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Yoga’s History: From Mystery to Modern Understanding

Jailee is an eclectic writer with an interest in health, nutrition, science, business, economy, agriculture, and a plethora of little things


History of Yoga

The history of yoga has been shrouded in mystery and uncertainty for centuries, due to the secrecy of its teachings. The preservation of ancient texts such as those on palm leaves is difficult because they are often easily destroyed or lost, meaning there may be a gap between our modern understanding and what yogis actually practiced thousands of years ago. However, experts have unearthed some clues by studying early writings about yoga transcribed onto fragile organic materials that were preserved through good fortune; these findings give us insight into how long-standing practices like Yoga can evolve over time.

A recent archeological discovery on the banks of Yamuna River found a series of stone carvings from 400 BC depicting yogis practicing their poses with animals resembling dogs and cows having close contact with them. The interpretation at this point is unclear: it’s possible they are depictions of real events, or just images created to represent spiritual ideas such as asceticism and nonviolence. Regardless, one thing remains clear — the practice of yoga has been around for at least several thousand years.

For many centuries, yogis have practiced their poses in secrecy with an emphasis on personal enlightenment. As a result, there is little documented evidence about the origins and evolution of Yoga from antiquity to the modern-day; it’s hard to tell what may be based on truth or legend. It was not until 1894 when Swami Vivekananda brought Yoga teachings East that Westerners became more receptive to this spiritual tradition as well as its physical benefits, like improved flexibility and strength which can lead people down healthy paths of recovery from addiction or illness.

There are four eras to the history of Yoga:

Pre-Classical Period — The earliest evidence of Yoga is from carvings on the banks of the Yamuna River in 400 BC, which show yogis practicing their poses with animals resembling dogs and cows having close contact with them. The interpretation at this point is unclear: it’s possible they are depictions of real events, or just images created to represent spiritual ideas such as asceticism and nonviolence.

Classical Period — There are many different texts that document this period, including “The Hatha Pradipika,” which describes various postures and their benefits to help people achieve enlightenment; it also includes a list of 84 asanas.

Post-Classical Period — This period is known as the “Golden Age” of Yoga when it spread to other countries and began gaining popularity. There are many texts from this era that document teachings about meditation in addition to postures; some famous examples include Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (200 BC) and The Gheranda Samhita (300 AD).

Modern Era — This is the era that has been influenced by Swami Vivekananda’s teachings from 1894. Yoga practices are becoming increasingly popular in Western countries as people experience its many physical and spiritual benefits, such as increased strength and flexibility that can help them manage addiction or illness.

True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied.

Aadil Palkhivala

The Yoga that we know today comes from long traditional practice and through the four eras of Yoga, we can see how it has evolved from a relatively isolated spiritual practice to a worldwide phenomenon.

Yoga is a practice that has long been used to heal and align the mind, body, and spirit. The way it’s practiced today includes more than just stretching; yoga can be an intense workout or even a relaxing therapy session depending on who you are as a person. Whatever your flavor of yoga is, know that there are plenty of benefits when you take time for yourself in this ancient practice.

There’s a reason that yoga has been around for centuries. The practice is rooted in history and backed by science, with research showing it can help prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes as well as depression and anxiety. As such, the practice deserves more attention than just an occasional stretch session at your desk or gym.

According to your personal needs or desires, there have been many developments over the centuries that have allowed for the mutation of yoga into many different and beneficial types of practice, while still holding true to the original teachings.

Yoga is a light which once lit will never dim, the better your practice the brighter your flame.

B.K.S. Iyengar

The most popular styles of yoga today include Iyengar, Ashtanga, Hatha, and Vinyasa, though the original Yoga was called Raja Yoga, and it is considered the most powerful type. There were many other forms of yoga that emerged over time due to their compatibility with different religious beliefs and traditions.

Whether you are practicing for physical or mental benefits, there is a type of yoga that fits your needs so it can be practiced consistently in order to maintain its positive effects.

