History of Yoga

THE HISTORY OF YOGA – THE VEDIC PERIOD

The Vedas are said to be revealed knowledge, or Shruti (that which is heard), as opposed to Smriti (that which is remembered). The Vedas were said to have been revealed to sages or Rishis while in deep mediation. The Mahabharata states that the Vedas were created by Brahma.       

History of Yoga – Veda means knowledge and is derived from the Sanskrit root vid which means ‘to know’. It is said in the Vedic tradition that knowledge is not just intellectual, but also from experience. Thus a Guru would have had direct experience with the subject matter they wrote about.

History of Yoga
History of Yoga – Yoga Dharma

Originally the Vedas were spoken and passed on orally. So, it is said a Guru would gather a group of students and teach them what was perceived through meditation and trance. The students would then practice what they had heard (Shruti).  

The Guru, or teacher, would have had first-hand experience, and then passed his learnings onto his students, who heard it. Eventually the students would go on to teach, and so this is knowledge not by direct revelation, but as something remembered (Smriti).       

To recap Shruti is knowledge gained by first-hand experience and Smriti is knowledge, which is held by memory, which is passed on via stories. Later comes another method called Sutra, which means thread. It is said as a teacher passed on knowledge, students noted down some important aspects, which then needed a commentary to explain the full meaning to the average man.  

THE FOUR VEDAS

The four Vedas are: The Rigveda, The Yajurveda, The Samaveda and The Atharaveda. Each Veda is subdivided into four parts: The Samhitas (prayers & rituals) The Brahmanas (codes of ethics for householders) The Aranyakas (household duties completed) The Upanishads (texts on philosophy, meditation & spiritual knowledge).

Swami Satyananda Saraswati considers the Vedas to be the most ancient literature in man’s library. In an article he estimates they are over 45,000 years old. Further more he states:

 “Geographical references in many passages of the Vedas which differ completely with the geography existing today. The great astronomers have also studied some of the passages in the Vedas and found references to astrological conjunctions which occurred as far back as one hundred thousand years ago”

It is assumed that the Vedic hymns were revealed over different locations and time periods during the History of Yoga.  

“Many of these hymns seem to have come down from the Arctic zone in the North Pole. Now, of course, this region is full of ice and snow, but once upon a time an advanced civilization of great culture and learning existed there”

Although most all the Vedas are full of references to the Himalayas and the Ganga and Yamuna rivers.

PRE CLASSICAL YOGA

Yoga is said to becoming more systemised during this period, with the beginnings of Buddhism, Jainism and the śramaṇa movement. Upanishads such as the Bhagavad Gita emerge furthering the concepts of Karma and Bhakti as a path for Moksha.

CLASSICAL YOGA

Classical Yoga is the time of Patanjalis Yoga Sutras, which systemises Yoga through its eight limbs. The Yoga Yajnavalkya also emerges from this period, which is set as a dialogue between Yajnavalkya and his consort Gargi. The Yoga Yajnavalkya discusses many of the concepts in Patanjalis Sutras, but goes further with more instruction, and discusses Kundalini.

THE HISTORY OF YOGA – MIDDLE AGES

Many sub traditions of Yoga emerged at this time including Hatha Yoga. Hatha Yoga includes the physical practices of Bandhas, Mudras and Shat Karmas to prepare the body and mind for the release of Kundalini.

THE HISTORY OF YOGA – MODERN YOGA

Swami Vivekananda brought Yoga to the West in the 1890’s but did not involve Asana. Yoga which focuses on Asana is said to have started with Krishnamacharya in the 1920’s to 1950’s. Students of Krishnamacharya included Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. Pattabhi Jois created the Ashtanga Vinyasa system of Hatha Yoga.  

This is a very brief summery of the history of Yoga.

Martin Thompson.