Yoga is an ancient art that is about much more than exercise – it is physical, emotional and spiritual.
It focuses on finding a balance with the body and the mind.
Historical Development of Yoga
Creation of the Rigveda~500 BCE
Creation of the Bhagavad-Gita
Creation of the Upanishads
Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali~19th Century AD
Introduction of Yoga to the Western World
Approx. Origin of Yoga
(~1500 BCE – ~500 BCE)
The first of these periods, Vedic yoga, follows the teachings of the Rigveda, an ancient Indian text. Like yoga, the actual duration of the Vedic period is undetermined but is believed to have lasted between 1500-500 BCE, during which time the Rigveda was written. Sanskrit for “praise knowledge,” the influence that the Rigveda had on yoga was largely religiously spiritual; practitioners would focus their bodies and minds for prolonged periods of time in order to transcend the normal limitations of the human mind. The yogis considered this a sacrificial act to a higher power, relinquishing their own attachment to their physical presence in order to become closer to the spiritual world. In fact, a master of Vedic yoga was called a “seer;” having achieved mental clarity to the extent of merging with the spiritual world, seers demonstrated incredibly keen intuition and were allegedly blessed with “visions” of the transcendental reality.
(~6th Century BCE – ~200 AD)
The second period, Preclassical yoga, covers a timeline of over 2000 years and has many different focuses. Several different yoga philosophies were cultivated during this time, with some staying in line with the religious, sacrificial aspects of Vedic yoga. However, other schools of yoga began veering towards more personal uses, such as discovering one’s true inner nature through deep meditation. Karma yoga, also developed during this time period, is the yoga of action — the philosophy of fulfilling one’s duty and following a just and righteous path as an act of selfless service. These new developments and concepts were key in the creation of modern-day yoga, made evident by the fact that most of these elements are still practiced in yoga today.
(~200 AD – ~19th Century AD)
The next historical stage of yoga, the Classical period, is possibly the most pinnacle part of yogas history. This is largely based on the fact that the one of the earliest and most important yoga texts, the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, was written during this time. Patañjali was once thought to be the creator of yoga, and is often referred to by many as the “father of yoga” — even though he lived thousands of years after yoga is now thought to be created. Despite the confusion of its origins, it cannot be denied that the Yoga Sūtras is not only important, but is also revolutionary. Since its creation, yoga supported the concept of nondualism, or the idea that the body and mind are one in the same. However, Patañjali suggests that our bodies and minds are separate — a philosophical dualism similar to the more popular concepts later developed by French philosopher René Descartes.
(~19th Century AD – Present)
The fourth and final stage, Postclassical, encompasses pretty much everything between the Classical period and modern day. Before the Postclassical era, the physical body was largely only relevant in that the yogi’s goal was to separate himself spiritually from it. However, over time some practitioners of yoga began to view their body as a sacred temple for their spirit, a gift that must be taken care of with just as much care as their spiritual self. This marks the beginning of yoga being used as a form of exercise, the way many people view yoga today!