Yoga is an ancient spiritual practice that aims to build harmony, awareness, and strength in the mind and body; a complete system of physical, mental, spiritual, and social development. For many people who practice it, the primary goal of yoga is to seek one’s true Self and become devoid of desires and worldly attachments. In the modern world, yoga has also become one of the best practices to improve one’s physique and mental state.

The practice of yoga can be dated back to over 5,000 years ago, but some experts believe that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old. Given its long and rich history, there are many uncertainties within the practice, which raises questions on what is authentic – especially in the West.

So, in this article, we will shed some light on the history of yoga. Here, you will learn about yoga from its early inception to what we know it as today. This can help you gain a better understanding of the principles behind this ancient practice. Let’s dive in!

Why Learning The History Of Yoga Is So Important

Things have changed a lot – but the principles of early yoga remain the same. However, that doesn’t change the fact that yoga has drifted away from its roots, inevitably losing some of its connections to earlier practices over thousands of years old.

Understanding and appreciating those roots is the reason why learning about the history of yoga is essential to modern-day practice. We must understand the basis of yoga to be able to take our practice to a deeper level. We are striving for an improved sense of self-awareness and harmony of our mind and body – and understanding the basics of yoga history will aid in this.

What Is The History Of Yoga: Timeline From Early Inception To Present Day

What better way to give you the history than with a history of yoga timeline! Let’s start with the early inception.

Early Inception

Many scholars believe that yoga started between 5,000-10,000 years ago in ancient India. As the legend goes, Shiva (the third god of the Hindu triumvirate) was the first yogi and achieved enlightenment in Mount Kailash, where he danced all over the mountains or sat in complete stillness. In yogic culture, however, Shiva is known as the first guru and not as a god.

Pre-Classical Yoga

Up until the 1920s, it was believed that yoga started only 500 B.C. during the time of Gautama the Buddha. However, archeologists then discovered the earliest reference to yoga in the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, which existed over 3,000 years ago.

Archeologists found the Pashupati seals, which depict humans in poses similar to yoga. These poses are known as the Baddhka Konasana and Mulabandhasana.

Vedic Yoga

The Vedic age took place in 2,500 – 1,500 B.C, a few years after the pre-classical yoga period. The Vedas are the oldest spiritual texts in India with over 20,000 verses of hymns, mantras, and rituals. They contained the wisdom found in ancient Indian culture, and within these texts was where the word yoga was first discovered.

There are four Vedas: Rig Veda (Knowledge of Praise), Yajur Veda (Knowledge of Sacrifice), Sama Veda (Knowledge of Chant), and Atharva Veda (Knowledge of Atharvan; the procedures of everyday life). Within the Atharva Veda Samhita was where the term asana and the myths about ascetics in lotus posture were found.

Vedic Yoga was deeply rooted in the ritual life of ancient Indians, revolving around the idea of sacrifice as a way to connect the material and spiritual worlds.

Classical Yoga

Classical yoga consists of the Rāja-Yoga (also known as the eightfold Yoga), a Sankrit text comprising less than 200 statements. Patanjali, a sage in ancient India, organized the practice of yoga into an eight-limbed path, which consisted of steps and stages towards enlightenment. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are the first systematic presentation of the practice. For this reason, Patanjali is known as the Father of Yoga.

The eight limbs of yoga are:

  1. First limb (Yama) – attitudes toward our environment. It consists of five Yamas: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (honesty and truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (right use of energy, marital fidelity/sexual restraint), Aparigraha (non-greed, non-coveting).
  2. Second limb (Niyama) – positive duties. It consists of five Niyamas: Saucha (cleanliness/ purity of the mind and body), Santosha (contentment, acceptance), Tapas (discipline), Svadhyaya (study, self-reflection), Isvara Pranidhana (contemplation of the divine).
  3. Third limb (Asana) – posture
  4. Fourth limb (Pranayama) – breathing techniques
  5. Fifth limb (Pratyahara) – withdrawal of the senses
  6. Sixth limb (Dharana) – focused attention on a single thing
  7. Seventh limb (Dhyana) – meditation
  8. Eight limb (Samadhi) – bliss or enlightenment

Post-Classical Yoga

In 500 – 1,300 A.D., there is more focus on asana. Yogis now see the physical body as the way to reach bliss or enlightenment. This can be seen in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by Swami Swatmarama in 1,400 CE, which describes yoga asanas in detail.

Swami Swatmarama believed that practicing yoga asanas can lead one to the last liberation from the cycles of suffering. Along with Swami Swatmarama, many other yoga masters emerged during this period and created practices designed to prolong life and rejuvenate the body.

The deeper focus on body-centered practices from this period evolved to become modern-day yoga.

Modern Yoga

The period of modern yoga began just 300 years ago. In the 1800s, yoga masters traveled to the West and sparked the Western yoga movement. In 1893, Swami Vivekananda spoke at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, where he discussed yoga and managed to gain a lot of attention.

From then, more yoga masters became popular in the West. Among them are Paramahansa Yogananda who established the Self-Realization Fellowship; Yogendra Mastamani who showcased Hatha Yoga to Americans; and Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is considered as one of the most influential yoga teachers of the 20th century and the father of Modern Yoga.

Of course, we also have the Dalai Lama, who is the champion of nonviolence and the most famous Buddhist teacher in the world.

Within these 300 years, yoga has evolved into many different schools and styles, some of which were influenced by the West. Today, Hatha Yoga is the most popular and revolves around the traditional aspects of yoga, including breathing, awareness, and meditation.

Present Day

These days, yoga is one of the most common forms of exercise and mediation out there. There are all sorts of reasons to do yoga – it helps improve balance, can prevent arthritis, and can even be effective for weight loss.

Wrapping Up The History Of Yoga Timeline

The history of yoga is so long and old that it is impossible to clear up the obscurities that may be present in its timeline today. Nevertheless, having a basic understanding of where yoga came from, how it started, and how it came to be the yoga that we know today is enough to get a good grasp of what your yoga practice is aiming for.

Before, yogis did not use yoga mats at all. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1980s when yogis started using yoga mats for harder poses that called for extra cushioning. These days, yogis are far more aware of the type of products they use in their practice. To truly unlock the benefits of yoga, you need the proper yoga mat.

Here at Pureful Yoga, we have organic cork yoga mats that are perfect for any type of yoga, as well as cork yoga blocks to enhance your pose and provide additional support. And if you’re a beginner, we also have alignment yoga mats to help guide you through your poses. Start your yoga practice in the best way possible and get all-natural, 100% non-toxic, and fully recyclable yoga products today!