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History of yoga

The Origin of Yoga

The yogic seals found in Indus-Saraswati Civilisation are the earliest shreds of evidence suggesting yoga was practiced there well before 5000 years from now. There is a possibility that It could have been originated from there. 


The seals depict an image of a figure, maybe a male deity, performing a yogic posture.  It resembles Lord Shiva and was named by scholars as Prota-Shiva. Some seals show three faces of the figure. The fact that the later scriptures attribute the origin of yoga to Lord Shiva and the three faces of Lord Shiva are the strong points in support of the suggestion. But it could not be concluded since there is some room for other chances. It is possible that the deity might have four faces, of which one face is hidden behind. In that case, it may indicate Lord Brahma.

yogic-seal Indus Valley Civilisation
Proto-Siva of Indus-Saraswathi Civilisation

We can clearly deduce two things. One deduction is that Yoga is 5000 years old. Another conclusion is that it originated from the people of Indus-Saraswati Civilisation.


The theory of Ariyans and their invasion as advocated by Europian scholars are baseless. The unproven hypothesis cannot be a fact. How they can be called History?


The Vedas are said to have been compiled before 2300 years from now. Before that, they were orally passed on from generation to generation. One does not have any clue about the age of Vedas since they have been orally transmitted from the time immemorial. Having said that, How anyone can call a period as Pre-Vedic Era? 

Rig Veda is the earliest of all Vedas. The term yoga is found mentioned in Rig Veda which means the practice of Yoga prevailed over the period. You could not make a reference point in the timescale, because the age of Vedas could not be determined. Maybe it predates the archaeological pieces of evidence that we have already discussed.


We could safely conclude that yoga is at least 5000 years old and its prevalence was found in Indus-Saraswati Civilisation as well as Vedic Civilisation, if not they are one and the same.

The Evolution of Yoga

Yoga is said to have borne out of Sankhya Philosophy.  Sankhya is metaphysical in nature.  It denies the existence of God. It is the doctrine of Jnana only. But yoga is the doctrine of both Jnana and Dhyana.  Meditation and asceticism are the two basic processes of Yoga whereas the principle and the process of Dhyana are not found in Sankhya. Yoga has borrowed some concepts like Purusha, three gunas and the like from Sankhya. Some terms of Sankhya are found even in Vedic literature. It does not mean that Vedas are based on Sankhya philosophy. Likewise, Yoga could not have originated from Sankhya, because their basic principles are opposite to one another. Moreover, Sankhya advocates the Purusha and Prakriti which are always different. It is dualistic co-existence. Yoga is monistic in nature which is diametrically opposite to dualism. The very word yoga connotes the union of the subject and the object, both are one and the same in essence. In Sankhya, subject could not become the object and object could not become the subject.

The Advaita philosophy or monism is the very basic of yoga. Advaita is the Upanishadic philosophy of Vedic literature. Yoga and Vedic philosophy are on the same plane. Yoga might have originated from Vedic Philosophy or Vedic Philosophy from yoga. Or they both might have stemmed out of a single root.

The History of yoga can be broadly classified into three periods.

  • The Classic Yoga Period (5000 BCE to 800 AD)

  • The Medieval Yoga Period (801 AD to 1900 AD)

  • The Modern Yoga Period (1901 onwards)

The Classic Yoga Period (5000 BCE to 800 AD)

The start of the Classic Era could not be determined. Hence it is meaningless to call any period as Pre-Classic Period.

The yogic philosophy is spread over the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and Agamas. The yoga Upanishads, Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, Thirumanthiram of Thirumoolar, Yanjavalkiya Samhita, Yoga Vasista and Bhagavat Gita are the earliest yoga scriptures. They all belong to 1st millennium BCE. Thirumoolar states that Patanjali and himself were of the same era. The most common aspect of yoga found in these scriptures is that Yoga is the discipline of the mind. The Asana and Pranayama were there but they were not given much importance. We may conclude that Yoga started predominantly as the discipline of mind only.

The main type of yoga practiced during this period is Raja Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is the standard form of Raja Yoga. Ashtanga means the yoga of 8 limbs. Yama. Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are the eight parts of Ashtanga Raja Yoga. Some scriptures skip the Yama and Niyama and give the remaining 6 parts of yoga. Some scriptures like Tejo Bindu Upanishad expounds 15 limbs of Raja called as Pancha Dasanga Yoga.

