Yoga can be dated back to around 3000 B.C. when pictures of yoga poses were carved in stone. The history of yoga can best be described by four influential periods: the Vedic period, the Pre-Classical period, the Classical period, and the Post-Classical period.
The Vedic period stems from the Vedas—the scripture of Brahmanism—and is about deep spirituality. During this time, Vedic yogis were sought to teach the Vedic people how to live in elevated spirituality. Later, the Vedas were known for the creation and understanding of the Upanishads—a collection of texts in the Vedic language. The Upanishads revolved around the relationship of the brahman and the atman, also known as the relationship between ultimate reality and the transcendental self. The 200 scriptures of the Upanishads lead to the Gita, which is known as the oldest yoga scripture, and incorporates the importance of kind actions and awareness of ourselves and our egos.
In an attempt to normalize yoga and its teachings, the Yoga Sutra was born, marking the beginning of the Classical period. Written by Patanjali, who believed that self and spirit must be separate, Yoga Sutra set forth the theories known to be the eight limbs of classical yoga:
- Yama—ethical values,
- Niyama—personal purity and tolerance,
- Asanas—physical exercise,
- Pranayama—breath control,
- Pratyahara—meditation preparation,
- Dhyana—meditation, and
Although these were thoughtful practices, the physical aspect was often neglected. Later, the physical was found to be extremely important, which led to the Post-Classical period.
The movement, in conjunction with meditation or yoga as we know it, first surfaced for westerners in the 19th century and, with this, some of the original beliefs were altered. Instead of one using yoga to transcend themselves spiritually, we now often use it to focus on the moment—present reality—and then find our peace in that reality.
The evolution of yoga has been minor, but influential to many societies, cultures, religions, and countries, with the main concepts being self-awareness and peace with oneself.
Yoga is truly a lifestyle rather than just a physical or mental practice.