The recent years have seen exponential growth in the popularity of Yoga. A recent survey has shown that worldwide over 300 million people practice yoga and it is almost a $90 billion industry. It is currently the top choice of wellness exercise that people take up for reasons ranging from pain management to trauma recovery, from weight loss to emotional and spiritual wellness. Yoga benefits are widespread and universal, without any side effects. It is fascinating how even thousands of years later an ancient discipline is still so relevant and popular all over the world. To understand this, let us break down the history of yoga into its main eras.
Ancient & Modern Roots of Yoga
Yoga is a practice that focused on breathing, flexibility, and strength to boost mental and wellbeing. It is composed of a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines. Here we’ll take a brief look at the four main periods which have been most influential to the creation and development of modern yoga.
For a long time, it was believed that the origin of Yoga dates back to around 5000 years in the Indus-Saraswati civilization of India. The first use of the word ‘yoga’ has been found in Rig Veda, the oldest of the Vedas. However, recent discoveries point otherwise. There are a number of older tablets and pictorial references that take the history of its practice father back, definitely to an age older than the Vedas. It was Rig Veda, that coined the name ‘Yoga’ in writing. Since we do not have any other written evidence before that, Yoga can be anywhere between 5000 to 10000 years old. The concept of the sacrificing ego through knowledge of the self, action (karma yoga), and wisdom or awareness (jnana yoga) comes from this age.
Owing to the lack of written documentation, besides a brief mention in the Rig Veda, our understanding of the procedures, methods, and overall discipline of yoga was limited. It was after the Indian saint Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras, that we come across such detailed studies. These books are the first systematic compilation of the principles and practices of yoga. Studies have roughly placed these somewhere between the 2nd century BC to 400 AD. With the organized presentation of the discipline, the knowledge of ancient yogic philosophy finally came to us in a tangible form. This is the age where Raja Yoga, the path towards Samadhi, or enlightenment was conceived.
For centuries after Patanjali wrote his Yoga Sutra, the popularity of Yoga was still pretty limited to the Indian subcontinent. Various yogis did groundbreaking work in enriching the field. This is when Tantra Yoga, the path which binds the body and mind together by breaking through mental barriers was conceptualized. Soon came the postulates of Hatha Yoga, or the physical postures, that stimulate the functioning of the body’s various organs.
Yoga and The World
The oldest school of yoga in the world, The Yoga Institute, was founded by Shri Yogendra in 1918 in Mumbai, India. However, the person who brought Yoga to an international awareness is Swami Vivekananda. In his electric lecture on Hinduism and its philosophy at the Chicago World Parliament of Religions, in the United States of America in 1893, he introduced Eastern religion and philosophies, including Yoga to the west.
The ancient discipline of Yoga has undergone several innovations in the hands of modern teachers and yogis. The beauty of this path is that yoga is flexible, encapsulating its purity through this evolution, making it suitable for everyone.