The Origin of Yoga

The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj which means to attach or to unite which definitely represents the basic goal of yoga – to promote the unity of the body, mind and heart. In other words, with the help of yoga, people should be able to achieve harmony in terms of physical activity, thoughts and emotions. When someone mentions yoga today, people usually think about Hatha Yoga which is only one branch of yoga. This represents the things that are practiced during a yoga class like physical exercises, breathing, relaxation and meditation. However, yoga is much more than that. Yoga is an ancient science of healthy living designed to be incorporated in the daily life of every individual. But, how exactly yoga was created?

Even though there is no scientific or physical evidence about the exact date when and how yoga emerged, the truth is that yoga didn’t start as a therapeutic technique. Yoga was practiced as a method of knowledge. It belongs one of the six traditional philosophic systems used in ancient India. Besides its philosophical background it certainly has spiritual background too.

According to some sources, people have started practicing yoga in India about 2500 years ago even though some scholars claim that certain forms of yoga were utilized even 5000 years ago because the word yoga can be found in many old sacred scripts (like the Rig Veda). The first groups of people who used yoga were the Brahmans and Rishis who have written down their experience in the so-called Upanishads, a collection of more than 200 scriptures. One of the most famous scriptures dedicated exclusively to yoga is the Bhagvad Gita which is about 2500 years old.

The fact is that during this period yoga was not a strict system, but more like a combination of different techniques, methods, beliefs and ideas and very often some of these elements were opposed to each other. This situation was resolved with the emergence of Yoga Sutras developed by Patanjali. This writer and mystic lived around 2nd century B.C., but there is no proven source that can confirm this claim.  Nevertheless, this is the first time that yoga was presented in a systematic way. This is why Patanjali’s yoga is known as classic yoga. Many people consider Patanjali to be the founder of yoga and most of the yoga styles practiced today are based on his scripture. It is worth mentioning that his yoga philosophy was focused on enlightening individuals.

Several hundred years later, yoga teachers have developed a set of exercises and practices focused on rejuvenation of the body and extending lifespan. They believed that the care for the physical body is above everything else. This is how Tantra Yoga emerged.

Starting from the 19th and early 20th century, many famous yoga masters visited Western countries and this is when yoga became popular around the globe. As a matter of fact, this is the period when many of the yoga styles practiced today were created.  

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