As Yoga’s sacred texts are passed down orally and its teachings are regarded as secretive, the history of Yoga is obscure and uncertain in many places. Yoga was originally written on fragile palm leaves that were easily damaged, destroyed, or lost. Over 5,000 years ago, yoga was developed, but some researchers believe that yoga may be as old as 10,000 years. There are four main periods of innovation, practice, and development in the history of yoga.
- A Preclassical Yoga practices
Yoga originated in Northern India over 5,000 years ago with the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. Yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred text, the Rig Veda. Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras, and rituals that were used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. The Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) refined and developed yoga gradually, recording their practices and beliefs in upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures. In the Upanishads, the concept of ritual sacrifice was internalized, teaching the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga), and wisdom (jnana yoga).
- The Classical Stage of Yoga
During the pre-classical stage, yoga was a mishmash of ideas, beliefs, and practices that often contradicted one another. Yoga-Sûtras, Patanjali’s first systematic presentation of yoga, mark the end of the Classical period. RAJA YOGA, sometimes called classical yoga, was described in this text around the second century. Many stages and steps lead to enlightenment in Patanjali’s “eight-limbed path” of yoga. He is often considered the father of yoga and his Yoga-Sûtras still influence most styles of modern yoga.
- Post-Classical Yoga
Yogic practices were created following Patanjali’s teachings a few centuries after Patanjali’s. The ancient Vedas were rejected in favor of embracing the physical body as the means of attaining enlightenment. To break the knots that bind us to our physical existence, Tantric Yoga, with its radical techniques, was developed. Exploring these physical-spiritual connections and body-centered practices led to the creation of what we primarily think of as yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga.
- Modern Period
The western world began to receive yoga masters’ attention and followers during the late 1800s and early 1900s. A turning point for this occurred when Swami Vivekananda lectured on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions during the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India during the 1920s and 1930s by T. Kumaramacharya and Swami Sivananda, among others. On the banks of the holy Ganges on the banks of Mysore, Krishnamacharya opened his first Hatha Yoga school in 1924, and Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society in 1936. Sri Krishnamacharya produced three students who would continue his legacy and increase the popularity of Hatha Yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois. Among Sivananda’s accomplishments, he wrote more than 200 books and built numerous ashrams and yoga centers worldwide. Until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947, yoga importation to the West continued at a trickle. Since then, many more western and Indian teachers have popularized hatha yoga and gained millions of followers. Now, there are many different styles of Hatha Yoga, all emphasizing different aspects of the practice.