The Origins of Yoga: A Brief History

Yoga is a holistic practice encompassing breath, body, mind and more. 

The meaning of the word yoga is -to come together- or union. It is both a concept and a practice. A means by which we can make positive changes we desire in our lives. There are many ways to practice. One may discover yoga through meditation. You could also come to understand yoga through the physical body (asana), the breath (pranayama), or through studying the yoga sutras. There is no right place to begin. Begin where you are. 

Early archeological evidence of yoga is found in stone seal images depicting figures in yoga poses. The seals place Yoga’s existence to around 3000 B.C. although it has also been linked to Stone Age Shamanism which suggests that yoga was around long before the seals ever existed.

The Vedas

The Vedas are perhaps the oldest and most well known pieces of evidence related to yogic teachings. They are a large body of sacred Sanskrit texts which originated in ancient India thousands of years ago. The Sanskrit word veda means “knowledge” or “wisdom”. Part of what they contain is rituals and ceremonies that strive to extend the limitations of the mind. The origins of yoga and other related studies such as ayurveda can all be found in the Vedas.

The Upanishads

Although the Vedas are the most sacred texts of India, the Upanishads transformed their wisdom to practical teachings. They were composed over several centuries and are said to provide a deeper and clearer understanding of the internal world. The yoga practices found in the Upanishads were largely based on meditation and philosophy.

The Bhagavad Gita

Dating back to around 500 B.C. the Bhagavad Gita is part of the Ancient Indian epic Mahabharata. This spiritual text is a dialogue between the Hindu deity Krishna and the Prince Arjuna. It is one of the first places in history where the middle path of yoga is described. The middle path includes Bhakti -loving devotion, Jhana- knowledge or contemplation, and karma- selfless action.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Written around the second century, The Yoga Sutras include Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga:

  1. Yamas – ethical values
  2. Niyamas – personal observances, habits, and behaviors
  3. Asanas – physical exercises
  4. Pranayama – breath control
  5. Pratyahara – Closing one’s mind to the sensory world
  6. Dharana – Concentration, introspection
  7. Dyana – Meditation
  8. Samadhi – A harmonious spiritual state similar to a trance

Transition to the West

Post-classical era yoga transitioned from a focus on liberating a person from reality to teaching them how to accept it and live within the moment. Yoga was brought to the West during the early 19th century by Swami Vivekananda via the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. It was first introduced as an eastern philosophy and became a health movement by the 1930s. By the 1960s several eastern teachers had come to the United States to share their knowledge and by the 1980s yoga had become a relatively popular practice.

Since arriving in the West, the practice of yoga has continued to evolve but its philosophical roots will always remain the same.

Learn more about the history of yoga here.

All the best,


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