Historical Development of Yoga

The history of yoga is not a very certain one due to its oral transmission of sacred texts and the secretive nature of the teachings. The early teachings of yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves which were easily perishable, lost or destroyed. The Development of Yoga can be dated back to over 5,000 years ago. As per some researchers, yoga might be even 6,000 years old. Up until now, owing to its development, the history of yoga and the periods of its innovation can be divided into three main periods, called the pre-Patanjali period, Patanjali period and post Patanjali period.

Based on the acquired proofs it is believed that the practice of yoga commenced around 5000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in one of the oldest, sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas are a collection of texts containing mantras and rituals to be followed by Brahmans. Slowly yoga was developed and refined by the Rishis and Brahmans who documented their beliefs and practices and Upanishads, which is a collection of over 200 scriptures. Bhagavad-Gita, which was composed around 500 B.C.E is one of the oldest and the most sacred yogic scriptures. The Upanishads borrowed the idea of ritual sacrifice from the Vedas and imbibed it, teaching how to sacrifice the ego through self-knowledge, wisdom and action.

During the Patanjali period, yoga was a mishmash of a number of ideas, techniques and beliefs which often contradicted and conflicted with each other. The Patanjali period as defined by Patanjali yoga sutras is the first methodical presentation of yoga. Authored in the 2nd century, these texts describe the path of raja yoga also called “classical yoga”. Sage Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an eight-limbed path comprising of the stages and steps towards obtaining enlightenment. Sage Patanjali is considered as the father of yoga and his Yoga Sutras still largely influence the most forms of modern yoga.

A few centuries post-Patanjali, various yoga masters created a system of practices designed to revitalize the body and prolong life. These modern yoga gurus rejected the ancient yoga teachings and adopted the theory according to which the physical body was the ultimate source to achieve enlightenment. Tantra yoga was developed during this phase which aimed at breaking the cyclical and compulsive nature of the body and mind to achieve great possibilities. This discovery of this spiritual-physical connection and body aimed practices lead to the birth of the most popular form of yoga called Hatha Yoga.