of yoga.
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The post-classical yoga made its way to western countries. After it was westernized, many yogis moved to the West, to teach them the basics of yoga. A famous Indian guru, Swami Sivananda, wrote more than 200 books on yoga and played a great part in flourishing yoga in that period.
Another famous yogi, Maharishi Mahesh, played a great role in the generation of Transcendental Meditation (a form of silent mantra meditation), which took the West by storm and many celebrities also started practicing, it to improve fitness.
Explanation of Synthesis Model – Modern Yoga
According to the Synthesis model, yoga is a modern form of Hathya yoga and a collection of exercises for posture-based physical fitness, relaxation, and stress-relieving technique, and consists largely of Asanas. This differs from traditional yoga, which focuses on detachment from the physical world through mediation.
In the late 19th and 20th centuries, yoga was introduced to the West, after the success of Swami Vivekananda’s adaptation of yoga without Asanas. After the 20th-century success of Hatha yoga, Vivekananda’s Yoga Sutras became prominent.
Nowadays, yoga is quite modernized and is performed in various gyms and yoga centers, worldwide. One even tends to think of the yoga acolyte as eating exotic berries and listening to soothing music. Nonetheless, the core of this practice remains the same, connecting the mind, body, and soul.
If you reside in Seattle and want to embark on this enlightening journey, check out some best yoga studios in Seattle.
Traditional Yoga or the Modern One…
Yoga is the most organic exercise that evolved significantly over the past 100 years. It means that there are different aspects of yoga in different styles or schools, and even right down to the individual level. Nonetheless, be its traditional or modern form, yoga remains one of the most practiced disciplines for attaining good physical and mental health.