The word “yoga” originates from Sanskrit meaning “yuj” which is to unite or join. This union is the joining of the individual self with the universal spirit or cosmic consciousness. By practicing yoga, this can be achieved.
Yoga actually evolved in India about 26,000 years ago. It is thought to have been born during a period known as “Sat Yuga” or the Golden Age. It was a time when there was a quest for bountiful blessings, eternal truth and everlasting tranquility and peace. It is due to this reason that yoga is associated with hermits and sages.
With the largest civilization ever discovered, the Indus valley civilization, information was obtained about the existence of yoga. It was with the excavation of the Indus valley civilization that soapstone seals were discovered depicting yogic positions. The earliest discovery of yoga is however credited to the Aryans who discovered it during their migration from the north-west.
There are four stages in the history of yoga. They are:
Vedic Stage: The Vedas are the ancient holy texts of the Hindus and are considered to be the oldest scriptures in the world. The meaning of the word “Veda” in Sanskrit is “knowledge”. There are four Vedas – the Rig Veda where “Rig” means knowledge, The Sama Veda where “Sama” means chants, the Yajur Veda which means “Knowledge of Sacrifice” and the Athar Veda which means “Knowledge of Atharvana”, Atharvana being the group of holy men who founded it.
Yoga has its origin among the Vedas, and so has a very ritualistic and sacred tenor to it. In the Vedic era, yogis enlightened the common man with the power of yoga and taught them how it could be used to enhance the quality of life, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Pre-Classical Stage: This period extends for a period of roughly 2,000 years ending in the 2nd century A.D. The pre-classical stage saw the appearance of the Upanishads which are about 200 in number. One of the most notable scriptures of yoga is the Bhagavad-Gita, which was written around 500 B.C. The main teaching of the Bhagawad-Gita is to perform one’s duty and not expect anything back in return. Yoga too, is founded on this principle.
Several years later, at around 1200 B.C., a great exponent of Jainism, Rishaba was known to expound the virtues of yoga embodied in the liberation of the spirit. During this period, Lord Buddha also was believed to have studied yoga. It is due to this reason that the scriptures in Buddhism emphasize meditation and portray yogic postures.
Classical Stage: During the 2nd century B.C., the yoga Sutras were composed by C.E. Patanjali. These Sutras consist of 195 aphorisms. The basis of these aphorisms is the eight-fold path. The Sutras do not exist in written form, but are meant to be memorized by yoga students. There are commentaries however, on these Sutras, and one such commentary is the Yoga-Bhashya which literally means “speech on yoga”.
The basic philosophy behind the Patanjali form of yoga as taught by Patanjali is that each individual is made up of Prakriti (matter) and Purusha (spirit). His teachings aim at the integration of these two elements as twin components in an individual.
Post-Classical Stage: This stage brings in an emphasis on the teaching of Vedanta or the philosophy of the Vedas. In the previous periods, yogis emphasized on contemplation and meditation only. In this period however, they began to unravel the latent power of the body. Yogic gurus developed techniques which they claimed would result in a rejuvenated body and a longer life. It was through these particular teachings that the form of yoga known as Hatha yoga came into existence. This is the form of yoga which is in vogue all over the world today.
From the brief study of the origin of yoga from the ancient times till the present day, one can see that this is a science which has very deep roots in the Hindu Mythology of ancient India. The practice of yoga is thus not just another physical exercise program. It is a process which develops the mind and body, and paves the way for spiritual enlightenment and self-realization.