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History And Origin Of Yoga

Yoga is a family of ancient spiritual practices that originated in India, where it remains a vibrant living tradition and is seen as a means to enlightenment. While the paths of Yoga have evolved and vary throughout the world today, understanding the history and origin of yoga can enhance yogic practices today.

Yoga And Enlightenment

Literally meaning "to yoke or to unite," the word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root yuj and is generally conceived as "union of the individual self (atman - loosely translated to mean soul) with Paramatma, the universal soul."

Consider yoga a union with the Divine by integration of body, mind, and spirit. One who strives to master yoga may be referred to as a yogi or, in Sanskrit, a yogin (masculine) or yogini (feminine), designations that are intended for advanced practitioners , who have already made considerable progress along the path towards yoga.

Enlightenment may also be described as extinction of the limited ego, and direct and lasting perception of the non-dual nature of the universe. For the average person still far from enlightenment, yoga can be a way of increasing one's love for God, or cultivating compassion and insight.

Origins Of Yoga

The earliest Yoga started some 5000 years ago. Scholars believe that Stone Age Shamanism formed the origin of Yoga because there were some cultural similarities between Mehrgarh, which was a Neolithic settlement, and the Modern Hinduism. The shamanistic culture of Mergarh was in fact influenced by Hindu ideals, symbols and rituals of the present. The ancient shamanism and early Yoga both strived to go beyond the human condition.

Shamanism's primary goal was to heal the members who were in their community and at the same time act as the religious mediators. Archaic Yoga also had the same objectives as they were community oriented and aimed to determine the enormous universal order through senses and inner vision, which then can be applied to our daily lives.

Yoga's evidences were first tracked in archeological markings found in stone seals exhumed from the Indus valley. Yoga postures of what appear to be a meditating yogi from the Indus Valley Civilization were traced and seen from the figures illustrated in the stone seals.

Thought the be 6 to 7 thousand years old, the artifacts were placed on history books circa 3000 B.C. and linked to the great Indus-Sarasvati Civilization, which was known to be the largest civilization that existed in the ancient world. As a maritime society, The Indus-Sarasvati exported goods all over Africa and the Middle East. They built sewage systems, geometrical brick roads, and constructed multi-story buildings.

While its history and origins connect yoga with Hinduism, proponents claim that yoga is not a religion itself, but contains practical steps which can benefit people of all religions, and those who do not consider themselves religious.

Traditionally, the god Shiva is regarded as the original Guru and founder of yoga. It is said that the teachings of yoga were passed down from Shiva to the world. Shiva represents the pure consciousness out of which universes are unfolding, and the state that all beings are destined to return to.

Therefore, yoga is the means of attaining oneness with pure consciousness.

Ancient Texts Of Yoga

Important texts establishing the basis for yoga include the Rig Veda, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

Rig Veda

The earliest written accounts of yoga appear in the Rig Veda, which began to be codified between 1500 and 1200 BC. It is difficult to establish the date of yoga from this alone, as the Rig Veda was orally transmitted for at least a millennium. The Vedas are considered the traditional body of spiritual wisdom.


The first full description of the principles and goals of yoga are found in the Upanishads, thought to have been composed between the eighth and fourth centuries BC.

The Upanishads are also called Vedanta since they constitute the end or conclusion of the Vedas. (Veda means knowledge; Anta means end.)

In the Upanishads, the older practices of offering sacrifices and ceremonies to appease external gods gives way instead to a new understanding that man can, by means of an inner sacrifice, become one with the Supreme Being (referred to as Brahman or Mahatman) - through moral culture, restraint and training of the mind.

Yoga Sutra

The first Yoga text prescribes adherence to "eight limbs" ("Ashtanga Yoga") to quiet one's mind and merge with the infinite. Written at least 1,700 years ago and considered the guidebook of classical, or Raja (Royal) Yoga, the Yoga Sutra is made up of 195 aphorisms (sutras), or words of wisdom.

Little is known about the sage, Patanjali, who supposedly compiled these verses. Some practitioners believe he lived around the second century BCE, that he wrote significant works on Ayurveda (the ancient Indian system of medicine), and also Sanskrit grammar. But based on their analyses of the language and the teaching of the sutras, modern scholars place Patanjali in the second or third century CE and ascribe the medical essays and grammar to various other scribes named Patanjali.

In any case, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga are generally considered to be the four main Paths of Yoga, although there are many other types.

Patanjali's yoga is sometimes called Raja Yoga ("Royal Yoga") or "Ashtanga Yoga" ("Eight-Limbed Yoga"), in order to distinguish it from Hatha yoga, which is an element of the Asanas Limb in Ashtanga Yoga.

Diversity Of Yoga

The diversity of yoga is evident from the many different schools, sub-divisions and synthesis that have emerged over the long history of yoga. There is a school or Path of Yoga to suit every personality or temperament.

It is common to speak of each form of yoga as a "path" to enlightenment. Thus, yoga may include love and devotion (as in Bhakti Yoga), selfless work (as in Karma Yoga), knowledge and discernment (as in Jnana Yoga), or an eight-limbed system of disciplines emphasizing meditation (as in Raja Yoga).

These practices occupy a continuum from the religious to the scientific. They need not be mutually exclusive. (A person who follows the path of selfless work might also cultivate some knowledge and devotion.) As a means to enlightenment, Yoga is central to Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism, and has influenced other religious and spiritual practices throughout the world.

In other parts of the world where yoga is popular, notably the United States, yoga has become associated with the asanas (postures) of Hatha Yoga, which are popular as fitness exercises.

In places like Europe, the USA, Australia, and other countries considered part of industrial Western civilization, spirituality in the daily life has been somewhat lost, replaced by technology, science and materialism. Some pursue yoga as exercise divorced from spiritual practice.

Purely as a physical exercise, yoga can aid us in keeping our bodies and minds in perfect balance and at peace.

Modern Practice Of Yoga Today

Yoga is an ancient system for developing well-being and we hope you find the foregoing brief discussion on the history and origin of yoga useful in your quest for better fitness, health and enlightenment.

Yoga has been the foundation for many spiritual seekers in their search for truth and understanding of the self. Through yoga, one can achieve perfection of the physical, mental and lower selves and prepare one's journey into higher consciousness and knowledge of the true nature of reality.

Not only have people on a spiritual path sought the benefits of yoga and the spiritual gifts it has to offer, but so have modern day ordinary people of all walks of life, even those who are not on a spiritual path and only desire to achieve the physical health that practice of yoga can bring.

If nothing else, yoga will bring about a healthy body and a clear mind, a great platform from which to perform the spiritual search that leads you in a circle back to yourself!