History of Yoga


The yoga we know today was developed as a part of the tantric civilisation which existed in India

and all parts of the world more than ten thousand years ago. In archaeological excavations made

in the Indus Valley at Harappa and Mohenjodaro, now in modern Pakistan, many statues have

been found depicting deities resembling Lord Shiva and Parvati performing various asanas and

practising meditation. These ruins were once the dwelling place of people who lived in the

pre-vedic age before the Aryan civilisation started to flourish in the Indus subcontinent.

According to mythical tradition, Shiva is said to be the founder of yoga and Parvati, his first

disciple Lord Shiva is widely considered to be the symbol or embodiment of supreme

consciousness. Parvati represents supreme knowledge, will and action, and is responsible for all 
creation. This force or energy is also known as kundalini shakti, the cosmic force which lies

dormant in all beings. Parvati is regarded as the mother of the whole universe. The individual 
soul is embodied and bound to the world of name and form, and also liberated from the bondage

of the world and united with supreme consciousness through her grace. Out of love and

compassion for her children, she imparted her secret knowledge of liberation in the form of

tantra. The techniques of yoga have their source in tantra and the two cannot be 
separated, just as consciousness, Shiva, cannot be separated from energy, Shakti. Tantra is a

combination of two words, tanoti and trayati, which mean 'expansion' and 'liberation' respectively

Therefore, it is the science of expanding the consciousness and liberating the energy. Tantra is

the way to attain freedom from the bondage of the world while still living in it. The first 
step in tantra is to know the limitations and capacities of the body and mind. Next it prescribes

techniques for the expansion of consciousness and the liberation of energy whereby individual

limitations are transcended and a higher reality experienced. Yoga arose at the beginning of

human civilisation when man first realised his spiritual potential and began to evolve techniques

to develop it. The yogic science was slowly evolved and developed by ancient sages all over the

world. The essence of yoga has often been shrouded in or explained by different symbols,

analogies and languages. Some traditions believe that yoga was a divine gift revealed to the

ancient sages so that mankind could have the opportunity to realise its divine nature.The first

books to refer to yoga were the ancient Tantras and later the Vedas which were written about

the time the Indus Valley culture was flourishing. Although they do not give specific practices,

they allude to yoga symbolically. In fact, the verses of the Vedas were heard by the rishis,

seers, in states of deep, yogic meditation or samadhi, and are regarded as revealed scriptures.

It is, however, in the Upanishads that yoga begins to take a more definable shape. These

scriptures collectively form Vedanta, the culmination of the Vedas, and are said to contain the

essence of the Vedas. Sage Patanjali's treatise on raja yoga, the Yoga Sutras, codified the first

definitive, unified and comprehensive system of yoga. Often called the eight-fold path, it is

comprised of yama, self-restraints, niyama, self-observances, asana, pranayama, pratyahara,

disassociation of consciousness from the outside environment, dharana, concentration, dhyana

meditation and samadhi, identification with pure consciousness. In the 6th century BC, Lord

Buddha's influence brought the ideals of meditation, ethics and morality to the fore and the

preparatory practices of yoga were ignored. However, Indian thinkers soon realised the

limitations of this view. The yogi Matsyendranath taught that before taking to the practices of

meditation, the body and its elements need purifying. He founded the Nath cult and the yogic

pose matsyendrasana was named after him. His chief disciple, Gorakhnath, wrote books on hatha

yoga in the local dialect and in Hindi Indian tradition previously required that original texts be 
written in Sanskrit. In some cases they clothed their writings in symbolism so that only those

prepared and ready for a teaching would be able to understand it. One of the most outstanding

authorities on hatha yoga, Swami Swatmarama, wrote the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, or 'Light on Yoga'

in Sanskrit, collating all extant material on the subject. In doing so, he reduced the emphasis on

yama and niyama from hatha yoga, thereby eliminating a great obstacle experienced by many 
beginners.