Do You Know How Old Yoga Actually Is? Here’s a Brief Look Into the Origins of Yoga

Modern yoga is the result of an idea that has constantly expanded and grown over time. Since many of us share an affinity for the practice and the philosophy of yoga, it’s likely that you have your own opinions about the origins of yoga, how old it is, and where it came from. But are you sure those opinions are correct?
Like many ancient practices, the origins of yoga are obscure to say the least. As an idea and a philosophy, it was once only passed down by oral tradition. But as a physical practice, it’s safe to say we’ll never know who showed up and struck the first Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
Thanks to a few incredibly influential teachers like Patanjali, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar, Indra Devi (7 Classic Yoga Babes), and others, we have a Westernized concept of yoga. But, this is more than likely a very small glimpse into what yoga once was.
As we grow into our own personal practices, some practitioners will tend to lean more toward the philosophical and intellectual gifts of yoga, while others are in it for the physical benefits. Regardless of why you’re here, it’s important for you to explore the foundations of this wonderful blessing to the world.
Craving more info about the blessed teachers mentioned above? Check out The History of Yoga – Yoga Lineage and How it Impacts Your Practice Today.

The Ancient Origins of Yoga

Since so little is known about the literal origins of yoga, I will not be pretentious enough to try and summarize it here with any authority. However, there are a few facts about yoga that we can rely on to paint the clearest picture of it’s beginnings.
Yoga is traditionally translated from Sanskrit to mean “Union.”
This concept of a union between the individual soul, or Jiva, and the ultimate reality of all creation, or Brahman, comes to us from antiquity in the Rig Veda. This collection of writings is approximately 5,000 years old, and more than likely is a record of pre-existing concepts of that time.
The true origins of yoga may even go as far back as humanity itself, and may have travelled from other lands or cultures. While we have this information handed down to us from the Indian continent, there have been many claims of similar practices found in ancient east Africa, the Middle East, and other parts of Asia.

The true origins of yoga may even go as far back as humanity itself, and may have travelled from other lands or cultures.

Research is still being done about yoga in other areas of the world, but there have been eyebrow-raising depictions of figures performing very familiar poses on tablets, hieroglyphs, and artwork from these other regions.
What we know is that, in one way or another, yoga came together, found a home, and flourished as a way of life in the ancient lands of India. It may be safe to say that any further delving into this history would not be very fruitful.
Even within the history of the Indian sub-continent, it’s not certain which culture produced yoga. Some say it was the northern invading Aryans, some say it was the people of Indus Kush, or Sarasvati civilizations that were indigenous to the region. Still others say it was some collaborations of thought and practice which produced the earliest forms of yoga.

Ancient Sages, Mystics, and Yogis Who Made Yoga What It Is Today

Some traces of yoga philosophy are found in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, and other ancient writings. But the yoga that you are familiar with is descendant of Hatha Yoga, which developed from the writings of Patanjali. According to many sources, Patanjali lived possibly as early as the 2nd century B.C.E., though some place him at a later time.
This ancient mystic and sage compiled the Yoga Sutras, which describe an all-encompassing way to human liberation, perfect health, and enlightenment. Asanas, pranayama, and other enduring yoga concepts of today can be traced back to this compilation of wisdom.

Modern yoga is the result of an idea that has constantly expanded and grown over time.

Patanjali encouraged his followers to find liberation through the physical body through physical postures and mindfulness practices that are taught in modern yoga classes. Because of this, he is often referred to as the “Father of Yoga.” Obviously this is arguable, but he definitely deserves his props!
Of course many people have other ideas. Sadhguru, a modern mystic and yogi, points to an enigmatic figure known as the Adiyogi as the originator of yoga. Said to be Shiva himself, Adiyogi is credited with imparting the original teachings of yoga on seven very persistent Rishis (mystic seers) who were supposedly alive 15,000 years ago.

How Yoga Came to the Western World

Yoga is first recorded in the U.S. and Europe around the late 19th and early 20th century. Many point to Swami Vivekananda’s teachings on Yoga and Hinduism in 1893 at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago as America’s first taste of these notions. We don’t know if he was the first to teach yoga in the west, but he played a huge role in popularizing it.
Moving forward, Krishnamacharya and his students were instrumental in the spread of westernized yoga. In India, Krishnamacharya was a sought after healer and teacher of virtually all things Vedic. His most notable contribution to yoga came from incorporating pranayama work with asana, therefore giving birth to Hatha Yoga.
B.K.S. Iyengar (Krishnamacharya’s brother-in-law), Pattabhi Jois, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Indra Devi, were all students of Krishnamacharya, and were powerful proliferators of yoga. They were able to help it become more relatable and familiar to westerners.

The Contributions of Indra Devi

Indra Devi may have single handedly changed Yoga into what you know and practice today in America by opening her school in Hollywood back in 1947. This remarkable woman not only broke down gender bias within yoga but cultural biases as well. She spread yoga among those that were previously considered outsiders to the traditional masters.
In a stroke of marketing genius, Indra Devi made use of her Hollywood relationships (herself being a classically trained Russian dancer and actor) to recruit notable actors, actresses, and famous people of her day to become students of her school and appear in her advertisements.
Not too long after, yoga crept into homes and conversations across the nation. Devi accomplished this during a time when these teachings would’ve definitely been taboo for many. Your local yoga hotspot may not have even existed if it weren’t for her contributions and work in the U.S.

The Final Word On the Origins of Yoga

While there isn’t much literal research outside of Sadhguru’s teaching to support this article, the origins of yoga is still very interesting and worthy of exploration. As with any information, I encourage you to educate yourself and use your personal discernment.
By all means, dig into the history and receive what gifts that you can find. However, it is probably most important to focus on what yoga is now, specifically for you and your life. Discover your highest self, and make you own personal contribution to this beautiful culture. Make your practice the True Union and let the blessings flow.
Which brings me to a wonderful conclusion . . . yoga is about life, how to live it at optimal levels, how to best interact with ourselves and the world at large, and how we can best approach some of life’s biggest obstacles. Namaste.

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Leo Carver

Leo Carver and his wife Dr. Melissa Carver make up the core of Holistic Life Sciences. He blogs for the Chopra Center and is well versed in lifestyle-based medicine and transformational healing. Leo obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Kentucky State University with a minor in Biology.

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