It is important to take into consideration that Yoga has been evolving for over two millennia and what we know today may not be exactly how it was practiced before.

Iyengar: Developed by BKS Iyengar on his quest for perfection, this style places focus on precision-specific poses as well as breathing techniques or pranayama. The practice becomes very precise so practitioners are able to use their body weight just enough while remaining mindful of their alignment and form; though this type of yoga stresses physical postures, there is also great mental concentration required due to its difficulty level.

The goals of Iyengar are the cultivation of self-awareness, refinement of one’s intelligence, and the mastery of physical tasks.

Ashtanga: Created by Pattabhi Jois this style emphasizes synchronizing movement with breathing as well as focusing on precise alignment in postures while holding a certain number of counts per pose to achieve different levels of “samadhi” or deep meditation; unlike Iyengar where practitioners are conscious about their weight distribution, Ashtanga is focused solely on proper form regardless if it feels difficult or not.

The goals for this type of yoga are spiritual upliftment through self-discipline and concentration, which leads to better health over time due to its buildup effect.

Hatha Yoga: Hatha was created by Swami Satyananda in the 1960s and was based on traditional Hatha Yoga with a focus on physical postures, breathing techniques or pranayama, meditation. It is beneficial for beginners because it can be done at one’s own pace without any prior experience needed; while there are some poses that are difficult due to this type of yoga being more physically challenging than others, they have steps laid out so modifications can be made according to individual needs.

The goal of Hatha Yoga is an inward exploration through mental concentration which leads to increased awareness and self-realization over time with practice.

Vinyasa: Created by Sri K Patthabi Jois as a way for people who don’t want an intense workout but still need their minds and bodies to be active, Vinyasa is a style that focuses on synchronizing movement with breathing while maintaining an awareness of the breath. It has become popular in recent years because it can be practiced at any time or place without expensive equipment needed.

The goals for this type of yoga are spiritual upliftment through self-discipline and concentration, which leads to better health over time due to its buildup effect.

It’s important not only to know about Yoga styles but also how each one applies differently according to your needs so you could find what best suits you! While there may never truly be “one” form of yoga as they all have their own benefits depending on what we’re looking for, I hope everyone finds something that’s right for them.

A quick note about Raja Yoga:

The earliest mention of Raja Yoga is found in the Bhagavad-Gita, which was written sometime between 200 BCE and 500 CE. The text describes a process called Samkhya yoga  — this translates to “union with Samkhya,” or knowledge — as one form of yoga practiced by Hindu sages dedicated to self-realization.

Raja Yoga has traditionally been thought of as more philosophical than physical, so it’s no surprise that Hatha Yoga first emerged on the scene around 1500 years ago when Indian sage Swami Patanjali wrote down eight steps for spiritual attainment known collectively as Ashtanga (“eight-limbed”) Yoga. This system incorporates postures (or “asanas”), breathing exercises (or “pranayama”), and meditation.

I am not sure if I want to use the word “traditionally” or not, but strictly speaking, Raja Yoga does not include postures (or asanas) because they belong to Hatha Yoga; however, this distinction is less important than it might seem. In fact, some schools of yoga-like Iyengar Yoga, for example, combine both Raja and Hatha philosophies.

Raja means royal in Sanskrit and refers to the ultimate goal of life according to Patanjali’s philosophy — liberation from suffering caused by ignorance about our true nature — which he suggests we can attain through spiritual self-discipline.

The goal, according to Patanjali, is threefold:

- “Samyama,” which means complete control of the mind and all its states;

- Detachment from worldly desires or attachments through a process called “Vairagya”; and

- Constant meditation on one’s own true self as opposed to material objects (or pleasures).

Raja Yoga, therefore, does not recommend physical postures but instead advocates for mental discipline in order that we can better focus our minds during meditation.

This form of yoga was also thought more suitable for those who lead an active lifestyle such as warriors because it requires less time than Hatha Yoga would need. The Raja Yogi doesn’t have much time to practice physical postures and therefore concentrates on meditation.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jamielee