Those who start dealing with yoga start to wonder about its historical development after a while. However, it is really difficult to reveal the historical process of yoga. Because it is thought to be as old as human history. Also, a very long process of yoga has not been recorded in writing. It was preserved at that time by verbal communication. But we can still make inferences about when yoga was invented.
The oldest documents of yoga are said to be found in the Indus Valley in India. These are human figures who practice yoga. It is illustrated on tablets. It is thought to belong to 3000 BC. So yoga was invented about 5000 years ago in India. The origin of the idea is based on running both body, mind, and spirit at the same time. In other words, yoga has been a holistic practice of life with enlightenment from the very beginning. The first historical findings, namely written information, that have reached the present day about yoga have been the texts discovered in India. These texts are called Veda, which means information. The first Vedas were written on the leaves in ancient times. The oldest written findings in India, containing information about yoga, are these 5000-year-old leaves.
Patanjali, who was accepted as the founder of the science or philosophy or practice of yoga on a prehistoric but uncertain date, has gathered the historical texts, verbal information, and observations of different people about their yoga theory and practice in a comprehensive text. This text, called Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is accepted as the starting point of classical yoga practiced today. The hallmark of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is that it is the oldest known text that systematically transfers yoga philosophy, theory, and practice. These sutras consist of eight parts. These eight chapters symbolize steps to be taken, obstacles to overcome, and goals to be achieved in a lifelong yoga journey.
Invention of Yoga: Body, Mind and Soul
When the figures of people doing yoga found as a result of archaeological excavations are examined, it was seen that yoga was invented at least 5000 years ago. According to the Indian philosophy, the world we live in and even the universe are not permanent, they disappear at certain times and exist again. In general, the world disappears with floods and the new civilization of life emerges after the waters are withdrawn. It is explained that people who are thought to have come back to the world from an upper planetary system brought yoga information along with other information. In the Sanskrit language (the word Sanskrit means “noble” or “knowledgeable”), they called the information spoken and described as “Veda” (knowledge).
It is the highly conscious Ari society that started the first civilization. The word Ari means “enlightened person”. They continued their lives in a continuous and conscious connection with the universe by applying physical, spiritual, and mental unity by practicing the Ari civilization yoga techniques. They spread all over the planet and verbally explained the science of yoga to other generations without writing. Today, Sanskrit words are found in all languages, and yoga and meditation exercises are encountered in its history. The researchers’ explanations that all civilizations come from single root support this information. While the Ari civilization, whose memories were very strong in the early periods, conveyed their knowledge with verbal expression, people needed to convey the Vedas (information) in writing after they multiplied and started to divide.
These books are Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yacur Veda, and Atharva Veda. The books are written in “Devanagari”, the Sanskrit language, and consist of hymns and poems with sounds in the form of music. With the rise of the Ari civilization to the Indus region, a period began with the so-called “Kali Yuga”, where people destroyed each other, where hunger and misery existed, and they were disconnected from nature by harming nature. The time frame we are living in now is also in this period.
According to the Vedas, after this time period, the chaos period will end and a new period will begin. This period when spiritual values will be superior to material interests and balances are established is the Bright Age called “Krita Yuga” or “Satya Yuga”. The exact dates of this period are unknown. When we examine the past culture, philosophy, thought system, the reason and meanings of physical and internal work, and absorb this information, we can provide progress and deepen in our yoga experiences.
The Brief History of Yoga Since Its Invention
Yoga, as an art and science, is the way that no effort in its path is empty, and that the person lives in complete consciousness by integrating with the universe. Yoga is not a religion, it is not dogmatic. Regardless of one’s religion, belief, color, race, gender, yoga is for everyone, a philosophy that belongs to all humanity. Yoga is not standing upside down, taking acrobatic poses or eating only a small amount of vegetables. It is the way of unity, completeness, integrity, tranquility, peace, and communication with the entire universe at the same time.
