Yoga originated in India and is thought to date back as far as 5000BC.
It was primarily practised by Hindu sages and priests but went through many transformations before becoming the yoga that we know today.
By recognising where yoga comes from and learning how it evolved, will give depth and meaning to your personal practice.
Even if there are some unfamiliar words or phrases, try to stick with it. Everything will eventually make sense.
So how did yoga evolve from an ancient practice of mystic sages in India to the yoga you know today? Let's take a look ...
THE ORIGINS (5000BC)
It’s intuitively known that yoga was evolving organically long before the word yoga was revealed in the sacred Hindu scripture, Rigveda.
Wall carvings from the Indus Saraswathi Valley civilisation suggest that yoga goes back thousands of years.
If you are imagining ancient Indian priests in downward dog, think again. Yoga was interpreted differently back then to how it is now.
The physical practice of yoga was introduced MUCH later and probably later than you think.
THE BATTLE WITHIN (300BC)
The Bhagavad-Gita is a remarkable Hindu scripture. It’s a spiritual guide to self-realisation.
The story unfolds on a battlefield. Lord Krishna and Arjuna are poised for war when Arjuna breaks down. He is anguished by the thought of killing his family members on the opposing side.
Arjuna, guided by his charioteer (Lord Krishna), ponders many of life’s big questions. The narrative is his journey of discovery and contemplation.
The Gita is the basis for yoga's spiritual teachings and can be enjoyed regardless of religious beliefs.
PATANJALI’S YOGA SUTRAS (200CE)
An Indian sage named Patanjali took everything that had previously been written about yoga and put it into manageable short verses called sutras.
I first learnt about the sutras during my teacher training, when it was described as yoga Twitter. This has always stuck with me.
Patanjali essentially created a life manual in Twitter-esque format.
He also created the 8 limbs of yoga (the steps to liberation) which we will talk about in a future blog.
HATHA YOGA IS BORN (500 CE to 1000 CE)
Years later, teachers began to distance themselves from religious sects and instead aimed for accessibility and inclusivity.
Women began practising yoga, as did people from other religions; Buddhists, Jains, Muslim Sūfīs, Sikhs, and even Christians.
The physical body was finally acknowledged as a vital tool toward enlightenment. And, even though there were only 15 seated poses at the time, they gained popularity.
YOGA MAKES ITS WAY WEST (1893)
The Gita was first introduced to the US during Swami Vivekananda’s 1893 speech at the World Parliament of Religions. But it wasn’t until 30 years later that yoga really started to get noticed.
In Mysore India, an innovative yogi called Krishnamacharya had been experimenting with a physical practice inspired by a Danish fitness regime.
Primitive gymnastics was based on the importance of rhythm. Hence the flowing Vinyasa sequences we practice today.
This new dynamic practice appealed to the western audience and is presumably the reason why you can find yoga studios pretty much anywhere in the world today.
From Krishnamacharya came 3 other renowned teachers. Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar & Indra Devi. Each had its own unique style and vision of yoga.
We will delve into the styles that came from these teachers next time.
So as you can see, yoga has evolved enormously over time. And it turns out that downward dogs, headstands and warrior pose were only introduced a mere hundred years ago!
Yoga has been influenced by many different people, ideas, beliefs and cultures but the underlying message is still the same - self-realisation through breath and movement.
SOMETHING TO TAKEAWAY
Yoga was purposely introduced to the west so that more people could benefit from the teachings.
Although it originated from Hindu texts, yoga promotes inclusivity and accessibility.
You do not have to be religious to practice yoga. You just need a willingness to discover more about yourself.
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