History of Yoga

History of yoga

The problem with describing the history of yoga is that there are two stories: the accepted written history and the secret oral tradition that is much more difficult to date.

If we base our understanding on what has been written and a linear type of history then we can talk about the Vedas – ancient hymns to the Divine, possibly dating back to the recently discovered Indus-Saraswati civilisation spanning 7000-3000 b.c..

Then in the period from 2000 b.c. to 200 a.d. come the Upanishads – esoteric teachings about the unity of all things, the Ramayana and the epic Mahabharata which contains the famous Bhagavada-Gita where Krishna outlines the basis of the yoga system to Arjuna

Possibly around 200 a.d. Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras: 200 sutras or ‘threads’ – short sanskrit phrases which require skilful interpretation in order to piece together their deeper meaning. A couple of centuries later Vyasa wrote the first commentary on the Yoga Sutras. Many more have followed.

Up until this point, the physical body had been regarded as something to be escaped from to merge back into the eternal spirit, but in the centuries that followed, yogis started to look into the hidden potential of the body. An alchemical understanding of the body grew up together with a system of techniques to rejuvenate it and extend its life. They saw the body as the temple of the immortal spirit – its manifestation, and therefore sacred in itself too. This was the beginning of hatha yoga and it is thought that many of the tantric aspects of yoga also arose around this time.

Much more recently, from the end of the 19th century onwards, great and celebrated spiritual teachers and masters like Swami Vivekananda, Shri Ramakrishna, Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Rama, Ramana Maharishi, Shri Aurobindo, Krishnamurti, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Bhagavan Rajneesh (Osho), Swami Shivananda, Swami Satyananda, Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and many others including now our teacher Gregorian Bivolaru have all done a lot to bring yoga and spirituality to the attention of the modern world.

Another way of looking at this history is from the point of view of the oral tradition. We might consider that the highest, esoteric understandings of life and the universe have survived, via this oral tradition passed down only from master to disciple, from ancient times when consciousness on this planet was much higher than it is today. There is an understanding in yoga that everything in creation is cyclical. This includes the prevailing level of consciousness on this planet, which is just beginning to make an up-turn, as genuine spiritual values begin to slowly reappear in the world. The esoteric tantric teachings could be thought of as the remnants of an ancient ‘scientific’ understanding of the interplay between consciousness and energy which underlies all phenomena. These ideas obviously needed to be kept secret through the dark ages of human consciousness but the very fact that these teachings are now resurfacing and available to anyone who has a genuine interest, should be an encouraging sign to us all that there will be interesting times ahead…