The Medieval Yoga Period (801 AD to 1800 AD)

During the time of late 9th century, the school of Natha yoga flourished. The yogis like Matsyendranath and Goraknath developed the doctrine of Natha yoga. They have a different approach to yoga. The importance is shifted from mind control to body control. Mind control was given lesser importance. The mind control is achieved through body control with the help of Yoga postures, Pranayama, Mudras, and Bandhas. Natha yogis were the first to practice Hatha Yoga. The modern postural yoga has its origin in the Hatha Yogic School of Natha Sampradaya.


Lord Siva (Adinath) was the first Guru of Natha Sampradaya. Yogi Matsyendranath got the knowledge of hatha yoga from Lord Shiva. Goraknath was the disciple of Matyendranath. 


The main type of yoga practiced during this period is Hatha Yoga. Lots of yoga scriptures were written during this period. Hatha Yoga Pradipika of Svatmarama is the most famous one. Other notable yoga scriptures include Siva Samhita, Gheranda Samhita and Goraksa Sataka.

The Modern Yoga Period (1801 onwards)

Now the focus shifted from Body control together with lesser mind control to body control alone. The term yoga now used to mean yoga postures alone, losing its original meaning. Yoga is institutionalised and commercialised.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Sri Ramana Maharishi and Sri Kanchi Sankarasekharendra Saraswati Swamikal (Kanchi Periava) were the Jivan Muktas and worth to be called as sages during this period. They practised Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Karma Yoga respectively for their enlightenment.

Swami Vivekananda, the direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna spread the knowledge of yoga in the west. He, the cyclonic monk from India as termed by the US media, stunned the audience of the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in 1893 with his electrifying lectures on Hinduism and Yoga. Subsequent upon this, he delivered hundreds of lectures at various parts of the United States, United Kingdom and Europe. In 1894, he founded the Vedanta Society of Newyork.  In 1896, he published his first book on yoga: Raja Yoga which is a commentary on Yoga Sutra of Patanjali and it greatly influenced the western understanding of Yoga.


In 1920, Swami Paramahansa Yogananda went to the United States to delegate to the International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston. In the same year, he founded the Self Realization Fellowship to disseminate the philosophy and practice of yoga. He lived in the United States from 1920 through 1952. In 1946, he wrote his famous book: Autobiography of a Yogi. His yoga teachings were based the kriya yoga practised and taught by Yogi Lahiri Mahasaya and said to have been formulated by Mahavatar Babaji.

Swami Sivananda (1887-1963) was a medical doctor before he renounced the world and founded the  Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh in 1932 and Divine Life Society in 1936. With his profound Knowledge of yoga, he authored more than 300 books. His teachings spread the world and millions followed his path.


Swami Kuvalayananda (1883-1966) was basically a researcher on Yoga. His published his first yoga research magazine Yoga Mimamsa in 1924. He founded the Kavalyadhama Health and Yoga Research Centre (Kdham) in 1924 at LonavlaMaharashtraIndia. Kdham is recognised by the Government of India as All India Institute of Higher Education


Dr.Rapheal Hurst (1898-1981) best known by his pen name  Dr.Paul Brunton was a British Spiritualist who travelled vastly to India, Tibet, China, Egypt and many more countries in quest of finding the truth. His bestselling book A search in Secret India was published in 1934 which inspired the western mind to have a fresh look on Yoga and Indian Spiritualism. The book was a travelogue wherein gave non-prejudicial accounts of his interviews with Yogis, Gurus, mystics and magicians of Indian Sub-continent.

Yogi Bhajan (1929-2004), being a son of a medical doctor, began his yogic training when he was eight years old and in his sixteenth year, his master Sant Hazara Singh declared him as the master of Kundalini Yoga. he founded 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy organisation) in 1969 at California. Now, 3HO has more than 300 centres in 35 countries. It serves the community through Kundalini Yoga.


Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918-2018) introduced his Transcendental Meditation technique to the world which has millions of followers now. Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji is one of the disciples of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Swami Satyananda (1923-2009) was one of the disciples of Swami Sivananda and he founded the Bihar School of Yoga. He authored many books on Yoga and inspired millions of people throughout the world.

Sri Osho (1931-1990) also known as Acharya Rajneesh was one of the controversial godman. He wrote more than 600 books. His deep insight into Yoga should not be discarded.

Sri TKV Desikacharyar, the son and disciple of  Sri.T.Krishnamacharyar, the yoga legend and the father of modern yoga, founded the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in the year 1976. He is the author of the most famous book The Heart of Yoga. The yoga taught by BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and Indra Devi had its root in the legacy of T.Krishnamacharya.

Definition of Yoga
Benefits of Yoga
Types of Yoga
Styles of Yoga
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