The history of yoga dates back almost 5000 or more years ago in India, and some researchers even suggest it extends as far back as 10 000 years. To avoid going down too long a rabbit hole on its history we’re going to talk about the summarised version.
Yoga’s very long, dense history can be divided into four main periods of transformation, practice and evolution.
Pre-Classical Yoga In the Rigveda, an ancient Indian spiritual text, yogic teachings were first mentioned. The Vedas are a collection of ancient texts composed in Vedic Sanskrit containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. This stage of yoga was a mixed bag of many ideologies and techniques that were seen to be conflicting and contradictory.
Classical Yoga The classical yoga period can be defined by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which was the first synthesized and organized texts of knowledge about yoga. Sutra from Sanskrit translates to threads, and it’s within these that you’re offered guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life. Patanjali compiled the practice of yoga into an “eight limbed path”, which outlines the steps or stages towards acquiring Samadhi or enlightenment. The physical side of yoga was just one step within the “eight limbed path”. The purpose of even doing the yoga poses was so that one could sit for long periods in meditation and eventually reach enlightenment – this was seen as the true purpose of yoga.
Post-Classical Yoga As time went on and centuries passed, the focus of yoga became more about the physical practice as a means to achieve enlightenment. These body-focused practices with spiritual connections were greatly explored, resulting in the creation of what we generally think of yoga in the West as – Hatha Yoga.
Modern Period Yoga began to make its way to the west at the start of the 1900s, and although there were various types of yoga, it was predominantly Hatha yoga that was most influential. Hatha can be seen as the foundation of what most other types of yoga are based on, such as Ashtanga, Iyengar or Vinyasa. Dive deeper into these yoga types below.