YOGA, definition and a brief introduction to origin, history and development of YOGA

Namasthe 🙏

Before doing my YIC (YOGA Instructor Course) course in S-VYASA (Swami Vivekananda YOGA Anusandhāna Samsthāna), I was in the perception that I knew yoga as I had learned and was practicing few āsanās & prāṇāyāma <got to learn from a doctorate in Yoga Dr.Rajesh Sir in Mangalore> from a decade. I presumed I knew it and joined the course to learn few more of them and to get certified. But only later that I realized that the āsanās & prāṇāyāma are just a part of yoga, it’s a much deeper philosophical subject and there is loots to explore!

I believe most of you are also in that perception and hence I have made an attempt to write this blog..

So what is YOGA???

Pātañjala Yoga (also known as Raja Yoga) is one among the six systems of Indian philosophy (known as satdarsanas). Pātañjali is a maharisi (an intellect & a researcher)  who lived somewhere between 900 – 100 B.C. and compiled – Pātañjali Yoga Sutras (PYS). Sutras means short sentence – an aphorism having subtle in-depth meaning. The PYS is divided into 4 padas/groups and consists of 196 sutras/formulae. He gives several sādhana techniques known as Asthanga Yoga in PYS. <PYS is mind blowing, anyone who reads it with the meaning is sure to become an ardent fan of this intellect Pātañjali, I am not an exception, will write another blog in detail on this..>

Pātañjali in his Pātañjali Yoga Sutras defined yoga as:

  • Yogah + Chitta + Vrtti + Nirodhah (PYS 1.2) – Yoga is the restriction of transformations of mind.
  • Tada + Drastuh + Svarupe + Avasthānam (PYS 1.3) – when all activities of the mind are under control, the seer will be in his real state. Controlling the mind involves 2 aspects –
1. power to concentrate on any desired subject / object.

2. capacity to remain peaceful and calm all the time.

All of us have been developing the 1st aspect i.e. concentration but rarely the 2nd aspect i.e. to remain peaceful and calm, is harnessed. YOGA mainly emphasises this 2nd aspect.

Bhagavad Gita <writen by Sage Vyasa is a part of the Mahabharata’s Bhishma Parva, is set in a narrative framework of a dialogue between Pandava prince Arjuna and his guide and charioteer Lord Krishna> defines yoga as:

  • Samatvam Yoga uchate(BG 2 – 48) – Yoga is equanimity of mind
  • Yogah Karmasu Kauśalam (BG 2 – 50) – Yoga is skill in action i.e. to maintain relaxation, awareness & efficiency in action.

Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha <written by Sage Valmiki, is the spiritual teaching imparted by Sage Vasistha to Sri Rama. Yoga Vasistha is also known as the Maha Ramayana / Uttar Ramayana / Vasistha Ramayana> defines yoga as:

  • Manah Prashamanopayah Yoga ityabhidhiyate – Yoga is a skilful trick to calm down the mind.

The word yoga has its verbal root as Yuj in Samskrta (Sanskrit) , which means union Yujyate arena iti Yogah – it refers to the union of individual Self / consciousness – Jīvātmā with the universal Self / consciousness – Paramātmā. It typically means integration of mind, body & soul. The ultimate aim of yoga practice is to create balance between body and mind and to attain self-realization <enlightenment / liberation / kaivalya / samadhi / moksha / nirvana>.

History of YOGA:

It originated in ancient India from time immemorial! In the yogic lore, lord Shiva is considered to be first yogi – Adiyogi & first guru – Adiguru. It was not until the discovery of the largest known civilization – Indus Valley Civilisation, that knowledge about origin of Yoga surfaced!

Pre-Vedic Period (3900 – 1500 B.C.):

The Indus Valley Civilisation <the ancient largest known civilisation> – During Archaeological excavations a number of seals with yogic motifs and figures performing yoga sadhana authenticate the existence of Yoga then.

The idol found in the excavation of the Harappan Civilisation reveal the trace of Yoga culture. The idol of pashupati in yogic posture is one such specimens.

Vedic Period (1700 – 1000 B.C.):

This period is marked with the emergence of Vedas – oldest sacred texts of Hinduism. Veda means knowledge. There are four vedas – Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda & Atharva Veda. They are generally divided into 2 sections

  1. Karma Kanda (ritual portion) &
  2. Jnana Kanda (knowledge portion dealing with the universe, individual soul and the creator. It is philosophical speculations and does not deal with any -ism)

The Upanishads / Vedantas are contained in the knowledge portion of the Vedas. The gem of the concepts of Yoga are widely available in the Upanishads.

Classic Period (600 – 100 B.C.)