In today’s complexity, Yoga offers an extraordinary resource to humanity. It develops with the discovery of the self in the presence of this person. Although it often seems to be a stress reduction method, physical, mental, and spiritual plans also offer enormous benefits. For example, all the tension and stiffness of the body and mind are taken with Hatha Yoga. With regular Yoga exercises, it is possible for the person to be exalted and reach superior self-values by opening the heart and mind, taking also other people into account.
An advanced society lived in the Indus basin nearly 2000 years before Christ. The first signs of yoga practice are between 5000 and 1200 BC. During the excavations in Mojendro-Daro (in North India) and Harappa (currently within the borders of Pakistan), the old settlements, people who practiced Yoga poses were found in stone tablets. Yoga has taken its place in the Vedas and Upanishads, which are the basis of Indian philosophy. Another of its main sources is the Mahabharata Epic and especially Bhagavat Gita, a part of it, which contains references to Yoga. In particular, the following paragraph is a complete reference: “when the 5 senses and mind are complete stillness and the reasoning becomes calm in the serenity, the supreme path is reached. This deep stillness of the senses is called Yoga.”
Basic Yoga texts are in Sanskrit. Sanskrit means mathematically and scientifically “full language”. In its written form, Sanskrit is a very phonetic language. The Sanskrit alphabet has the logical order of vocal sounds, each letter is based on a root word. Since all Sanskrit words are built on such a guideline, there are certain formulas that have been applied, which makes Sanskrit a relatively easy language to learn. Historians theorize that many Indo-Aryan languages, including English, come from a root similar to the Vedic Sanskrit.
The roots of the word yoga are based on YUJ in Sanskrit. Yuj means one, whole, unity as a whole. Classical Yoga uses Sanskrit on various topics such as Asanas (poses, postures) and Pranayama (the breathing techniques and the introduction of universal life energy Prana). In yoga practice, many Sanskrit words are converged. Asanas are named in Sanskrit terms in Hatha Yoga studies. Using these terms in their original language will be useful for future Yogic text or philosophical research.
The Chronological History of Yoga
- Pre-Vedic Period (6500 – 4500 BC)
Today, a new settlement in the size of Stanford in California has emerged in the new excavations in eastern Balochistan in Pakistan. This center is dated to the 7th millennium BC. This Neolithic settlement center, called Mehrgarh, is seen as the first step of the civilization that will come after it. This civilization is between the Indus and Sarasvati rivers.
According to the time of Mehrgarh, the population, which was excessive, was about 20,000 people. In this city, both industrial production and trade were developed, there were wide market places and cotton production looms. There are findings that technological research has been done. Especially the mass production of various containers was the best. It is known that art developed here as well. Especially various figures were made on tablets, in which we see the first drawings of yoga. It is determined that philosophy studies started at this time. This civilization is called Indus-Sarasvati. The philosophy system based on the observation of nature and its unity with the individual started to develop at this time.
- Vedic Period (4500 – 2500 BC)
The Vedic era was the period when philosophy and science began to unite, especially the Rg-Veda and other Vedas written in the 4th and 5th millenniums included a lot of information, and astronomy has an important place in this information, and surprising accuracy emerges when compared to today’s conditions. The development of philosophy is the period when Rsi’s associate Yoga asanas with nature and these are depicted on tablets. Especially intense internal studies, definitions for the discovery of the existence occurred during this time. However, this bright period has stopped with an unfortunate climate change.
Yamuna River, which was the biggest support of the Sarasvati river in 3100 BC, changed its bed and no longer pours water to Sarasvati, and on the contrary, it gives its water to the Ganges. Pause starts here. Then, in 2300 BC, the Great Sutlej river also changes its direction and Sarasvati starts to be dehydrated, then it dries completely and turns into desert. Of course, the big civilization settlements on the shores of this important waterway have to leave, and all cities turn into deserts.
Some sources also stated that cultural Vedic development in India is Aryan invaders from the north. Historical researches show that this is not real, especially the excavations in hundreds of settlements such as Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, and similarly revealed that the section called Aryan is the same as those of Indus-Sarasvati, who are familiar with philosophy that uses Sanskrit and knows astronomy and other science. Research shows that the much older Vedic mathematicians influenced Babylonian scientists. Information about Indus-Sarasvati civilization is emerging day by day, India’s rich heritage reveals surprising evidence day by day.
