Although yoga has existed for centuries, its original origins have not been conclusive and are regularly debated by yoga enthusiasts over the years. With regards to the time or specific origin of yoga, no consensus has been developed except for the fact that it developed in ancient India. Tracing back to over 10,000 years ago, the origins of yoga have been said to originate from the Indus Valley Civilization, pre-Vedic Eastern India, the Vedic period and the Sramana movement. The bottom line however, revolves around how yoga has transformed over the years, and developed into what it is in today’s society. The main periods that yoga existed from include Pre-Vedic India, the Vedic Period, Pre-classical era, classical era and the Middle Ages.
Considered by most to be one of the few origins before 1700 BCE, the pre-Vedic era was considered to be the earliest existence of yoga in the Indus Valley Civilisation. Here, scholars discovered sites that depicted figures in positions resembling today’s yoga poses. Although speculative in nature, practitioners in the art believe that the earliest forms of the teaching originated from here.
In this period, Indian researchers concluded that the root of yoga seems to have emerged from this period, leading to a sequential growth into today’s modern art form. Although the philosophy of yoga back in Vedic period may have been different from then, the essential techniques and forms remain largely the same.
In this period, the first mention of yoga was discovered in the sacred texts of the “Rig Veda” where mantras, rituals and songs were written in. They were used by the Brahmans and Vedic priests and soon developed into the “Katha Upanishad”. The main goal of the Katha Upanishad was to ultimately control the senses in the user’s body while limiting mental activity in order to achieve a supreme state of being.
That being said, there are countless other historical texts outside of India, such as the Greeks and early Buddhists that depicts the word “yoga”, although it cannot be determined which text borrowed from which. The most famous scriptures conclusively came from the Bhagavad-Gita, composed roughly 500BCE and taught the sacrifice of ego through self-knowledge, action and wisdom.
Finally, in this era, yoga had reached a stage of saturation of multiple beliefs, with many contradictions that arose from conflicting ideas. Most notably was Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras which offered a systematic approach to yoga through the “eight limbed path”. His concept was similar to that of the ancient Samkhya, Yoga and Abhidharma Buddhist schools of thoughts and focussed on reflective discernment and dualism.
Middle Ages Yoga
Noted as the stage where satellite teachings of yoga began to emerge, this time period was also the one where the famous “Hatha Yoga” emerged. Of all the different traditions of yoga, most of them were substantially different from each other in both their teachings and rituals. Hatha Yoga for example took key elements of Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras and created a new tradition by focussing on the purification of the body which in turns purifies the mind.
It is definitely good to know about the history of yoga when attempting to learn this traditional practice as believing in the true core of your art would generate a better result. Start researching into your favourite teachings and embark on your journey to a better life.