History of Yoga at a Glance
Earliest mankind no doubt searched for meaning as we do today, seeking to understand their place in this world, the nature of reality and how to overcome suffering. Like practitioners of today, they must have wanted to learn how to be truly HAPPY. Truths were experienced and passed down orally long before anything was recorded.
3000-600 BC (the exact date is debatable)
Even though most of what we know as modern yoga has only evolved in the past 100 years or less, the first mention of yoga can be found in the Vedas, written over 5000 years ago. Yoga likely existed long before then. The Vedas are recorded hymns and devotional rituals, from which many of the different cultures, myths and traditions of India stem.
Yoga as a school of thought is one of the 6 Classical schools of Indian philosophy. Sankhya, another one of the 6 schools, is the theoretical base of Yoga. The philosophies are known as darshanas, which comes from the Sanskrit word drsh, meaning, “to see.” So they are ways of seeing the universe, and their purpose is to help us understand our place in the world.
In about 300BC (exact dates are always debatable), a man named Patanjali compiled the Yoga Sutras. He is not the person who invented the system of Yoga, but he is the first one who wrote it down. The system of yoga can actually be classified under psychology, as it is a way of understanding our minds and ourselves.
During this time, unorthodox schools, such as Buddhism, also developed. And they all influenced each other. In fact, Buddha and Patanjali said very similar things. For example:
- There is suffering.
- It is caused by our Avidya/primordial ignorance, which is the misunderstanding of our true nature, and our inability to differentiate between what is permanent/eternal and impermanent/temporary.
- There is a way to overcome the suffering/pain.
- It is through the practice of the Eightfold Path (Buddha) or Eight Limbs of Yoga/Ashtanga Yoga (Patanjali).
Middle Ages India
During this time the main texts on Hatha Yoga, like the Hatha Pradipika (1300-1400 CE), were written. They describe the practices of Hatha Yoga, i.e., kriyas, asanas, pranayamas, mudras, etc. Most of what we practice today in the Westernized world would fall under the category of “Hatha Yoga,” even though much of it has been adapted and modernized.
The texts are like practice manuals. However, the practices described are very advanced, and you would not pick up one of the texts and start to practice what is written down in them without the guidance of a teacher.
Late 1800s – Today
With the industrial age came the sharing of cultures and ideas. Many influential Western seekers traveled East to find teachers and knowledge. And many prominent Eastern teachers came to the West to share the practice of Yoga.
In the last few decades we have had a huge explosion of different, fresh forms of practice, many of which have been influenced by modern exercise and culture.
Yoga has become commercially viable and very mainstream, and that is neither good nor bad. But it is important to understand the historical context. We must remember that the same need drives us to practice today as it did over 5000 years ago; at base we all practice out of the same desire to be happy. Although the practice can help to liberate us and take us beyond the play of the mind and the confines of this limited reality, it can also bind us more tightly to this body and imprison us in this physical existence.See more posts