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A History of Yoga – the Early Beginnings

History of Yoga

History of Yoga

The very first steps in the history of yoga are uncertain. It is known to have its origins in the East and many scholars believe its beginnings are to be found in Stone Age Shamanism. The earliest archaeological findings from the Indus Valley Civilization date back to 3000 B.C.E. In particular there was found a stone seal depicting a figure meditating in a yoga pose (asana) surrounded by animals. This artifact is known as the Pashupati Seal.

Vedic Period

The Vedas were a compilation of hymns and rituals believed to contain the key to cosmic evolution, the Sanskrit word Veda means “knowledge”. The Vedas contain the oldest known teachings in the history of yoga and were considered to be divine revelation. Vedic Yoga was defined by rites and ceremonies that aimed to transcend the mind’s limitations by bringing the material and spiritual worlds together. The Vedic people looked to the ‘Rishis’ (Vedic prophets) for guidance in living in divine harmony and understanding. The first mention of the word “Yoga” is found in the “Rigveda”. This text dates to around 1,500 B.C.E and is a collection of hymns describing the practice of meditation and the seeking of divine harmony and greater being.

The revered scribe Vyasa, categorized the Vedic hymns into the 4 Vedic texts:

  • Rigveda (“Knowledge of Praise”),
  • Yajurveda (“Knowledge of Sacrifice”),
  • Samaveda (“Knowledge of Melodies”), and
  • Atharvaveda (“Knowledge of Atharvan”). Atharvan was a legendary Rishi.

Pre-Classical Yoga

The Pre-Classical Yoga period begins with the development of the Upanishads and lasts for around 2,000 years. This huge work of 200 scriptures (the conclusion of the revealed literature) describes the idea of karma, the cycle of birth and death, the law of moral causation from past actions. It first mentioned the Koshas (one of five coverings of the soul), and explains three subjects: the ultimate reality (Brahman), the transcendental self (Atman) and the relationship between the two. The Upanishads also explains further the teachings of the Vedas. Around 500 B.C.E., the Bhagavad-Gita was created; it is the story of a conversation between the God-man Krishna and the prince Arjuna. In the Bhagavad-Gita, three aspects must be brought mutually to our existence:

  • Bhakti (devotion),
  • Jnana (knowledge), and
  • Karma (cause and effect)

The Gita then attempts to unify the Yogic traditions of Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Karma Yoga, in searching for the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge.

Classical Yoga & Yoga Sutra

In the classical stage of yoga, the history of yoga would not have been completed. With the passing of time and the millennium, yoga and its various manifestations have necessitated uniformity. This is critical so that people are aware of it and can put it into practice. As a result, during the second century C.E., Patanjali produced and collected the Yoga-Sutra, a key treatise that defined Classical Yoga.

Post Classical Yoga

In the vast history of Yoga, the age of Post classical Yoga produced some fruitful literature, including the Tantra and Hatha, both of which are well-known today. These were taught in Yoga classes and were widely practiced. As a result, post-classical Yoga refers to our current state’s adaptation. It is a moment when yoga has progressed significantly and has been offered to the general public.


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