A Brief History of Yoga
In the Western world, yoga may seem like a relatively new trend, but its roots stretch way back in ancient history. The first yogic scriptures were written in India between 1000 and 500 BC. They were hymns written in Sanskrit called the Vedas, which means “knowledge,” and they focused mainly on the joining or union of the material and spiritual worlds through rituals and ceremonies. The Vedic sages, “seers” or “saints” who wrote the Vedas, connected the two worlds by concentrating for long periods of time, seeking to discover the root of their existence through the focus of the mind.
Later, sometime between the seventeenth and fifth centuries BC, the Upanishads, a huge collection of Hindu stories, presenting yoga’s philosophy and practices, was published. This text continued the philosophy of the Vedas and acted as spiritual guides for applying the transcendental self to daily life. During this period, the Bhagavad Gita was also written; many yogis still use this parable to learn how to let go of the ego.
Next came what is known as the classical period of yoga. This period centers on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the idea that the mind and the body must be worked on separately through poses and meditation.
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A few centuries after the Yoga Sutras, regarded as the “bible” of yoga, the post-classical period of yoga began, bringing more focus to the strengths and abilities of the body. Yoga masters of this time created a system of postures to challenge the body and prolong its life. This system evolved into
Hatha yoga, and was the beginning of what we now recognize as the physical practice of yoga poses, or asana. This is where we first see asana and breathing practices described in detail along with their benefits in texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Shiva Samhita.
In 1893, Swami Vivekananda, a great charismatic teacher and student of one of India’s most beloved and enlightened teachers, Ramakrishna, landed on Western soil. He introduced yoga to the American public for the first time at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago. He taught mostly about the mind, meditation, visualization, and Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga (see below). But what endeared him to the West was his message of universal truth, which was so needed at the time. And so the modern period of yoga began. Since then, the method has taken root in the West, with millions of people practicing some type of yoga or meditation.
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