In the hierarchy of Vedic knowledge, there are four Vedas – Rigveda, Samveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda. These are followed by four upvedas or sub-vedas – Ayurveda, Arthaveda, Dhanurveda, and Gandharvaveda. Further down the line are six upangas or components – Shiksha, Kalpa, Vyakarana, Nirukta, Chandas, and Jyotisha. These are further classified into six sub-components – Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Sankhya, Mimansa, Vedanta, and Yoga.
Being widely considered as an ‘immortal cultural outcome’ of Indus Saraswati Valley civilization – dating back to 2700 B.C., Yoga has proved itself catering to both material and spiritual upliftment of humanity. The practice of Yoga is believed to have started with the very dawn of civilization. The science of Yoga has its origin thousands of years ago, long before the first religions or belief systems were born. In the yogic lore, Shiva is seen as the first yogi or Adiyogi, and the first Guru or Adi Guru.
Thousands of years ago, on the banks of the lake Kantisarovar in the Himalayas, Adiyogi, or Shiva, poured his profound knowledge into the legendary Saptarishis or “seven sages”. The sages carried this powerful yogic science to different parts of the world, including Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa and South America. Interestingly, modern scholars have noted and marvelled at the close parallels found between ancient cultures across the globe. However, it was in India that the yogic system found its fullest expression. Agastya, the Saptarishi who travelled across the Indian subcontinent, crafted this culture around a core yogic way of life.
Though Yoga was being practiced in the pre-Vedic period, many great Sages have systematized and codified the then existing practices of Yoga, its meaning, and its related knowledge through their Yoga Sutras. Many Sages and Yoga Masters contributed greatly to the preservation and development of the field through their well-documented practices and literature.
The main sources, from which we get the information about Yoga practices and the related literature during this period, are available in Vedas (4), Upanishads(108), Smritis, teachings of Buddhism, Jainism, Panini, Epics (2), Puranas (18) and many other such ‘Puranas’.
The development of Yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old. Yoga’s long rich history can be divided into four main periods of innovation, practice, and development: Pre-Classical Yoga, Classical Yoga, Post-Classical Yoga and Modern Yoga.
• Pre-Classical Yoga
As stated above, the beginnings of Yoga were developed by the Indus-Saraswati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word Yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras, and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures. The most renowned of the Yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gita, composed around 500 B.C.E. The Upanishads took the idea of ritual sacrifice from the Vedas and internalized it, teaching the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga).
• Classical Yoga
In the pre-classical stage, Yoga was a mishmash of various ideas, beliefs, and techniques that often conflicted and contradicted each other. The Classical period is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras, the first systematic presentation of Yoga. Written in the second century, this text describes the path of Raja Yoga, often called “Classical Yoga”. Patanjali organized the practice of Yoga into an “eight-limbed path” containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment.
• Post-Classical Yoga
A few centuries after Patanjali, the Yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment. They developed Tantra Yoga, with radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. This exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body-centered practices led to the creation of what we primarily think of yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga.
• Modern Yoga
The period between 1700 – 1900 A.D. is considered as the Modern period in which the great Yogacharyas- Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Paramhansa Yogananda, Vivekananda etc. have contributed for the development of Raja Yoga. This was the period when Vedanta, Bhakti yoga, Nathayoga or Hatha-yoga flourished. The Shadanga-yoga of Gorakshashatakam, Chaturanga-yoga of Hathayogapradipika, Saptanga-yoga of Gheranda Samhita, were the main tenants of Hatha-yoga.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the sages and the Yoga masters began to travel to the West, attracting attention and followers. In the 1920s and 30s, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga. Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga School in Mysore in 1924 and in 1936 Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy Ganges River. Krishnamacharya produced three students that would continue his legacy and increase the popularity of Hatha Yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois. Sivananda was a prolific author, writing over 200 books on yoga, and established nine ashrams and numerous yoga centers located around the world.
The importation of Yoga to the West still continued at a trickle until Indra Devi inaugurated her Yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. Since then, many more western and Indian teachers have become pioneers, popularizing hatha yoga and gaining millions of followers. Hatha Yoga now has many different schools or styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of the practice.
Now in the contemporary times, everybody has conviction about Yoga practices towards the preservation, maintenance, and promotion of health. Yoga has spread all over the world by the teachings of great personalities like Swami Shivananda, Shri T.Krishnamacharya, Swami Kuvalayananda, Shri Yogendara, Swami Rama, Sri Aurobindo, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, Acharya Rajanish, Pattabhi Jois, BKS. Iyengar, Swami Satyananda Sarasvati and the like.
However, the past few decades have seen Yoga going through a complete transformation. From being frowned upon to being hailed as one of the best natural therapies out there, Yoga has come a long way. The barriers of caste, creed and social status have been uprooted from Yoga to bring it to every home. The benefits of Yoga have not gone unnoticed in the International community and the United Nations has passed a resolution to celebrate June 21st as the International Yoga Day. And this is a great achievement to be noted!!!