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The History Of Yoga And Its Significance In Indian Culture

The History Of Yoga And Its Significance In Indian Culture

Just how much do you know about the origins of yoga? While we all love our daily time on the mat and know that it’s an ancient, spiritual practice, it’s fascinating to take the time to learn more about yoga’s story. For example, when was yoga created? And why is it so popular in India? The origins of yoga go back thousands of years, with the practice evolving from a series of religious sacred texts into yoga as we know it today.

To truly appreciate yoga, it helps to understand just what makes it so unique and special. Not only will it blow your mind, it might even deepen your connection to your practice! Here’s a brief insight into the history of yoga to help you learn more.

The History Of Yoga

What was the original purpose of yoga? To answer that question, you need to go back – way back. We can trace yoga back at least 5,000 years, but some experts believe it might be as much as 10,000 years old.

Yoga’s history is usually broken down into a few periods in time, outlined below. Although you can literally write a book on the topic (and many have!), this is a quick and simplified view of how yoga went from a spiritual Brahmanic practice to a popular gym exercise in the US.


Image by Luemen Rutkowski on Unsplash: Learning more about yoga can result in a deeper love for the practice.


Vedic Period

The word ‘yoga’ first appeared in written records in sacred texts in India known as the Rig Veda. These books contained texts and mantras used by the Brahmans, Vedic priests, and appeared in Northern India about 5,000 years ago.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word that comes from the word ‘to yoke’, harnessing two animals together for plowing or farm work. However, in a broader sense, it means to create a union. This can be a union between body and mind or a union with a higher power. However, back in the Vedic times, yoga meant more spiritual connection and unity than physical movements. Back then, yoga was more about the stages one must move through to reach enlightenment.

Classical Yoga

The next development in yoga was known as the Classical period. It’s marked by the writing of the Rāja-Yoga, also known as eightfold yoga, around the second century A.D. It’s a series of statements written by Patanjali, considered by many to be the father figure of yoga.

Patanjali added physical components and breathing exercises to the art of yoga, moving it from a purely spiritual practice to a physical one as well. He created eight limbs of yoga, with the aim of helping people find meaning in their lives. They include:

  1. Yama: The ethical rules around how to interact with others.
  2. Niyama: The correct conduct towards oneself, to help with personal growth.
  3. Asana: The practice of physical postures. This is probably the most well-known of the classical yoga limbs, as asanas are the foundation of modern yoga.
  4. Pratyahara: The controlling of one’s senses.
  5. Dhyana: The practice of meditation.
  6. Dharana: The concentration of drawing one’s senses inward.
  7. Samadhi: The union between mediation and the subject of meditation, with the goal of reaching the stage of enlightenment.
  8. Pranayama: The act of controlling one’s breathing.

Modern Yoga

In the late 1800s, yoga started to attract notice in the western world, thanks to modern travel allowing yoga masters to explore the world and share their passion for yoga. An event that occurred in 1893, the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, brought worldwide attention to the practice of yoga, thanks to famous yogi Swami Sivananda. Sivananda wrote over 200 books on yoga(!), helping people learn more about this mystical Indian practice.

Slowly, yoga studios started to open up in the US and Europe, with the activity becoming increasingly popular. While many in the west think of yoga as a physical practice, it’s important to remember its spiritual and mental origins.


Image by Aniket Mandish on Unsplash: A visit to the town of Rishikesh can help you learn more about the history of yoga.


What Is The Cultural Significance Of Yoga In India?

Ok, so we’ve explained a little more about how yoga came to be. But why is yoga still so popular in India? What is yoga in Indian culture, exactly?

India is the birthplace of yoga, but the practice is still incredibly popular there. Within India, over 80% of the population identifies as Hindu. Within the Hindu belief system, yoga is one of six main schools of thought and part of a person’s spiritual journey.

When you realize how important yoga is to the Hindu community, and what a large Hindu community India has, it makes more sense as to why yoga is so popular. Long before westerners came to India to visit the country’s yoga ashrams, the people of India included yoga in part of their daily life, with both the physical and spiritual sides holding special importance to millions of people throughout the country.

Many yogis feel compelled to make a pilgrimage to India to practice yoga in its place of origin. While there are many amazing places to visit in India, many yogis find themselves in the city of Rishikesh. It’s one of the holiest places in India, considered by many to be the home of yoga. You can find incredible yoga and ashrams here, helping you to learn more about the spiritual and religious side of the practice, with many combining their yoga practice with a healthy diet or detox as a way to cleanse.

Now you know a bit more about the origins of yoga, hopefully you’ll experience a more meaningful, rewarding practice. With millions of devotees in India and around the world, you know you’re in good company!


Featured image by rishikesh yogpeeth on Unsplash

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