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Chapter: History Of Yoga

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History Of Yoga         (Read Demo Chapter)
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History Of Yoga


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Yoga has its origin thousands of years ago in India. It has originated from a universal desire to attaining happiness and getting rid of sufferings. According to yogic lore, Shiva is considered the founder of yoga. A number of seals and fossil remains of Indus Valley Civilisation, dating back to 2700 BC indicates that yoga was prevalent in ancient India. However, systematic reference of yoga is found in Patanjali's Yogadarshana. Maharishi Patanjali systematised the yogic practices. After Patanjali, many sages/yogis contributed to its development and as a result yoga has now spread all over the world. In this sequence, on 11 December 2014, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) with 193 members approved the proposal to celebrate ‘June 21’ as the ‘International Yoga Day’.

Yoga originated in ancient India and is considered one of the longest surviving philosophical systems in the world. Some scholars have estimated that yoga is as old as 5,000 years; artifacts detailing yoga postures have been found in India from over 3000 B.C. A recent poll conducted by Yoga Journal found that 11 million Americans do yoga at least occasionally and 6 million perform it regularly.

Hatha yoga is the most commonly practiced branch of yoga in the United States, and it is a highly developed system of nearly 200 physical postures, movements, and breathing techniques. The yoga philosophy maintains that the breath is the most important facet of health, as the breath is the largest source of "prana," or life force, and hatha yoga uses "pranayama," which literally means the science or control of breathing.

The yoga we know today was developed as a part of the tantric civilisation which existed in India and all parts of the world more than ten thousand years ago. In archaeological excava- tions made in the Indus Valley at Harappa and Mohenjodaro, now in modern Pakistan, many statues have been found de- picting deities resembling Lord Shiva and Parvati performing various asanas and practising meditation. These ruins were once the dwelling place of people who lived in the pre-vedic age before the Aryan civilisation started to  flourish  in  the Indus subcontinent. According to mythical tradition, Shiva is said to be the founder of yoga and Parvati, his first disciple.


Lord Shiva is widely considered to be the symbol or em- bodiment of supreme consciousness. Parvati represents supreme knowledge, will and action, and is responsible for all creation. This force or energy is also known as kundalini shakti, the cosmic force which lies dormant in all beings. Parvati is regarded as the mother of the whole universe. The individual soul is embodied and bound to the world of name and form, and also liberated from the bondage of the world and united with supreme consciousness through her grace. Out of love  and compassion for her children, she imparted her secret knowledge of liberation in the form of tantra. The techniques of yoga have their source in tantra and the two cannot be separated, just as consciousness, Shiva, cannot be separated from energy, Shakti.

Tantra is a combination of two words, tanoti and trayati, which mean 'expansion' and 'liberation' respectively. There- fore, it is the science of expanding the consciousness and liberating the energy. Tantra is the way to  attain  freedom from the bondage of the world while still living in it. The first step in tantra is to know the limitations and capacities of the body and mind. Next it prescribes techniques for the expan- sion of consciousness and the liberation of energy whereby individual limitations are transcended and a higher reality experienced.


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Yoga arose at the beginning of human civilisation when man first realised his spiritual potential and began to evolve techniques to develop it. The yogic science was slowly evolved and developed by ancient sages all over the world. The essence of yoga has often been shrouded in or explained by different symbols, analogies and languages. Some traditions believe that yoga was a divine gift revealed to the ancient sages so that mankind could have the opportunity to realise its divine nature.

In ancient times, yoga techniques were kept secret  and were never written down or exposed to public  view.  They were passed on from teacher or guru to disciple by word of mouth. In this way there was a clear understanding of their meaning and aim. Through personal experience, realised yogis and sages were able to guide sincere aspirants along the correct path, removing any confusion,  misunderstanding and excessive intellectual contemplation.

The first books to refer to yoga were the ancient  Tantras and later the Vedas which were written about the time  the Indus Valley culture was flourishing. Although they do  not give specific practices, they allude to  yoga  symbolically.  In fact, the verses of the Vedas were heard by the rishis, seers, in states of deep, yogic meditation or samadhi, and are regarded as revealed scriptures. It is, however, in the Upanishads that yoga begins to take a more definable shape. These scriptures collectively form Vedanta, the culmination of the Vedas,  and are said to contain the essence of the Vedas.

Sage Patanjali's treatise on raja yoga, the Yoga Sutras, codi- fied the first definitive, unified and comprehensive system of yoga. Often called the eight-fold path, it is comprised of yama, self-restraints, niyama, self-observances, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, disassociation of consciousness from the outside environment, dharana, concentration, dhyana, meditation and samadhi, identification with pure consciousness.

In the 6th century BC, Lord Buddha's influence brought  the ideals of meditation, ethics and morality to the fore  and the preparatory practices of yoga were ignored. However, Indian thinkers soon realised the limitations of this view. The yogi Matsyendranath taught that before taking to the prac- tices of meditation, the body and its elements need purifying. He founded the Nath cult and the yogic pose matsyendrasana was named after him. His chief disciple, Gorakhnath, wrote books on hatha yoga in the local dialect and in Hindi.


Indian tradition previously required that original texts be written in Sanskrit. In some cases they clothed their writings in symbolism so that only those prepared and ready for a teach- ing would be able to understand it. One of the most outstanding authorities on hatha yoga, Swami Swatmarama, wrote the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, or 'Light on Yoga', in San- skrit, collating all extant material on the subject.  In doing so, he reduced the emphasis on yama and niyama from hatha yoga, thereby eliminating a great obstacle experienced by many beginners. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swatmarama starts with the body and only later, when the mind  has  become more stable and balanced, are self-control and self-discipline introduced.

The relevance of yoga today

Today, as we prepare to enter the 21st century, a spiritual heritage is being reclaimed of which yoga is very much a part. While yoga's central theme remains the highest goal of the spiritual path, yogic practices give direct and tangible benefits to everyone regardless of their spiritual aims.

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Physical and mental therapy is one of yoga's most important achievements. What makes it so powerful and effective is the fact that it works on the wholistic principles of harmony and unification. Yoga has succeeded as an alternative form of therapy in diseases such as asthma, diabetes, blood pressure, arthritis, digestive disorders and other ailments of a chronic and constitutional nature where modern science has not. Research into the effects of yogic practices on HIV is currently underway with promising results. According to medical scientists, yoga therapy is successful because of the balance created in the nervous and endocrine systems which directly influences all the other systems and organs of the body.

For most people, however, yoga is simply a means of main- taining health and well-being in an increasingly stressful society. Asanas remove the physical discomfort accumulated during a day at the office sitting in a chair,  hunched over a desk. Relaxation techniques help maximise  the  effectiveness of ever-diminishing time off. In an age of mobile phones, beepers and twenty-four hour shopping, yogic practices make great personal and even business sense.

Beyond the needs of individuals, the underlying principles of yoga provide a real tool to combat social malaise. At a time when the world seems to be at a loss, rejecting past values without being able to establish new ones, yoga provides a means for people to find their own way of connecting with their true selves. Through this connection with their real selves it is pos- sible for people to manifest harmony in the  current age,  and for compassion to emerge where hitherto there has been none.


In this respect, yoga is far from simply being physical exercises, rather, it is an aid to establishing a new way of life which embraces both inner and outer realities. However, this way of life is an experience which cannot be understood intellectually and will only become living knowledge through practice and experience.

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