The word “yoga” is derived from the ancient Sanskrit term “yug” which translates to “unite”, “yoke”, or “to join”. Philosophically speaking, “yoga” refers to “the connection/union/joining” of mind, body, nature. Yoga is both an art as well as a structure for healthy living. This ancient spiritual and physical discipline may be more than 3,000 years old, but it came to the limelight in western society recently. According to the results of a national survey, yoga is the fastest-growing fitness/sports activity in Australia with more than 2 million Australians participating in some form of yoga on daily basis. Even Aussie kids are rolling out yoga mats in classrooms, yoga studios, and parks. Let’s shed some light on the history of yoga and try to find out how its key benefits are still used today.
Brief History of Yoga
According to the majority of researchers and scholars, the exact date of the origin of this practice in the Indian subcontinent is difficult to tell. It is believed that yoga was originally taught orally, therefore there is no documented evidence of its origin. The first illustrated historical evidence of yoga can be traced back to around 3,000 BCE. Maharshi Patanjali – who lived between 820 BCE and 300 BCE is regarded as the “father of yoga”. He is the first person to have condensed the oral yogic practice and teachings into aphorisms called the “Yoga Sutras”. In this book, he gave a systematic representation of yoga and described in great detail the eight-limbed practice. For ease of understanding, the history of yoga can be divided into the following historical periods:
This historic period of yoga is defined by the “Vedas” – the holy writings of Brahmans in the forms of mantras, rituals, hymns. The word “Veda” is derived from the Sanskrit language which means “knowledge”. It is a time when yoga was practiced by only a few religiously motivated Hindu men called the “rishis”. The rishis taught the other Vedic people how to achieve better insight and divine harmony by way of exhaustive spiritual practices.
The Pre-classical period marked the beginning of the Gnostic texts called the “Upanishads” – an important piece of literature in the history of Indian religions. More than 200 scriptures were believed to be written during this period. Bhagavad-Gita – one of the sacred religious books in Hindu religion and a remarkable yoga scripture was also composed during this period. This is a time when yoga practice found its way into the Buddhism religion. The pre-classical period spreads over 2,000 years.
The classical period is defined by “Yoga Sutras” – the first-ever systematic representation of yoga. The meaning of the word “Sutra” is “thread”, so the term “yoga sutras” means “threads of wisdom”. Maharshi Patanjali introduced the “8-step system” commonly known as “Raja Yoga” that would allow an individual to attain enlightenment by means of mental and spiritual purification.
This is a time when the historic yoga took a turn. Instead of focusing purely on the spiritual side (as mentioned in Yoga Sutras), the physical side of yoga was developed during this period. Yogis during this period started probing the hidden powers of the human body and soon developed a new Yoga system incorporating various exercises with meditation to achieve transcendence. This is the time when we saw the emergence of “Hatha Yoga” and “Tantra Yoga” – two forms of yoga that are currently in practice throughout the world.
The new-age of yoga began with famous Yogis from India traveling to the Western world and spreading the knowledge and benefits of yoga to the masses. Swami Vivekananda – a student of Rama Krishna is regarded as the first person to have introduced the Vedic philosophy to the Western world. After him, many other well-known Yogis including Swami Shivananda, Swami Kuvalayananda, Swami Rama, Shri T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Satyananda, Shri Yogendra, Acharya Rajanish, and Maharshi Mahesh Yogi have contributed greatly to making yoga a common household name and practice throughout the world.
Over the years, yoga has endured the test of the time and remained intact, now it is practiced in one form or another by billions of people around the globe, thanks to the many great benefits it offers. Although the techniques of yoga have evolved over the years, the key benefits of achieving spiritual uplifting, inner connectivity, and complete harmony between mind, body, and soul remain the same.
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