The origin of yoga is still unknown but the evidences show it came into existence 5000 years ago. The first archaeological evidence of Yoga's existence is found in stone seals excavated from the Indus valley . Many scholars believe that the birth of yoga took place during Stone Age Shamanism. Much of Hindu ideas, rituals and symbols of today appear to have their roots in this shamanistic culture. The primary goal of shamanism was to heal members of the community and act as religious mediators. But later yogis focused on their individual enlightment and salvation, during this time yoga evolved into a more inward experience. The long and rich history of yoga can be classified into five main periods of change and development:
Around1500 B.C.E, the time when the Harappan civilization begins to decline nomadic invaders called Aryan barbarians came into existence. During this period only Brahmanism, a complex religious tradition based on sacrifice and ritual that formed the basis of modern-day Hinduism came into existence and they introduced the concept of yoga. The sacred Vedas were written during this period. The sacred scriptures of Brahmanism are known as Vedas. The three Vedas are Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and later one more was included and it was Atharva Veda. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. This vedic book defined yoga as yoking or discipline but no yoga practices were included. During Atharva Veda controlling of breath was introduced.
During 800-500 B.C.E when Upanishads came into existence yoga was defined more prominently. Upanishads can be defined as the sacred revelations of ancient Hinduism. The word Upanishads means that one can learn these revelations through guru or teacher only. It defined yoga as a path taken to achieve liberation from sufferings. During this period two types of yoga gained popularity and those were Karma yoga and Jnana yoga and they both leads an individual towards enlightment.
In the second century C.E., Patanjali composed a seminal text, Yoga-Sutra and defined Classical Yoga or Raja yoga. Yoga sutra is considered the first systematic presentation of yoga. Yoga sutra organized the practice of yoga into an "eight limbed path" containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment . The eight limbs of classical yoga are-
- Yama, or restraint,
- Niyama, or observance of purity and tolerance
- Asana, or Physical Exercises
- Pranayama or Breath control,
- Pratyahara, or preparation for Meditation
- Dharana, or concentration
- Dhyana or Meditation and
- Samadhi or absorption in the sublime
After classical yoga, the yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. This period gave rise to different branches of yoga that included hatha yoga and tantra yoga. These two yoga’s in combination were used to clean the body and mind. They rejected the teachings of ancient Vedas and the main influence was laid on physical body to achieve enlightment. This lead to exploration of physical-spiritual relations and further lead to the creation of hatha yoga.
In the early 1900’s the yoga masters traveled worldwide in order to gain attention. They also became successful in their mission as many followed them and most of them were from the western countries. During this period the five principles of yoga were identified-
- Savasana (Proper relaxation)
- Asanas (Proper exercise)
- Pranayama (Proper breathing)
- Vegetarian (Proper diet)
- Dhyana (Positive thinking and Meditation)