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A Detailed History of Yoga
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October 29, 2009 - 4:46 pm
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Let's discuss the Eras of Yoga. I realize we have different lineages but we might find this discussion enlightening.

1. Where did Yoga start?

Please say more than "India."

2. How was the tradition of Yogic studies carried out? Please say more than "The Vedas.

"I anxiously await your informed replies.

Hari OM,

M Sook


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November 13, 2013 - 8:53 pm
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Let's start at the beginning and go over the Eras of Yoga.

Yoga: The Vedic Period

The history of the ancient practice of yoga spans nearly three millennia (some also say 5,000 years) and countless cultures and it has evolved quite a bit since its inception in East Asia. First off, to refer to yoga as a singular thing is very misleading as yoga has never been one, cohesive tradition, but instead an intertwining thread of different methods and techniques by different cultures simultaneously. The history of yoga itself is a fairly convoluted story as historians have fairly few records that chronicle the events of ancient India and only recently have serious efforts been mounted to piece together a narrative. What has been revealed in the past few years shows that ancient yogis were a far cry from today's modern practitioners.

The Origins of Yoga

One of the first things noted by historians considering yoga is that in its history, yoga has never been defined by a single tradition, and different types of practice have always been present in its 2,500 year record. While there is a great deal of debate on yoga's exact origins, there is a general consensus that it was first practice around 500 BC by devotees of the Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain philosophies in what is now India and the surrounding areas such as parts of China, Tibet, and Nepal.

The Vedic Period of Yoga

What is considered the "Vedic" period in Indian history lasted from around 1500 BC to around 200 BC and is characterized by the rise of Hinduism and the establishment of its early philosophies and its ancient texts, the Vedas. In the ancient text the Rigveda, it tells of a war between the Aryas and Dasas/Dasyus, two ancient tribes in the area. The history of the Aryans is very convoluted as they were lighter skinned invaders that descended from their homeland in north of the Caspian Sea and with the help of their superior weapons, namely the chariot; they overtook the native Indus Valley Civilization. The surrounding areas were occupied as well, and it is interesting to note that modern day Iran draws its name from the Aryan people.

Following the establishment of India as the new Aryan kingdom and the development of Hinduism, yoga began its rise to prominence and yogis began to extol yoga as a way to focus the mind and expand consciousness. During the Vedic period, yoga took on a mostly peaceful connotation and was designated as a practice for the ascetic spiritual followers, but over the next few centuries, yoga would become the practice of fearsome warriors.


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November 17, 2013 - 2:12 pm
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The Post-Classical Period of Yoga History

Although Yoga can be traced as far back as 5,000 years ago, the practices of Yoga have evolved over time. Yoga is typically split into the Vedic period, the pre-classical era, the classical era, and the post-classical era. This article will explain the foundations of the post-classical era.

Modern Yoga

Post-classical Yoga is the contemporary, modern school of Yoga. While previous eras and schools of thought argued that Yoga was a way to escape reality, post-classical Yoga teaches adherents to accept the corporeal reality and to appreciate it. This school of thought developed in the 19th century, as more Westerners discovered, studied, and began to utilize Yoga in their lives. It was this introduction into the practical lives of Western adherents did post-classical Yoga developed a pedagogy of incorporating personal health and diet, particularly toward vegetarianism.

Philosophical Underpinning

Post-classical Yoga affirms the Vedanta, which is the unification of all matter in the universe. Because of this underpinning, the Yoga teachers in the 19th to 20th century began an approach where the meditations did not shed away the universe, but made a person one with the universe: their immediate world around them. This development helped add in health techniques, such as breathing exercises and body posturing, that could help concentrate one's mind to the world around them. Supplementing this approach are the Five Principles, developed by Guru Swami Sivananda. The Five Principles are to help enhance and prolong one's life when they are added to consistent Yoga exercises. The Five Principles include Savasana (relaxation), Asanas (exercise), Pranayama (breathing), a vegetarian diet, and Dhyana (positive mental attitude).


The 20th century, particularly in the 1960s, saw an explosion of interest toward post-classical Yoga teachings. One teacher, the Maharishi Mahesh, became particularly popular in the West due to Western celebrity endorsements, like The Beatles. Other Gurus also became popular in the latter half of the 20th century, such as Swami Sivananda, who was previously mentioned, and Westerners like Richard Hittleman. As a generation of Westerners became adherents to Yoga, larger acceptance of the post-classical Yoga teachings became apparent in the health care sector. In addition, the business sector has sometimes seen the application of post-classical teachings into corporate officer's managerial approaches.

The Modern Period of Yoga History

Most people in the United States today think of yoga as a series of physical and mental exercises, focused on breathing and certain postures. We are told that this type of yoga originated in India as a devotional exercise designed to bring into balance the body, mind and spirit. But the origins of modern yoga are controversial and complex, and did not arise in India alone.

As American Transcendentalists and British Theosophists began seriously to study Hindu spiritual traditions, and a few Hindu masters brought their ideas and philosophies to the West, yoga was not viewed as a physical practice. Rather, it had to do with a lifestyle of spiritual growth through meditation and ethical practices. Its ultimate goal was self-realization and union of the individual spirit with the all-encompassing universe.

Some teachers, such as Vivekananda in the 1890s, actively discouraged practice of the asanas, or at least most of them. For these masters, focusing on asanas was associated with superstitions of the past. However, a handful of years later, Americans were pursuing the asanas enthusiastically under the tutelage of Pierre Bernard, an Iowa businessman who claimed to have studied in India. Bernard made claims for hatha yoga that may sound familiar to today's skeptical seeker, including exaggerated sexual benefits and even financial gain. Between this nonsense and the anti-foreigner, anti-immigrant attitudes of the early 1920s, yoga fell into disrepute for some time.

Surprisingly, the most familiar asanas did not come from India, but from postures used in physical training originating in Scandinavia. They had been imported to India in the first few decades of the 20th century. They were picked up in India and taught by traveling teachers not only for ordinary health reasons, but also in anticipation of a possibly violent revolution for Home Rule. Another source of modern asanas was the Victorian practice of women's gymnastics.

Many westerners turned to yoga again in the 1960s as the hippie movement promoted alternative health and low-stress, noncompetitive forms of exercise. As Jess Stearn explored the paranormal aspects, Richard Hittleman published a series of books and videos emphasizing physical benefits.

Today's yoga too often takes the form of competitive exercise, often more like an aerobic workout. Weight loss, increased intelligence and improved sexual performance have replaced less worldly goals. This type of yoga is so far removed from its origins that there is a movement to re-associate yoga with Hinduism in the public mind.


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November 13, 2013 - 9:10 pm
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Namaste Colleagues,

I will continue this segment later as part of my karma yoga, but I urge historians, yoga teachers, gurus and swamis to enter their opinions or corrections, if anyone see's something they disagree with. I promise not to take offense.

Hari Aum

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