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Exploring The History Of Yoga

Though millions of people practice and enjoy yoga, most are unaware of its origin and history. While knowing the history of yoga isn't necessary to derive its spiritual and physical benefits, an understanding of how yoga evolved over the past several thousands of years can offer a new perspective. Below, we'll discuss how yoga began and spread from Pakistan and India to countries throughout the world.

Steeped In 5,000 Years Of History

The precise date when yoga was created is unknown. Many yoga experts date the practice to more than 5,000 years ago, referencing the recently-discovered seals of the Indus Valley Civilization. These seals, traces from a culture from as early as 3,300 B.C. showed male figures posing in Yoga asanas. However, while these seals are considered a significant archaeological find, it's difficult to use them as a date marker for the birth of yoga.

A more reliable source is the Upanishads (Hindu manuscripts) that were written between 800-100 B.C. In these manuscripts, the 6 main tenets of yoga (breath control, sensory inhibition, meditation, concentration, examination and ecstasy) are described. This text provides a concrete moment in history during which time we knew that other cultures had already immersed themselves in the practice of yoga. Between 500 B.C. and 100 B.C., the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were written. These manuscripts significantly expanded the philosophy behind the practice of yoga, eventually leading to Patanjali being hailed as the "founder of formal Yoga philosophy."

After Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the most significant text on yoga is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This manuscript was written by the sage Swami Swatamarama in the 15th century and provides details about many of the main components of yoga, including its asanas. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika provides details about the yoga style that is the most familiar to yoga enthusiasts today.

The Evolution Of Yoga Through The Ages

From its inception, yoga has evolved into several schools of philosophy. While many cultures adopted yoga philosophies that were similar, each also had its differences. The belief system adopted by the Indus Valley Civilization was different than that of the Vedic civilization. Predictably, as other peoples began to adopt yoga into their cultures, the original philosophy was slowly modified to fit the belief systems that already existed within those societies. As a result, there are many types of yoga, each with its emphasis on certain aspects of the philosophy.

The State Of Yoga Today

Yoga has become incredibly popular in the west. Strangely, the most prevalent type of yoga practiced is the Hatha style, a school of yoga that focuses almost completely on the physical nature (stretching, breathing, etc.) while eschewing the original spiritual underpinnings of yoga. A study of how yoga evolved throughout history as it was introduced into societies with existing belief systems may provide insight into the current state in the west. However, until recently, yoga was still practiced by followers across the globe primarily as a religion. That is, they subscribed to a philosophy of life and sought a level of spirituality through yoga. Divorcing the spiritual and physical natures of yoga seems to be (at this time) unique to the west's adoption of the practice. As yoga attracts new enthusiasts in the west, it's likely that the spiritual side will continue to disappear.