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Yoga History and Evolution

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The history of yoga can be traced back into five main periods namely the

   1. Vedic Period

   2. Pre-classical period

   3. Classical period

   4. Post-classical period

  5. Modern period

The ancient science of Yoga, which is more than 5000 years old, is considered as a socially relevant science. The history and evolution of yoga dates back to nearly 5000 years ago, when it was developed in India as a spiritual practice.

Lord Krishna taught and explained to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita about

  • Sankhya Yoga
  • Karma Yoga
  • Jnana Yoga
  • Bhakti Yoga etc.

In ancient times, the desire for good health, longevity and self-realization resulted in the development of the system of physical and mental exercise, which has since spread throughout the world. The earlier writings on yoga were found inscribed on palm leaves.

Yoga also finds mention in Vedas and Upanishads. The ancient ‘rishis’ were said to be performing the Vedic rites mainly on rituals. With passage of time, these yogis or rishis wanted to achieve direct spiritual experience and not just with symbolic rituals. This desire prompted them to develop Yoga. Their efforts resulted in first taking into account the interrelationship between body and mind and then formulation of a unique method for maintaining this balance. This method combines all the movements with various breathing and meditation techniques that ensure peace of mind and physical health. According to the yogis, true happiness, liberation and enlightenment come from union of the divine consciousness known as ‘Brahman’ with the self. 

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The history of yoga can be traced back into five main periods namely the Vedic Period, Pre-classical period, Classical period, Post-classical period, and Modern period.

The word ‘Yoga’ finds its first mention in the Rig Veda, the oldest of the four Vedas. In due course, the Vedic priests refined and documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads. One of the most famous scriptures is ‘the Bhagavad Gita’, which was composed around 500 B.C.

During the pre-classical period, Yoga was developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization The earliest reference to Yoga was found when archeological excavations were made in the Indus valley—the most powerful and influential civilization in the early antique period. This sophisticated culture developed around the Indus river and the long gone Sarasvati river in Northern India, on Pakistan’s border.

Archeological findings from two of the largest cities, Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, revealed (among other things) a portrait of a human being or god meditating in what looks like a Yoga posture. This can therefore be dated to 3000–5000 BC.

During the classical period, father of Yoga, Sage Patanjali made the first systematic presentation of yoga in his Yoga Sutras. These yoga sutras were written in the second or third century BC.

During the post-classical period, a lot of emphasis was laid on the rejuvenation of the body and life and these body-centered practices further led to the creation of Hatha Yoga. Swatmaaraama, the author of Hatha Yoga, Pradeepika, called the yoga as Hatha Yoga as it demanded rigorous discipline.

Modern Yoga is said to have begun at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. At this meeting, Swami Vivekananda from India made a deep impression on the Americans and introduced Yoga to them. Vivekananda became one of the most popular members of the Parliament, and he subsequently toured USA giving lectures on Yoga. Many Yoga masters later went aboard and followed in his footsteps, spreading Yoga in all corners of the continent resulting in establishing Yoga schools.

Yoga today: Yoga has gained tremendous popularity during the last few years, especially due to its holistic approach, and today over 30 million people practice Yoga on a regular basis. Yoga is the most rapidly growing health movement of today, despite having existed for thousands of years already.

In 1920, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India by Prof. T. Krishnamacharya. One of his most famous and illustrious disciples Dr. BKS Iyengar spread Yoga throughout the world with the sole aim to serve humanity with no commercial motive. Now Yoga is practiced by over 20 million Americans daily, as it has been realized that Yoga is for the body, mind and spirit.

Next page: Yoga therapy vs allopathic medicine

Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: March 26, 2012