Evolution of Yoga
Wondering how yoga originated? How has it evolved throughout its history? What is inspiring
many people to do yoga teacher training courses in Rishikesh? Let's take a quick 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 yoga evolved so much and led people
to open so many yoga schools in Rishikesh? 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 taught in every yoga teacher training course in Rishikesh 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 which could be one of the reasons that most authentic yoga teacher
training courses can be found in India. Therefore, we will be looking at its origin and evolution as
per the Indian cultural context as this will be the most real 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
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, In the early days of yoga most certainly you wouldn’t
find yogis doing asanas on a branded yoga mat with the best in class music and yoga
classrooms as we do now in every yoga teacher training course in Rishikesh. 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, it has been the base of may yoga schools in Rishikesh.
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. You get to learn about dharma and karma in the philosophy class of most yoga
teacher training courses in Rishikesh. However, aligning your dharma to your karma became a
way to open the treasure of yoga 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 Period:
- 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. Most yoga schools in Rishikesh can
introduce you to this but it is a path that one has to follow on its own.
- 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. This is very
rare to be taught by any yoga school in Rishikesh.
- 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. A staple yoga type that is
included in all the yoga teacher training courses in Rishikesh.
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. Even in 21st
century yoga highly focuses 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 as taught in most yoga schools in Rishikesh. 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.