History of Yoga
Even though Yoga has only gained popularity in the West over the last 50 years or so, it has a long and rich history spanning over 5000 years. Yoga source lies in the Indus valley civilization, along the banks of the river Saraswati. There are even people who believe that Yoga is as old as civilization itself, with its roots in Stone Age Shamanism, but there is no archeological evidence to support this theory. One of the finest aspects of Yoga is that it has evolved over time and adapted itself to the requirements of the times. Studying the history of yoga creates a better understanding of both its science and art and enables full appreciation of its physical, psychological and spiritual benefits.
The history of yoga is divided into four main periods:
Vedas as the oldest as well as the most sacred scriptures from the Indus Valley civilization, upon which rests the foundation of the Hindu religion. They contain the oldest teachings of Yoga, now called the Vedic Yoga. The purpose of Vedic Yoga is to enable its followers to live in complete harmony with divinity. Characterized by ceremonies and rituals, this era of Yoga focused on surpassing the restrictions of the mind, to be one with the spiritual universe.
The age of Pre-classical yoga lasted over 2000 years and marks the period when Yoga came of age. Upanishads were the main texts of this age, which contained a large number of treatises on Yoga. Bhagvad Gita was the most important religious text of the time and it uses Yoga to propound its values. Bhagvad Gita states that all things are connected and that the practice of Yoga can enable an individual to connect to the universal truth by unifying body, mind and spirit.
The Yoga source of this period was the Yoga Sutra written down by Patanjali in the second century. In its attempt to standardize Yoga, Patanjali laid down the now-famous Eightfold Path of Yoga. At this time, the main aim of Yoga was to free the spirit from physical and mental restrictions so that it can achieve self realization.
Post Classical Yoga
So far, Yoga was mainly concerned with the health of the spirit, treating the body and mind as obstacles that come in the way of free spirit. In this age of Yoga, the body came to be regarded as the vehicle for the spirit and it became equally important to maintain the health and well being of the body.
It is in this period that there was a huge boom in literature as well as practice of Yoga. Yoga crossed international borders and was introduced to the West by a succession of reputed Yoga teachers. One of the most famous was Yoga Sivananda who opened a number of Yoga schools in the US as well as Europe. It was Yoga Sivananda who propounded the now-famous Five Principles of Yoga. Sivananda has written a large number of books on Yoga and a number of his disciples have helped carry Yoga further into the psyche of the West.