Brief History of Yoga

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

Yoga was developed in ancient India, approximately during the period of 3300 to 1900 BCE. For several centuries it was an oral tradition only – and in some aspects it continued to be like such for millennia to come.

The earliest written material about yoga is found in the Rig Veda, which was first written down between 1500 and 1200 BCE. On the other hand, some scholars point out that astronomical references in that book indicate that is must have been at least partially written in the fourth millennium BCE.

Yoga deeply influenced the development of several religious movements in Asia, including Buddhism (Buddha was a disciple of two Yogis), Jainism, Taoism, Sikhism and Sufism. Throughout the centuries, many different schools or types of Yoga have developed. The main ones are:

Raja Yoga / Patanjali YogaJnana YogaBhakti YogaKarma YogaHatha Yoga (including all it’s modern developments)Kriya YogaTantra Yoga (including Mantra, Kundalini, Laya, Nada, and Hatha yogas)

In the late 19th century, Yoga made its way to the West through Swami Vivekananda, who spoke at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893. This kindled a strong interest in Yoga, and opened doors for many other masters to visit the US and Europe.

There are four core aspects of Yoga practice: body, breath, mind, and life. These levels are an alternative reading of the eight “rungs” of Yoga, codified by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.

The yoga postures (asanas), together with the practice of certain body locks (bandhas) and purification exercises (shatkarma), help us keep our body healthy, strong, flexible, and full of vitality. This aspect is what is most commonly known of Yoga, but it’s far from being the whole of it.

Each pose also has particular health benefits and therapeutic effects. For example, the shoulder stand pose (sarvangasana) stimulates the thyroid gland, revitalises the ears and tonsils, and balances the digestive and endocrine systems.

From a secular point of view, a daily and well-rounded practice of Yoga postures is great preventive medicine, packed with several health benefits.

Indeed, a healthy and strong body is a great foundation for deep meditation practice. It is also a benefit in itself, regardless of any interest in spirituality, for people of all walks of life (including kids).

On the other hand, when we practice the asanas carefully, these yoga poses themselves are a form of dynamic meditation. For that, turn off music and distractions, keep your mind focused on your body and breath, relax into the asanas, and remain at ease in the present moment.

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