The writings of the above-mentioned mathematical information are based on the Febla Sutras dating back to 1800 BC. According to some scientists, the Vedic age (including Brahmanas and Upanishads) is based on the war mentioned in the famous Mahabarata epic, which has traditionally been dated to 3100 BC. It is stated in the Puranas and Tantras that the Kali Yuga (dark age) started with this war. Again, according to some researchers, these dates can be drawn up to 1500 BC.
- Brahmanic Period (2500 – 1500 BC)
With the collapse of the developed civilization on the shores of Sarasvati and Indus, this time the Vedic human communities moved to the convenient and feasible shores of the Ganges river, where hundreds of new settlements were established. New places, their situations, and new formations created a brand new but complex society in all respects. Vedic culture and its belief system began to take on a religious identity. The elite who lived here and possessed Vedic knowledge knew the Brahmana tradition and revealed the Bharmanic monks. And it became dominant in the cultural fabric of life after that. The emergence of the system known as forest schools and in which information is stored and taught coincides with this period. We see Aranyaka, which are ritual and life textiles that contain the information on forest schools. This culture was also effective ethically and artistically.
- Post-Vedic / Uphanishadic Period (1500 – 1000 BC)
Upanishads put their influence on this period by giving a new metaphysical and cultural taste. Here, in this period, the studies on the discovery of the self have increased. In particular, intrinsic cleansing and devotion studies have intensified in personal development. In this period, we can observe that the knowledge of the past ages is being collected and this heritage is the beginning of the scientific and psychological spiritual techniques of India.
- Pre-Classical Or Epic Period (1000 – 100 BC)
Chronologically, it is observed that the metaphysical and ethical values that are flourishing in this 5th era begin to ferment. Now complex basic information becomes well understandable by experimental studies. Meanwhile, it is observed that yoga is integrated with religion and many schools are formed. Deep studies are carried out on two important aspects of life, they are called abandonment (Sanyasa) and acceptance of daily life (Dharma).
Considered as the oldest yoga knowledge, Mahabharata was completed, and Bhagavat Gita replaced it, later the Ramayana epic with vast knowledge was also written in this era. Both epics cover the knowledge and experience of about 30 generations before them. In this period, Jainism and Buddhism emerge.
- Classical Period (100 BC – 500 AD)
In this age, 6 classical schools of philosophy emerge, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Brahma Sutras of Badarayana are written. It is the period when the active dialogue between Buddhists and Hindus started when Mahayana Buddhism shines. All the past information is fully collected and spread in these sutras. Especially during the times of the Gupta family kings, all belief systems have demonstrated their comfortably developed values. It is known that the classical age ended with the last King of Gupta.
This era is a very important period in terms of artistic development. At the beginning of the first century, the beginning of tantra and tantrism, a major cultural revolution, can be seen. This system now includes knowledge of thousands of years, research of many distinctions, and their perfect synthesis. Tantras can be seen as the exaltation of the highest metaphysical levels and ideals. The fact that one’s own development will develop in society is well established. Tantra is like a flashlight in the dark age (Kali Yuga).
Tantra is a community of spiritual development studies and a deep spiritual study discipline that includes the entire life. Especially the control of the feminine energies of the person and the universe known as Shakti, the integration of the entity with all energies and the best use of these methods have been used as the perfect developer. Many important texts were written during this period. This period is also called the Puranic era since it is a period of intense knowledge in which the information of much earlier periods (philosophical and metaphysical stories and texts in which rituals are knitted) are studied and these are combined with tantra. It made important contributions to the science of yoga.
- Modern Period (1700 AD – Today)
In 1880, British Emperor Queen Victoria became emperor in India, the bhakti movement flourished, and the Mughal imperial dynasty ended. Queen Victoria was fascinated by India’s spiritual heritage, always curious about it. Since the 1600s, the information coming to the west through the London East India Company and the Dutch India company established in the west, especially from India, have always been a source of interest and value in the secular imperial system here.
