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History of Yoga

History of Yoga

Yoga is thousands of years old. Nobody knows for sure the history of yoga. Recently, palm leaves have been discovered with yoga teachings written on them. We must embrace all lineages of yoga and the role they play in today's practice. There is no right or wrong in yoga, only good alignment, and a balanced class. Yoga in the West is largely comprised of Iyengar’s teachings. Sanskrit is yoga’s native language. Many teachers in the West choose to offer postures in English, in addition to or instead of, Sanskrit. It is up to the instructor to decide what is right for their population.


1500 – 500BC

The Vedas – Rig (Mantra/Praise) Veda, Sama (Song) Veda, Yajur (Worship/Sacrificial/Ceremony) Veda, Atharva (Guide/Spells) Veda. The Vedas are the most sacred writings of Hinduism, a collection of scriptures/books which include mantras which invoke spiritual realms which were verbally passed down over generations until they were written down. Vedic Mantras are used in rituals for promoting the well being of individuals, society and the world – and provide the spiritual core and philosophical foundations of Yoga and Hinduism.

The Upanishads (also called Vedanta, the end of the Veda) focus on 3 principles: (1) Atman, or The Self or the Soul, (2) Brahman, or Ultimate Reality / Absolute Being and (3) the connection between the two. They explain and develop the teachings found in the Vedas; shift the focus from religious rituals to internal spiritual quests. The Upanishads also introduce the principles of samsara (reincarnation), karma (action), dharma (duty) and moksha (liberation).

The Mahabharata: the story of Lord Krishna written by Vyasa and includes the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita is the dialogue between Lord Krishna (supreme consciousness) and Prince Arjuna (human consciousness) and outlines the concepts of Gyan/Jyana Yoga (Knowledge), Bhakti Yoga (Devotion), and Karma Yoga (Selfless action).


500 BC - 800 A.D.

Some consider this the most fertile and prominent period in the history of Yoga.

Patanjali codified existing practices outlined in the Vedas and Upanishads into the Yoga Sutras – which became the definitive text and practice manual of Raja Yoga. Patanjali also outlined Ashtanga (the eight-limbed path) Yoga – Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharna, Dhyana, and Samadhi.


800 A.D. - 1700 A.D.

Hatha Yoga (~600-1500 A.D.) Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a compilation of earlier hatha yoga texts by Swatmarama. Hatha yoga aimed to bring harmony to the body and mind – achieved by practice of asanas, cleansing, pranayama, mudras, and bandhas. Swatmarama believed that asanas must be practiced first to balance the Nadis and open the Chakras before the student could delve into deeper meditative practices.

Tantra Yoga – radical techniques used to cleanse the body and mind, and to break free from all kinds of knots of negativity and physical ailments.


1700 - 1900 A.D.

Yoga was brought to the West

• 1893 – Swami Vivekananda’s (disciple of Ramakrishna) presentation at World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.

• 1920 – Paramahansa Yogananda arrives in Boston and builds a fellowship in Los Angeles.

• 1920-1930’s Krishnamacharya standardizes posesYoganan in primary, intermediate and advanced sequences. Disciples include L. Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, Indra Devi, T.K.V. Desikachar, among others.

• 1946 – Yogananda publishes “Autobiography of a Yogi”

• 1948 – Pattabhi Jois formulates Ashtanga Yoga.

• 1950’s – Sivananda Yoga series of 12 postures are created by Swami Vishnudevananda.

• 1960’s – Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduces Transcendental Meditation• 1966 – Satchidananda Saraswati founds the Integral Yoga Institute in NYC

• 1970 – Bikram Choudhury founds Bikram Yoga

• 1984 – David Life and Sharon Gannon found Jivamukti Yoga in NYC

• 1997 – John Friend formulates Anusara Yoga

During this time, there was a huge shift in practice – Yogis are taught to welcome reality rather than stray from it – live in the present.


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