Evolution of Yoga
Wondering how yoga originated? How it evolved throughout its history?
Here’s a peek into this wholesome discussion.. Every true yoga
enthusiast has at least once questioned, “From where did this
wonderful practice of yoga even start?” or “How did yoga evolve and
originate”. Adhiroha will today unveil the answer to these most sought
after questions because at Adhiroha we believe that Self-Study
(svādhyāya) is an important dimension of Yoga and is central to
strengthening once conviction and perseverance towards their yogic
practice. What is the most authentic way of answering this question?
First things first, we will agree on a central point that, despite more
than a century of research, there is not much scientific documentation
of yoga’s beginnings. However, what we do know is that it originated in
India several thousand years ago. Therefore, we will be looking at its
origin and evolution as per the Indian cultural context as this will be
the most authentic way of approaching this question.
Origin of Yoga & Shiva’s Legend... As per Vedas and scriptures the origin
of yoga is credited to Lord Shiva who is seen as the “Adiyogi” (first
yogi). According to the legend, Shiva reached enlightenment thousands
of years ago in a place called Mount Kailash. Followed by this, on the
banks of the lake Kantisarovar in the Himalayas. Adiyogi poured his
profound knowledge into the legendary Saptarishis or “The Seven
Sages”. These sages are responsible for the spread of the yogic way
of life around the world (or world as they knew it then). However, it was in
India that the yogic system found its fullest expression. Agastya, one of
the Saptarishis who travelled across the Indian subcontinent, crafted
this culture around a core yogic way of life. There are multiple historic
evidence to validate this claim. The main sources from which we get
the information about Yoga practices and the related literature during
the early period, are available in Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis, Puranas
etc. The Bible of Yoga, Before and After! Well, most certainly you wouldn’t
find yogis doing asanas on a branded yoga mat with the best in class music
and yoga classrooms in the early days of yoga. Obviously yoga is not the
same as it was back in those days. Tentatively, the period between 500 BC -
800 A.D. is considered as the Classical period which is also considered as
the most fertile and prominent period in the history and development of Yoga.
During this period, commentaries of Vyasa on Yoga Sutras and Bhagavad
Gita etc. came into existence and if we want to delve deeper into
understanding the history of yoga at this time we can look at something
commonly referred to as the Bible of Yoga- The Bhagavad Gita. The
Bhagavad Gita is a sacred Hindu text in the form of a poem that takes place
on a battlefield. Weird? Right? Not really the kind of setting you would do
yoga in! But this setting is often believed to be a metaphor for the “battlefield
of the mind.” In Bhagavad Gita the ‘Guru’ lord Krishna has elaborately
presented the concept of Gyan yoga, Bhakti yoga and Karma Yoga. These
three types of yoga are still the highest example of human wisdom and even
today people find peace by following the methods as shown in Gita. Briefly:
1. Bhakti Yoga
The major purpose of this type of yoga is to manifest the true
power of love, devotion and faith to attain enlightenment which is the
objective of one’s yogic practice
2. Gyan Yoga
This is something that you are doing right now! This type of
yoga emphasizes on the power of knowledge in the pursuit of enlightenment.
Knowledge of ancient scriptures is critical here.
3. Karma Yoga
Yoga:This is the path of work. It is all about selfless service and
action. To follow this path, you must devote yourself to your dharma (your
ultimate purpose in the world) and unwaveringly fulfil this purpose. With this
the treasure of yoga was opened and grew in diverse ways. The period
between 800 A.D. - 1700 A.D. has been recognized as the Post Classical
period wherein the teachings of great Acharyatrayas - Adi Shankracharya,
Ramanujacharya, Madhavacharya- were prominent. The teachings of Surdas,
Tulasidasa, Purandaradasa, Mirabai were the great contributions during this
period. The Natha Yogis of Hathayoga Tradition like Matsyendaranatha,
Gorkshanatha, Cauranginatha, Swatmaram Suri, Gheranda, Shrinivasa Bhatt
are some of the great personalities who popularized the Hatha Yoga practices
during this period. A brief on major yogic traditions of the Post Classical
- The Yoga Sutras were written between 400 BC and 200 BC by
Patanjali and have been a hallmark in the yogic traditions in the post-classical
period. In The Yoga Sutras, yoga was described as an eight step path to
reach enlightenment. This path became known as the Raja Marga (or royal
path), and this is the path of pure meditation or introspection. This was the
first ever Post-Classical compilation of yogic literature.
- The word Tantra means, “to weave or expand.” The root of the
word yoga is “yuj” which means, “union.” Similar to some of the other 8 Forms
of Yoga. What distinguishes it from others is that it also weaves dynamics of
other mystical practices as well such as: Astrology, Ayurveda, Crystals, and
Gemology to name a few. In utilizing these aspects, the Tantric practice aims
to expand beyond perceived limitations of yogic philosophy and the asanas.
Tantra is about balancing our energies: male and female, hot and cold, internal and external.
- Hatha Yoga is the practice of physical
yoga. And this is definitely the closest branch to what most of us practice in
our modern world. Hatha includes most yoga styles and includes the practice
of asanas (yoga postures) and pranayama (breathing exercises), which help
bring peace to the mind and body, preparing the body for deeper spiritual
practices such as meditation.
Yoga Today and in the times to come… The best part about yogic practices has been to adapt to the
changing times while not losing its central purpose. And what is that purpose?
It is ultimately to seek enlightenment. So, the practice of yoga even in the
21st century highly emphasizes focus on the breath and the inner workings of
the mind. Nowadays, we do yoga to feel fit, to be happier, look better etc. But
deep inside all of us do know that yoga moves way beyond these latent
effects. Yoga is a pursuit of answering questions long pending in our lives,
telling us the purpose of our mortal flesh and raising us to an elevated state of
life. The reason for yoga's widespread success and adoption globally is that it
is a practice that adapted to the changing times while not leaving its roots
behind and dear readers, this is yet another lesson that yoga teaches us.