The West has seen yogic values in general with curiosity and a good eye. This interest has reached the highest level with the speech given by the famous Swami Vivekananda at the World Religion Parliament in Chicago in 1893. With the West taking over India, the studies here have turned inward, new synthesis has been made and all information has been collected and balanced in the best way. During this period, well-known yoga teachers were trained in the west and explained the knowledge of yoga to the whole world.
Periodic Development of Yoga History
Since ancient times, people, saints, and anyone who is curious about life have tried to understand the “causal systematic” of the mobile universe, which is filled with many different formations. The most important universal question here is “where do we come from, where do we go?” Valuable people seeking answers to this question are the actions of nature; they observed plants, insects, birds … all living things. They examined different lifestyles and behaviors of plants and animals and applied them to the human body, and experienced their effects and consequences in their own bodies. These people are the first “Yogis” and “Rsis”. Their main purpose was to have special abilities and skills that nature has bestowed on animals and plants. Practices and studies made today’s yoga postures (ie asanas, which means pleasant posture).
The emergence of yoga by our curious and researching ancestors dates back to ten to fifteen thousand years ago. The transformation of yoga into a systematic science and the gift of this natural system to humanity has been through the works and arrangements that Shiva has laid seven hundred thousand years ago. Three thousand five hundred years ago, texts called “Veda” were written, followed by “Upanisads”. These were followed by the Mahabarata Epic by Krisna, whose real name is “Bhagavat Gita”, the “Yoga Sutras” of Patanjali, a scientific presentation, and yoga texts called Hatha Pradipika.
When the written works are examined, it is seen that the yoga system was created in order to develop a person who can improve and renew himself in every aspect. The language used in these works is called Sanskrit. In Sanskrit, every word is called “Yuj”; the merger derives from a root letter, meaning that two things come together. According to this, the practice of yoga is that the person leaves the “body-mind-consciousness” combination that is present in each person to fluctuate in harmony with the universe, unites with the universe in peace and happiness, and lives like this. Yoga is the methodology of achieving peace of mind, silence, and harmony in any situation. People who practice yoga and turn yoga into a lifestyle, that is, “yogis”, are people who are peaceful, self-aware and who have completed their personal development.
Yoga teaches people to recognize their own self, keep them in balance, and deal with life more easily; Life with yoga is more in-depth and meaningful. The meaningless pains we suffer leave themselves to universal harmony through yoga. Yoga is never a religion. Yogis experience the awareness of their “essence”, that is, their spiritual beings, and perceive all living and inanimate beings closer and loving and integrate with them. Yoga is a philosophy that aims to bring people to success and finally to “enlightenment” through physical and spiritual discipline.
The Process Since the Invention of Yoga
Vedic Yoga Rig Veda teachings, also known as archaic yoga, were practiced in time. Rig Veda is a collection of hymns that praise high power. Vedic yoga concentrates around ritualistic rituals, which are seen as the purpose of combining substance and spirit. Rsi or prophets would turn deep inside them to go beyond the boundaries of the mind and could see visions that go beyond reality. It covers a long period dating up to 2000 BC. This period was also affected by the Vedic period. UPANISHADS, composed of sacred revelations, who discovered their secret teachings and the interconnectedness of everything in the universe, were written during this period. Written in 5000 BC, Bhagavat Gita also coincides within the same period.
This inscription covers the subjects that the person is full of good behavior, must be against bad behaviors and require the control of the ego. It includes many different yoga schools that emerged after Patanjali. The masters used the soul as a tool to free the body. The body is a temple and the tools found in the methods used for its spiritual purification. This thought led to the emergence of many schools such as Hatha yoga and tantra yoga etc.
It started with the parliament of religions who gathered in Chicago in 1983 where Swami Vivekananda inspired the Americans. After this meeting, SWAMI traveled all over the country, wrote many books, and directed many people to yoga. Another popular yoga teacher was Yogananda, who wrote “Autobiography of a Yogi”. Jiddu Krishnamurti gave spiritual inspiration to thousands of Westerners until 1986 when he died. It was Russian Indra Devi who introduced Hatha yoga to America. Many subsequent yoga masters established their own schools and tried to introduce yoga to the whole world, as it is today.
