To begin, let’s approach this history of yoga going back more than 5,000 years ago to the origins of the Indus Valley civilization. Today, this valley is located in northwest India.
At that time, yoga was first mentioned in the Rig Veda. This collection, written in Vedic Sanskrit, is composed of spiritual texts from India composing the premises of the philosophy of yoga. In summary, it includes a collection of chants, mantras, and rites. Also, initially, yoga was intended to promote a better understanding of the world. However, it later evolved into a study of the self in which self-development was the central objective.
Then, later, the collection of Hindu texts called the Upanishads defined this path simply as: “studying with a master and devoting one’s life to the practice of yoga.”
Appearance of founding texts: A turning point in the history of yoga
Around the 6th century BCE, yoga postures (or asanas) and meditation became important elements of yoga. However, these are further developed by the teachings of Buddha.
However, between the 5th century BC and the first century AD, several founding texts of yoga appeared.
First of all, the Bhagavad-Gita which is part of the famous Hindu national epic, the Mahabharata, develops increasingly clear ideas about yoga. In this story, we find the description of 18 forms of yoga such as Bhakti-Yoga or Mantra-Yoga, for example.
It is also a period in the history of yoga where the great philosophical systems appear. One of them presents yoga as a philosophy of liberation of being.
Furthermore, this century of philosophical ferment also saw the emergence of one of the last founding texts of yoga: the Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali.
The Yoga-Sutra: A major compendium of the history of yoga
In this collection, Patanjali lays the foundations for Ashtanga Yoga or “8-branched yoga”. Thus, in 195 aphorisms, or brief statements summarizing a theory or knowledge, the Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali codify the teaching of a traditional practice several centuries old. The text is written in Sanskrit where the word ‘Sutra’ means the thread of a necklace connecting all the pearls.
An important turning point in the history of yoga
The mid-19th century marks another important turning point in the history of yoga. It is the century of industrialization, modernity and exchanges between different continents, particularly between East and West.
In this dynamic, yoga and other aspects of Indian philosophy are beginning to internationalize mainly among cultured Westerners.
The role of educated Westerners in the history of yoga.
This internationalization of yoga began in the 1890s. The famous yogi Swami Vivekananda then toured Europe and the United States. At the time, many intellectuals supported its popularity.
Let us cite for example:
First, transcendentalists, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.
Some German romantics and philosophers like Georg Hegel and Arthur Schopenhauer admired the culture and ideologies of India.
Theosophists who ultimately influenced the view and acceptance of yoga in the United States. In fact, this movement embraces a host of mystical and occult philosophies. Thus, its followers believed that ancient knowledge of the past could offer an understanding of the natural world and lead to inner enlightenment, even salvation.
A history of modern yoga in a changing world
The history of yoga then sees the emergence of different gurus like Swami Sivananda who was another influential proponent. He maintained that modern yoga was based on 5 principles:
- Proper exercises
- Healthy diet
- Positive thoughts and meditation
Then, in the 1960s, yoga was associated with the American counterculture movement. At that time, young people and hippies were interested in meditation and oriental spirituality.
Later, the popularity of gyms and health clubs in the 1980s further increased interest in yoga. Soon, beginners of all ages and walks of life were practicing their upward facing dog pose and connecting with their “internal guru.”
The history of yoga in the face of modernity
Today, many People practice yoga primarily for the body. This is why many people practice yoga to:
- Get back in shape
- Losing weight
- Address their sedentary lifestyle
- Stretch tense muscles due to stress or daily pressures.
Nevertheless, the ancestral traditions of yoga remain. First of all, yoga postures are still called by their original Sanskrit name. For example, Savasana or Tadasana. Additionally, fundamental postures like the crow, camel, and grasshopper are as revered as they were a century ago. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter whether you practice at home, in a gym or a dedicated yoga studio, you are part of a still-living tradition that is thousands of years old.
A history of yoga rich in diversity of traditions
Over time, the history of yoga has evolved with the proliferation of several distinct types of tradition or yoga. Here are some very popular styles today:
- Vinyasa Yoga is a dynamic version that combines breathing and movements. Let us add that this style of yoga is often practiced with music.
- Hatha Yoga is a gentle, slow-paced version that is excellent for beginners.
- Iyengar Yoga improves alignment and form. Thus, it is ideal for those recovering from injuries.
- Ashtanga Yoga is ideal for high achievers. Also, this style of yoga focuses on repeated routines and strict guidelines.
- Bikram Yoga includes 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises practiced in a very hot and humid room. Note that this style of yoga is at the origin of more varied forms of hot yoga.\Kundalini Yoga. This style of yoga integrates repetitive exercises and breathing work with chanting, chanting and meditation.
- Last but not least, there is Yin Yoga in which postures are held for several minutes to provide therapeutic stretching. A variation of this yoga is Restorative Yoga, with postures held for longer for deep relaxation.
Yin Yoga, a newcomer in the history of yoga?
Yin Yoga dates from the 1990s. Its founder is the American Paul Grilley. The latter drew its foundations from Taoist philosophy and traditional Chinese medicine. Coming from a more “Yang” tradition, Paul Grilley deepened his practice by developing a form of yoga combining his training in anatomy at UCLA with the teachings of the Japanese Motoyama on energy. In addition, the meeting with Paulie Zink, master of Ta Sheng Men (or Monkey Kung-Fu), a martial art that involves staying in postures for a long time to deeply soften and circulate the body’s energies, was decisive. Paul Grilley synthesized all this knowledge to create what would later become Yin Yoga.
At first, this new style of yoga was called “Daoist yoga”. It then drew its origins from the ground postures of Taoist yoga and the Chinese martial art Monkey Kung-Fu. However, this style was renamed on the recommendation of one of P. Grilley’s students, Sarah Powers, to Yin Yoga.
Summarizing the history of yoga in a few dates
To conclude and summarize this brief history of yoga, let us focus on some significant dates in the evolution of this wonderful ancestral disciple:
– 5000 years BCE: First mentions of yoga in an ancient text, the Rig-Veda.
6th century BCE: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali codify the 8-branched yoga philosophy in 195 aphorisms.
In the 1890s, the famous yogi Swami Vivekananda popularized yoga in Europe and the United States.
Early 20th century: Krishnamacharya creates what we consider the modern, more physical style of yoga: Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.
In the 1960s: Yoga was associated with the youth and hippie counterculture movement.
Around 1980: the popularity of gymnasiums and health clubs further increased interest in yoga, particularly the physical practice of yoga postures.
Around 1990: From this decade, the different forms of yoga accelerate. Thus, after having done more physical yoga, the American Paul Grilley founded what we today call Yin Yoga.
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