Older than the oldest monument, Yoga is an ancient science and a beautiful art form that works on the entire body-mind complex. The word “YOG” first appeared in the oldest sacred text ‘The Rig Veda’ and having its origin from the Sanskrit word ‘YUJ’ which means ‘to unite’. And Yoga unites our individual consciousness to the universal consciousness, hence making us aware of every action we perform, about the nature of the action, how good or bad, right or wrong it is. Yoga helps us to accept ourselves in our true form, to make peace with what we really are. The very aim of yoga is self-realization, to attain a state of mind which is free from all the fluctuations (vrittis).
The practice of this beautiful art form is believed to have started at the very beginning of civilization. The roots of yoga are several thousand years old, long before the first religious belief was born. Looking with a deep insight into the yogic sea, we get to know that Shiva is seen as the first yogi or Adiyogi, hence he is the first Yoga Guru.
Thousand years ago, on the bank of the lake Kantisarovar in the Himalayas, the first yogi or Adiyogi poured his profound knowledge into the hands of legendary Saptarishis or “The Seven Sages”. This knowledge was then carried to different parts of the world, including; Asia, Middle East, Northern Africa, and South America. India was the first place where the yogic system was found to its fullest. Agastay, the Saptarishi who traveled across India, and crafted the Yogic knowledge.
The Vedas are labeled as the most treasured texts of India. The Vedas are referred to as a collection of Hymns that we received from the ancient Rishis in the form of Shrutis. These have been passed on strongly from one generation to another. The Vedic mantras were recited during Yagas and Yajnas for the well-being of everyone in and around the place. Within these texts, yoga has been defined as “Yoking” and as a “discipline”, hence providing us with the future development of Yoga.
There are four texts that compose the Vedas, namely;
The Rig- Veda is the oldest of the texts, and is known as the most important among the four. The collection of Hymns and Mantras in this text was used to instill courage along with good health, a sense of peace, and happiness. The Mantra we all know today is mentioned in Rig-Veda “Gaytri Mantra”. The first definition of Yoga is also found here. This text is the foundation of the other Vedas.
The Sama-Veda is a collection of beautiful melodies which are used to lift up one’s consciousness. The content in this text is drawn from Rig-Veda. Music along with mantras formed the base for Bhakti Yoga practice.
The Yajur-Veda is devoted to the worship of deities and rules on how to organize ceremonies. It acted as a guidebook for priests who executed sacrificial activities by chanting the hymns and mantras, following the Yajus.
The Atharva-Veda consists of the spells to dispel disease and any misfortune. Hymns are written in layman language; hence it has more reach to the general population.
Let’s have a look at the different periods of Yoga.
Yoga and its concept go back to the Indus valley civilization. Ever since then, yoga has been majorly modified. What we practice as “Yoga” today is very different from what yoga was actually at that time, at the time of origin.
The evolution of yoga goes through some major periods;
1) Pre- Vedic Period
Referred to the period before 3000 BC. Yoga was originated 5000 years ago. A clear Deception of a yoga pose (A man sitting with folded legs) was observed in Harappa and Mohenjodaro.
2) Vedic Period
The period of 3000 BC- 800 BC is referred to as a Vedic period. The practice of Yoga was ritual at this time. It improved the concentration level and helped to rise above the ordinary. As we know Yoga is defined as a union, in this period the practices followed actually took people towards the union of the individual consciousness to the universal consciousness. The practice of Yoga at this time is way different from that time.
3) Pre-Classical Period
The period of 800 BC to 250 BC is referred to as the Preclassical period. This was the period of Upanishads and epics like Bhagwad Gita and Mahabharta. Bhagwad Gita defines yoga as Yogah Karamsu Kaushalam; Perfection in an action being performed is Yoga. It gives us one more meaning which is, Samatvam Yoga Uchchayate; A balanced state of both mind and body is Yoga.
4) Classical Period
The period of 184 BC to 148 BC is referred to as the Classical period of Yoga. It is in this period, Maharishi Patanjali compiled 195 sutras (Sentences) of yoga into what is known to us as “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”. He defined the eight limbs of Yoga and how each one of them is important to humankind.
5) Post Classical Period
The period of 800 AD to 1700 AD is referred to as the Post-classical period for Yoga. This is the period when teachings by Ramanujacharya, Adi Shankracharya, and Madhavacharya were in the limelight. Hath yoga was also popularized in this period by the great Nath Yogis Matsyendranath, Gorkshanath, and others.
This is also the period when people started focusing more on Asanas, kriyas, and Pranayamas as a way to keep their mind and body stable and healthy. This is what we define as Hatha Yoga.