Yoga is defined as “to join together” which is evidently manifested in the uniting of the mind and body as one to attain peace and harmony. Founded on the three main structures of breathing, meditation and exercise, engaging in Yoga regularly leads to a more focused, calm, healthy and happy body. Today, more and more people practice Yoga in their lives. But have they fully understood how it originated and its effects? Let’s hop into a time machine and traverse the early beginnings and history of Yoga.
There is no definite time as to when Yoga started. The archeological findings from the Indus Valley Civilization revealed stone drawings of a person meditating like an Asana (Pashupati Seal). These stone drawings provide evidence that Yoga could have started way back to over 5,000 years ago. Although it might seem so long ago, other findings also show that the earliest signs of Yoga practice occurred during the Stone Age Shamanism. Shamanism considered and venerated the art of discernment of the cosmic order through inner vision. Shifting from their perceptual field to commune with the spiritual world using rituals was part of their culture. It is in this case that the ethnicity of Yoga and Shamanism overlap with each other. Shamans are then believed to be the Yogis’ precursors.
Yoga history has been divided into five main periods, namely Vedic Yoga, Pre-Classical Yoga, Classical Yoga, Post-Classical Yoga and Modern Yoga.
1. Vedic Yoga– Veda is a Sanskrit word that means “knowledge”. Vedas is a comprehensive collection of hymns and rituals which is a major key to cosmic evolution. The teachings found in Vedas are known as the Vedic Yoga. It is considered the divine revelation/ sacred scripture of the Brahmans, basis of modern-day Hinduism, since it is through its teachings that the mind surpasses its limitations and the visible material world is reunited with the spiritual world.
2. Pre-Classical Yoga – This period is marked by the creation of the Upanishads. The 200 scriptures of the Upanishads explain the concept of the cycle of birth and death, karma, moral source from previous acts. It also mentioned about the Koshas (one of the soul’s coverings) and enlightened people on the ultimate reality (Brahman), transcendental self (Atman) and the relationship of the two. They also explained further on the teachings of the Vedas. It was also during this period that Yoga was inculcated in the culture of Buddhism.
3. Classical Yoga– Patañjali defined Yoga by the Yoga Sutra. It contained 195 sutras (words of wisdom) that illustrate the practice of yoga into an eight-limbed path of self transcendence:
• Yama – Self-restraint or ethical conduct
• Niyama – Personal and religious observance of purity, devotion and study
• Asana – Physical activity
• Pranayama – Breath control or regulation
• Pratyahara – Abstraction of the senses
• Dharana – Concentration
• Dhyana – Meditation that leads to Samadhi
• Samadhi – Absorption in the sublime and blissful awareness
4. Post Classical – Yogis paid more attention to contemplation and meditation that they have neglected the importance of the physical body. It was during this time that began to explore into the hidden supremacy of the human body. They’ve come to regard that the human body is the temple of the immortal soul. A system of various exercises consisting of meditation and deep breathing were developed in the hopes of rejuvenating the physical body, achievement of enlightenment and prolonging life. Yoga went through many changes during this era in the development of Hatha Yoga and other branches of Yoga. It was at this moment that Yoga gained popularity.
5. Modern Yoga– During the late 1800’s, Yoga reached the West. More Yoga gurus have appeared and created an impression to the Americans regarding the practice of Yoga. One of them was Dalai Lama who inspired many Americans to know more about Yoga and Buddhism and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. The five principles of Yoga which include proper relaxation, exercise, breathing, diet and positive thinking and meditation were created by created by Yogi Swami Sivananda.
Today, the Yoga practice has become diversified. Many people from all over the world practice it with varying principles and ideals. Yet one thing prevails, the Yoga message of peace.