During this time, knowledge was passed verbally from person to person. For example, in India, students would be assigned verses to memorize from traditional poems and songs. Because music brought people together in vibration, voice, and song, it was a great way to distribute and retain information. We now know that it actually helps regulate our nervous system. Music helps keep us healthy.
The word yoga is first mentioned around 4000 BCE in India, in an ancient, sacred Hindu text called the Rig Veda. The word veda (or the Vedas) translates to “knowledge.” The Rig Veda was filled with 1,028 poems and 10,600 verses, plenty of poems and songs to be memorized! The word yuj, which means “to join,” made its debut here. Yuj eventually became “yoga,” the union of mind, body, and soul.
The Vedas were chanted with melodies like music. It was believed that they gave way to the sound of the universe. Some say the teachings within the Vedas hold the key to understanding our personal existence and acknowledging all things we can and cannot see. The poems call out to the Vedic gods who were named for the elements: agni (Fire), indra (Wind), prithvi (Earth), jala (Water), and surya (Sun). Clearly, the Vedas were a big deal back then, and still are in parts of the world today.
Chanting and music can evoke powerful emotions. We all have songs that make us feel a certain way, from upbeat ones that pump us up to sad ballads that allow us a safe place to have emotional experiences. Thousands of years haven’t lessened the importance of music in human cultures and traditions.
Yoga Looks Different Now
The practice of yoga was commonly offered to young men as a form of discipline. It was a way to focus and build upon their physical and mental aptitudes. Eventually, everyone was encouraged to practice yoga in order to cultivate a strong body, a quick mind, and keener awareness.
John Lennon, Paul Mccartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison of The Beatles with their guru the Maharishi in 1967.
Something to clarify is that yoga is not a religion. Although it developed parallel with the Hindu religion, yoga is a philosophy that helps those who practice to better understand their place within a universal whole. Certain paths of yoga were outlined in one of the best known and most famous of Hindu texts called the Bhagavad Gita, often referred to as the Gita. It is a 700-verse scripture that presents a synthesis of Hindu ideas about dharma (the cosmic law regarding behavior and social order) and yogic ideals. The Gita’s call for selfless action inspired many leaders, like Mahatma Gandhi, who referred to it as his “spiritual dictionary.”
The word “guru” has historically been used to describe a yoga master who has a large following of students. A “guru” can have a religious affiliation or not. For example, in the late 1960s, The Beatles followed a guru named Maharishi who introduced the Western world to Transcendental Meditation (see Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Pg. 22).
Throughout its long history, the yoga community has been filled with supportive, loving people on a path to transformation. Many wonderful friendships have formed among yoga students and teachers. However, there have also been high-profile yoga leaders that have taken advantage of their power by controlling, intimidating, manipulating, or violating others. Whether subtle or overt, abuse will not be tolerated in our yoga community. If you ever feel uncomfortable, tell a trusted friend, peer, or confidant. Keep speaking out until the situation is addressed.
The yoga of today has been through many changes and looks very different from the yoga of old. However, at its core, it is still an invitation to open up our bodies and minds. A yoga practice contributes to day-to-day life in a way that deepens our joy of being alive. Yoga cultivates introspection, empathy, discernment, self-awareness, self-regulation, and a pathway to an ever-evolving consciousness. It is the continual practice of observing and becoming aware of our thoughts and actions, training our minds to reframe or cast out thoughts that don’t serve us. This idea seems so simple, yet the effects of this practice are powerful enough to transform your entire life for the better.
The History of Yoga Through Time
Knowledge of our past provides insight into our future.
The History of Yoga Through Time is a visual snapshot of how yoga has evolved since ancient times. Although there are some that say yoga is older, let’s begin with our introduction to an era beginning as early as 1500 BCE.
Pre-Classical Era – Yoga was first introduced in sacred Hindu texts called the Vedas: Rig, Sama, Atharva and Yajur, as well as the Upanishads. These scriptures were sung with a melody, like chanting. There was an awareness of mind-body practice in his era. Teachings of the Buddha and from books entitled the Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana and the Mahabharata are all introduced here. Kindness, compassion, karma and dharma, eternal love and non-attachment are teachings from this time.
Classical Era – The Father of Yoga, Patanjali, developed the Yoga Sutras in this era. He synthesized and organized knowledge about yoga from much older traditions. Many agree that this is where modern yoga begins. At this time, it was believed that the body was an obstacle to enlightenment, which was obtained by harnessing the mind.
Post-Classical Era – This era was the introduction to the teachings of Tantra, including the Tantra Loka and Shiva Sutras. It’s a practice of awakening and liberation. Teachings are being shared from teacher to student and the physical form of hatha yoga begins to appear. In contrast to the previous era, at the time Tantra celebrated the body as a gift and that celebration is the path to enlightenment.
Modern day masters bring forth different lineages and styles of yoga. Many traditions were cross laterally shared. Even today, each teacher shares their perception and experience of what yoga means to them. As it becomes a mainstream physical practice, we can benefit from some of its early teachings of mindfulness and meditation. Conscious Classroom hopes to encourage easy ways to access these meaningful teachings.
Sacred Hindu texts or books by the assigned master
Buddha, the founder of the world religion of Buddhism who taught for around 45 years and built a large following.
Influential yoga masters. The color of their books defines the lineage and type of yoga that they bring forth.
Discover how the origin of the word “yoga” was first mentioned in a collection of ancient teachings and chants that were believed to help understand our human existence. Yoga means the union of mind, body, and soul. Although the history of yoga is closely intertwined with the Hindu religion, it’s a philosophy, NOT a religion. Connecting to our own history brings on more empathy, gratitude, and understanding for ourselves and others.