A Brief History of Yoga

We’ve touched on some of the history of yoga with Patanjali’s sutras and the eight principles, but there is still so much to be known. How did this thing we call yoga come to be?

The history of yoga can be broken down into five periods:

  • Vedic
  • Pre-Classical
  • Classical
  • Post-Classical
  • Modern

Vedic Yoga

The Vedic period of yoga spans the time of 500 to 1000 BC. It is during this period that the Rig Vedas were written. These books of hymns are the oldest known scriptures in existence, and they contain the early beginnings of yoga. Rather than emphasizing the postures, the Rig Vedas sought to join the material and spiritual worlds. Everything was based on the spiritual, and Vedic yogis were adept at focusing their minds for long periods of time. This focus produced visions that allowed the yogis to see the root of their very existence.

Pre-Classical Yoga

The Pre-Classical period of yoga is marked by the publica-tion of the Upanishads, which arrived somewhere between the fifth and seventeenth centuries BC. The Upanishads not only furthered the knowledge of the Rig Vedas, but also broke them down to explain the ultimate reality and the transcendental self. These became guides to explain how to apply the knowledge of the Rig Vedas to your daily life. Later during this period, the Bhagavad Gita was written. This text is the first book to be devoted entirely to yoga. It tells the story of the god Krishna and the solider Ardjuna. This parable introduces the idea of disassociating with the ego to avoid difficulties or pain. Today, many yogis reference this text to explain the letting go of the ego.

Classical Yoga

This period centers around Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the eight principles of yoga, which were discussed earlier in this chapter. This period produced the idea that the mind and body were separate and they must be worked on separately via meditation and asana.

Post-Classical Yoga

During the Post-Classical period, yogi masters began to focus on the strengths and abilities of the body. They created a system of physical postures that would challenge the body and help prolong its life. This system of postures became Hatha yoga and is the beginning of the asana practice that we know today. It is here that yogis wrapped their minds around the concept of living in the moment. The purpose of the postures was to facilitate concentration and meditation to reach the state of samadhi, which is the highest mental state of yoga.

Modern Yoga

In 1893, Swami Vivekananda came over from India to address the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago. It was there that yoga was first introduced to the American public and the Modern period of yoga began.

The Modern period emphasizes the asanas and efforts toward uniting the mind and the body. It draws from every previous period, focusing on works such as the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Today, teachers from all overthe world work to spread the knowledge of yoga, and there are many different styles in existence.

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