Yoga also brings health and beauty to our bodies through physical practices (asanas). Standing exercises are energetic and very effective not only on the body but also on the mind. The waiting times of the postures are different. With these postures, we massage our internal organs, hormone centers, immune system, and muscles; the musculoskeletal system is corrected, the nervous system is relaxed. Postures should not only be perceived as physical work. The main purpose of the works is to combine all dimensions of life, namely physical, mental, energetic, and emotional aspects, to ensure the integration and keeping the person in harmony.
As it is an activity based on balance, where there is no injury when working with the right teacher and the postures are applied correctly, it also enables the height-weight ratio to reach a healthy level with its practices. Weak people who practice yoga gain weight, while fat people lose weight. Since yoga provides the opening of the energy ends, bio-nerve currents return to normal and the biomagnetic field of the person strengthens. Breathing exercises increase the lung capacity by 100% and ensure the highest level of oxygen delivery to our brain and to every point of our body. The excess oxygen collected clears the muscles and causes lactic acid and other toxins that cause fatigue to be cleaned and removed from the body. Thus, after yoga exercises, no fatigue is felt.
Let us assume for a moment that the universal knowledge is the sun: it gives sunlight without separating anybody, without favoring anyone. If we want to take advantage of it, it is enough to get out of the shade. Because the sun gives its power and light unconditionally. Here, yoga knowledge is open to everyone like the sun. Those who want to take it can take it, but if they do not want it, they cannot see it even if the information is in front of them. There is no age or condition for starting yoga. Those who want to get this information can start their education by choosing an experienced teacher. Yoga is life itself and peace in essence.
A Literary and Philosophical Approach to the History of Yoga
Yoga works that come after the Vedas and brahmans, namely Aranyakas, are also known as “forest texts” or “wild texts”. In Aranyaka, also called transitional texts between Brahmans and Upanishads, the importance of ritual and retreat is mentioned. With the diminution of the influence of the brahmans, the Upanishads emerged between 800-200 BC and the idea of ”God and I are two different things” disappeared. In Upanishads, God is expressed as a concept that exists in everyone and everything. “Aham Brahma Asmi” is a philosophical approach in the Upanishads. It means “I am God.”
Bhagavad Gita, one of the most important works of Indian philosophy, was written between 500-200 BC. Bhagavad Gita is part of the epic Mahabharata (Great India), which is believed to have happened in 3000 BC, telling about the war of the Pandava and Kaurava families. “Bhagavad Gita” means the tune of God. In Bhagavat Gita, yoga appears with the definition of skill in action. In the book, which consists of dialogues between God Krsna and Warrior Arjuna, methods are proposed for man to be one with the universe.
All written and unwritten yoga teachings have been recorded in a plain and understandable way, with the Yoga Sutras consisting of 196 aphorisms and four parts compiled by Patanjali in the 300s BC. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are considered the beginning of the Classical Period of yoga. In this book, Patanjali defines yoga as the control of mind waves. Sutra means bowknot. Every aphorism is a knot, and it is necessary to work on each of them, not to apply one to another.
Hatha Yoga Pradipika means yoga texts written by Swami Swatmarama in the 1400s. Hatha Yoga is the first yoga school, and all the types of yoga practiced today are derived from Hatha Yoga. Ha is the sun, representing masculine energy, where Tha is the moon, the feminine energy, and Pradipika means light or illumination. Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a tantric work built on the philosophy of forming a whole of two opposite energies. At the same time, in the philosophy of yoga, the sun represents the body, and the moon represents the mind. As we approach the present day, we meet the students of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya as the authors of the books that make the biggest contribution to yoga. Krishnamacharya lived between 1889-1989, father of modern Hatha Yoga, a master yogi of Vinyasa Yoga, the great master called Indian medicine Ayurveda specialist. Among his students there are masters such as K Pattabi Jois, T.K.V Desikachar, B.K.S Iyengar.