Everyone knows that yoga is age-old and that it originates from India, but nobody knows how old it is and where exactly in India it was birthed. Most historians believe that the concept of yoga first appeared around 5,000 years ago.
Their claims are based on solid evidence found in sacred texts, such as the Rig Veda.
Other historians go so far as to say that yoga appeared somewhere around 10,000 years ago, but there is little to no evidence to back up their claims; not only were there very few people who could write well, if at all, but they also wrote everything on thin palm leaves that would wear out quickly.
The philosophy of yoga is simple to understand: your mind, body and spirit become a whole and can’t be separated. Yogis that lived thousands of years ago would practice yoga to attain the above mentioned trinity, but in time it has inevitably lost its original meaning.
People nowadays are not really aware of the spiritual side of yoga and practice it for the sole purpose of flexing their muscles to tone up their bodies or alleviate physical pain.
Although yoga is a very broad philosophy with many branches that appeared or disappeared in time, historians managed to put together four different main periods of innovation, practice and development. Let’s see what they are.
1. Pre-Classical Yoga
Yoga has not always been the extremely organized philosophy that you practice today. In the pre-classical stage, yoga was a mashup of other ideas and beliefs that were incompatible or contradicted each other altogether.
Most historians agree that yoga appeared somewhere around 5,000 years ago in Northern India. They base their claims on evidence found in the Rig Veda, a collection of sacred texts, where the word “yoga” is mentioned on a number of occassions.
Later on, “yoga” was mentioned by Brahmans and Rishis, who refined the practices and immortalized them in the documents known as Upanishads. During this period, karma yoga and jnana yoga are said to have been heavily practiced.
2. Classical Yoga
If the pre-classical stage was a mind boggling mixture of ideas and techniques, the classical period is the very first systematic layout of yoga.
In comparison with the pre-classical stage, there are also many more written records that actually confirm this period existed. Classical Yoga is defined by the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a collection of four books which contain a total of 196 aphorisms. Patanjali is said to be the father of modern-day yoga.
3. Post-Classical Yoga
Post-classical Yoga commenced a few centuries following the death of sage Patanjali. Yoga had split into various types in the previous stages, but post-classical yoga is particularly interesting in this regard.
Yoga masters denied the teachings of the Vedas, and adopted the belief that the physical body is the means to achieve full spiritual enlightenment. This is how Tantra Yoga and Hatha Yoga appeared.
4. Modern-Day Yoga
Until the early 1900s, yoga was exclusively practiced in India and other surrounding Asian countries. Yoga masters would soon start exporting their philosophy to the Western world.
Perhaps the most iconic moment for yoga in the West was the 1893 Parliament of Religions event in Chicago, when Swami Vivekananda impressed every attendee with his various lectures on yoga and how it could change the world for the better.
Throughout the 20th century, yoga became largely adopted. In 1924, the first Hatha Yoga school was founded, and in 1936, the Divine Life Society was founded on the banks of the holy Ganges River.
The novelty of yoga could not be overlooked, and this is the main reason why it quickly spread worldwide.
Even though the metaphysical side of yoga is largely dismissed nowadays, people still practice it, but rather as a sport, like football, water polo, or gymnastics, rather than anything else.