The Yoga Guide

History of Yoga

The saying, "What's in the past, should stay in the past" - doesn't work here.

We might already have an idea of what Yoga is but to understand it better, we have to know what it has become as well as its roots and beginnings. A quick look at the history of Yoga will help us appreciate its rich tradition and who knows, it might help us incorporate Yoga into our lives.

Although Yoga is said to be as old as civilization, there is no physical evidence to support this claim. Earliest archaeological evidence of Yoga's existence could be found in stone seals which depict figures of Yoga Poses. The stone seals place Yoga's existence around 3000 B.C.

Scholars, however, have a reason to believe that Yoga existed long before that and traced its beginnings in Stone Age Shamanism. Both Shamanism and Yoga have similar characteristics particularly in their efforts to improve the human condition at that time. Also, they aim to heal community members and the practitioners act as religious mediators. Though we know Yoga as focusing more on the self, it started out as community-oriented before it turned inward.

For a better discussion of the history of Yoga, we could divide it into four periods: the Vedic Period, Pre-Classical Period, Classical Period, and Post-Classical Period.

Vedic Period

The existence of the Vedas marks this period. The Vedas is the sacred scripture of Brahmanism that is the basis of modern-day Hinduism. It is a collection of hymns which praise a divine power. The Vedas contains the oldest known Yogic teachings and as such, teachings found in the Vedas are called Vedic Yoga. This is characterized by rituals and ceremonies that strive to surpass the limitations of the mind.

During this time, the Vedic people relied on rishis or dedicated Vedic Yogis to teach them how to live in divine harmony. Rishis were also gifted with the ability to see the ultimate reality through their intensive spiritual practice. It was also during this time that Yogis living in seclusion (in forests) were recorded.

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Tibetan Yoga