A brief history of yoga: Origins of yoga
Yoga has its origins in the search for the ultimate truth and reality; in the questions about the meaning and process of life; in the quest for contentment and wellbeing.
In India, Yoga was the name of one of the highly regarded 6 Schools of Indian Philosophy, which emerged from the Vedic civilisation.
These schools of thought conceived theories about philosophy, meta-physics, psychology, religion, social behaviour and so on.
From these traditions, codes of ritual, spiritual, personal, familiar, civic and social duties became established and dictated the way of life.
Yoga teachers or gurus were influential and knowledgeable people in society, who acted as advisers on important issues.
Most civilisations around the world generated practices and ideas similar to those used in Yoga in India.
However, the Indian system of yoga was the most evolved. Influential ideas that integrated all aspects of life were used by rulers and their advisers to make decisions and to guide people.
Such ideas were passed on from one generation to another on an oral basis – in the form of short verses known as sutras – until they were formalised and recorded in various famous epics and texts.
History of yoga: Traditional yoga texts and Hindu epics
In time the school of yoga came to be identified with the Yogasutras. A Sanskrit text that systemised pre-existing traditions of yoga, traditionally attributed to the ancient sage Patanjali, but more likely to have been written between 300 and 500 CE.
A number of other Hindu texts contain some important ideas about yoga such as the ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ and the ‘Bhagavad Gita’.
History of yoga: Sanskrit language and terms
Sanskrit was the language of ancient India and most Hindu epics and yoga texts were written in Sanskrit or derivatives.
Sanskrit is the language of classical yoga as well as modern yoga.
Asanas are physical postures; each asana has a Sanskrit name – even though it was only introduced in the Twentieth century.
Pranayama is the Sanskrit name associated with breathing practices.
Samadhi is the ultimate goal of any yoga practice, i.e. pure consciousness, typically associated with the stillness of the mind and a deep state of meditation.
History of yoga: Modern yoga
In the Twentieth century the Indic yoga system was adopted by the Western world as a reference system for a series of techniques and exercises to integrate mind, body, spirit (like the numeric system was adopted worldwide to count; the calendar to count days and years; the metric system to count metres, etc.)
In the last few decates, yoga has been growing at a fast pace. Many contemporary yoga teachers have re-interpreted key yoga concepts from a new perspective to better deal with modern challenges and to accommodate for new yoga styles, therapies and exercises. Many terms and concepts are associated to yoga, but What is Yoga?
Although modern yoga may have roots in Indian philosophical and religious ideas, the practice and benefits of a few yoga positions and physical movements, breathing and relaxation techniques, mindfulness and meditation do not require any spiritual or religious belief.
Today most people have heard of yoga. Modern society is slowly realising that the basic ideas of yoga are key to wellbeing. Such ideas are becoming as influential as they were hundreds of years ago.
History of yoga: Type and styles of yoga
Yoga exercises commonly practiced in a yoga class at a gym might differ to what sages and gurus used to practice in India centuries ago.
In particular today in the West more emphasis is given to physical exercises as opposed to religious and esoteric aspects or mindfullness techniques.
In the west, Hatha yoga and its variations – commonly known as ‘styles of(Hatha)Yoga – have become widely spread, and practiced in gyms since Hatha yoga emphasises physical and breathing exercises to create harmony in the body and mind, and to prepare them for meditation.
However, less known types of yoga are not based on asanas or yoga poses, but on other exercises and practices.