The Library

Development of yoga through time




There is no specific date when yoga can be said to have begun.  Unlike many modern systems of yoga and similar activities which are based on the teaching of a particular teacher, yoga can be seen to have grown from the natural response of humans to their environment and life.  Indeed yoga might be said to predate mankind and to have originated before the dawn of time itself, in the infinite past.  Like Dharma, yoga is essentially based on the eternal truths, in the case of yoga particularly those of birth, preservation and death.


Early mankind would have retained all the instinctive understandings still shown in the plant and animal kingdoms.  The necessity for food, rest and procreation, space and protection from predators of all kinds, we see in the natural world and wonder how living organisms `know` what to do and when.  Our human forebears would also have had that instinctive animal response to the environment in which they lived but early in our development occurred the evolutionary step which made us aware of the world in which we were living in a conscious, thinking and discriminative way.  With the development of conscious physical awareness would doubtless also have developed the inner awareness of man`s spiritual nature and the concept of that force beyond the explicable which we now call the Divine, God or other names


In ancient India, going back thirty or forty thousand years at a time when the Indian continent was still joined to Africa and Australasia – the lost continent of Kumari Kandam – the development of yoga, ayurveda and the teachings of the Tamil siddhis were already well developed.  As the land sank into the present Indian ocean those teachings were carried northwards into the present subcontinent.  There is some discussion that this origin of yoga teaching was ignored by early western scholars who, along with their national empire and commercial aspirations were mainly located in the north of the subcontinent


Traditionally scholars date the development of yoga from the timescale of northern events starting with what is known as the Pre-Vedic Age of around 6,500 – 4,500 BCE basing their idea on archaeological finds particularly in places such as Mehrgarth and Mahenjo-Daro where seals decorated with images of humans and animals involved in apparently ritualistic activities and seated in yoga poses were found.  This society often related to an Aryan invasion from the north-west is credited with introducing yoga to the Indus, hence Hinduism and Hindustan


The centre of civilization moved from the Sarasvati/Indus valleys as the area became drier and the Sarasvati river disappeared, into the north Indian plain of the river Ganges, beginning the Vedic period 4,500 – 2,500 BCE  from which originated the Vedas or Revalations – the Rig Veda, Atharva, Yajur and Sama Vedas.


Around 2,500 BCE began the Brahmanical age 2,500 – 1,500BCE when priestly ritual, and the early caste system developed.  Hinduism which has never claimed to be a religion became more formalised and prescribed in the Brahmanas.



philosophy based on Sanatana Dharma – the eternal truths became more systemised in this period.  Temple worship would have become more formalised during this time.


The age Upanishadic age was roughly during the period 1500 – 1000BCE.  The Upanishads represent some of the most beautiful and informative writings in the library of yoga.  Although there are many Upanishads in practice today only a handful are commonly studied, including Isa, Katha, Mundaka, Chandogya and Taittiriya Upanishads.  It was also during this and the following period that Buddhism and Jainism, originally as offshoots of Hindu Dharma, arose and developed as separate branches.


The Epic age of yoga ran from 1000 – 100BCE and it was during this period that the Mahabarata  and  Bagavhad Gita were composed.  By this time the psychospiritual and philosophical teachings which still form the basis of Indian teachings were well developed and formalised.


The Classical period of yoga dates 100BCE – 500CE, spanning the time of the birth of Jesus and his ministry.  Some scholars suggest that Jesus spent some of his `missing` years with the yogis of India.  It was in this time that the author(s) we know as Patanjali composed the famous sutras which still provide the basis of much modern western yoga teaching.


Tantra or the Puranic age 500 – 1300CE developed in response to the dark age – Kali- which mankind was said to have entered.  Hatha yoga in its physical aspect became more developed along with a greater awareness of the needs of the physical body in the search for god. 


The final stage in the development of yoga as we know it came between 1300 and 1700CE with the recognition of the sectarian divisions between groups such as the Saivites and Vaishnavas.  Devotional practices became very popular among the general population.  This age may be called the Sectarian age or Bhakti age.


Modern yoga is generally dated from the European invasion by trading companies such as the East India Company and colonial powers, especially the British from about 1700CE.  This period saw the Mogal empire, the English Raj and the eventual separation of India at Independence.


During the late 19TH and 20th centuries yoga was introduced to the west by teachers such as Vivekananda.  Initially such introductions followed the classical path of emphasis on the spiritual and philosophical teachings of yoga.  Throughout the 20th century and now in the 21st century western practitioners became increasingly besotted with the physical elements of yoga. 


Today, at last, there does appear to be something of a backlash against that and there is a growing awareness of the needs to incorporate all elements of body, mind and  soul in our yoga sadhana.

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