A Very Brief History of Yoga


Since it’s the beginning of a new year, and I’m once again attempting to keep up with my blogging schedule, I thought I’d start with where yoga comes from. There are many schools and philosophies and people who have branched out, or off, and developed their own “version” of yoga. I’ll be discussing those in later posts, but I thought I’d give a bit of a foundation first.

About 3000 B.C., there were some artifacts discovered. The drawings on them and the figurines are believed to be in yoga poses. There are signs that have researchers believing that Shamanism used some of the yoga postures.

The earliest text, Rig-Veda, is a composition of hymns and prayers that speak of divine harmony and a greater being. Yoga originally focused on understanding the world, then on understanding the self. By 5 B.C., poses and meditation became critical practices, implemented and spread by Buddhist teachings.

Perhaps from the beginning of when man first walked the earth, we’ve had a desire for greater personal freedom, health and long life, and heightened self-understanding. These were brought about by exercise, breathing, and meditation. Moving into modern yoga, Swami Sivananda created five basic principles of yoga: proper relaxation, exercise, breathing, diet, thinking and meditation. Interesting that in all those years in between, not much has changed. As humans, we still harbor the same desire, and yoga still offers the same pillars.

The definition often used for yoga is “to join or yoke together; bring body and mind into one harmonious experience”. Some believe that this is different from what some teachers share, which is “to transcend the ego”. Which is very different from “death to the ego”! Without the ego, we would be in a vegetative state. The ego isn’t “bad” or “evil”. It’s necessary to function in society. However, when we bring our mind, body, and spirit into alignment, then we open the way to live life without being dictated to by the ego, where our personal freedom, health, and self-understanding suffer.

Some use yoga for the exercise. Some may decide that the breathing techniques help to manage stress and anxiety. Some, including a growing body of scientific evidence, use meditation to quiet the thoughts in the mind in order to differentiate between the ego and the Higher Self. The advantage to using yoga as exercise is that our physical bodies reap the rewards of being stronger, more flexible, having improved balance, limiting the effects of stress, and improving the quality of sleep. With a good yoga instructor, even those who step on their mat for the exercise will get a little more. The advantage of using pranayama on or off the mat is that emotions can be acknowledged and managed, the body can be heated or cooled, the mind can be woken up or relaxed to induce sleep. With a good yoga instructor, we can use the breath to quiet the mind, to improve our physical practice, and to clear the way for transcendence. The advantage of using meditation is not only to give ourselves some time and space to settle our thoughts in order to think more clearly, but to notice the workings of the mind and begin to train the mind to “sit and stay”. With a good yoga instructor, meditation not only gives us a sense of peace and calm, it also gives us direct access to our thoughts, which, when recognized, can lead to controlling our actions, responding instead of reacting.

As I studied these aspects of yoga in teacher training, I wrote poems about my experience. Yogis All: A Journey of Transformation, Volume I can be found on my website: www.myjoyenterprises.com

Do you practice yoga? Which of the principles are easiest for you? Which are most challenging?