The classical period is defined by Patanjali’s yoga Sutras, the first systematic presentation of Yoga. This text describes the path of Ashtanga Yoga i.e. 8 limbs of yoga containing the steps and stages towards obtaining enlightenment. This is also named as Raja Yoga. They hiare:

  1. Yamas – contains social restrains / observances
  2. Niyamas – contains personal restrains / observances
  3. Āsanās – contains physical postures
  4. Prāṇāyāma – contains control of life-force i.e. prana through breath control or regulation.
  5. Pratyahara – moderation or withdrawal of sensual pleasures
  6. Dhāraṇā – intense focussing or concentration
  7. Dhyāna – meditation
  8. Samādhi – state of meditative consciousness, it is a meditative absorption or trance. In samādhi the mind becomes still. It is a state of being totally aware of the present moment; a one-pointedness of mind.<Read this detailed blog on Ashtanga Yoga>

Post-Classical Yoga

A few centuries after Patanjali, a number of yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong the life, this exploration of physical-spiritual connections  and body-centred practices led to the compilation of Hatha Yoga. The final goal of Hatha yoga practice is also to make your body and mind fit enough to practice Raja Yoga! Gorakhnath (800 – 1200 A.D.) disciple of Matsyendranath is the major contributor and compiler of Hatha Yoga. We cannot say that he is the founder as Hatha yoga existed even before him. Later SvāmiSvātmārāma (wrote Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā). Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā (1300 – 1400 A.D.) , Gheranda Samhita (1657 – 1700 A.D.) & Siva Samhitā(17th century text) are the three classic texts of hatha yoga.

Evolution of Yoga in Modern Times

<Clicking on the name takes to the wiki page which has the pic and details to know more about them. In case you want to read more I have given links to few books that are available on Amazon.>
  • Swami Vivekananda‘s (12 Jan 1863 – 4 Jul 1902) remarkable lectures in the West, especially in the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in 1893, mark the growth of yogic culture in the modern times. The eternal message of Yoga emanated from the lips of this legend had a great influence on the western intelligentsia. He is a well known legendary figure who was the disciple of Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa..

Books: Vivekananda: A Biography in Pictures , Lectures from Colombo to Almora, Raja Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga

Videos: lecturer series of Life and Message of Swami Vivekananda by professor Dr. NVC Swamy

Yoga and its tradition received strong inspiration due to pioneering effort of several legends in India. To name a few:

  • Mahāvatār Bābājī (30 Nov 203 A.D. – ..) – Founder of Kriya Yoga and is best known as the immortal Himalayan master.

Books: Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga TraditionThe Holy Science/ Kaivalya Darsanam  , Autobiography of a Yogi

  • Shyama Charan Lahiri (30 Sep 1828 – 26 Sep 1895) – best known as Lahiri Mahasaya, was an Indian yogi and a disciple of Mahavatar Babaji. He revived the yogic science of Kriya Yoga when he learned it from Mahavatar Babaji in 1861.

Books: Autobiography of a Yogi

  • Yukteswar Giri (10 May 1855 – 9 Mar 1936) – was a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya.

Books: The Holy Science/ Kaivalya Darsanam  , Autobiography of a Yogi

  • Paramahansa Yogananda (5 January 1893 – 7 March 1952) – was an Indian yogi and guru who introduced millions of Indians and westerners to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga through his organization Yogoda Satsanga Society of India and Self-Realization Fellowship. His book, Autobiography of a Yogi remains a spiritual masterpiece and was included in the 100 best spiritual books of the 21st century.

Books: Autobiography of a YogiSwami Kuvalayananda (30 Aug 1883 – 18 Apr 1966) – was a researcher and educator who is primarily known for his pioneering research into the scientific foundations of yoga. He started scientific research on yoga in 1920, and published the first scientific journal specifically devoted to studying yoga, Yoga Mimamsa, in 1924. Most of his research took place at the Kaivalyadhama Health and Yoga Research Center which he also founded in 1924.

  • Tirumalai Krishnamacharya –  (18 Nov 1888 – 28 Feb 1989) was an Indian yoga teacher, ayurvedic healer and scholar. Often referred to as “The Father of Modern Yoga,” Krishnamacharya is widely regarded as one of the most influential yoga teachers of the 20th century and is credited with the revival of hatha yoga.
  • Swami Sivananda (8 Sep 1887 – 14 July 1963) -He was the founder of the Divine Life Society (DLS) in 1936, Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy (1948) and author of over 200 books on yoga, Vedanta, and a variety of subjects. He established Sivananda Ashram, the headquarters of the DLS, on the bank of the Ganges at Sivanandanagar, 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) from Rishikesh.

Books: Autobiography of Swami SivanandaPractice of yoga and many more are available.

  • B.K.S. Iyengar (14 Dec 1918 – 20 Aug 2014) – He was one of the earliest students of of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and founder of the style of yoga known as Iyengar Yoga and was considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world. He was the author of many books on yoga practice and philosophy. The Indian government awarded Iyengar the Padma Shri in 1991, the Padma Bhushan in 2002 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2014.

Books: Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

And many others like Shri K.Pattabi Jois, Sri T.K.V. Desikachar, Swami Ramdev (Patanjali Yogpeeth, Haridwar), Sri Yogendraji (the Yoga Institute), Swami Satyanandaji(Bihar School of Yoga), Sri Ravi Shankar (The Art of Living), Swami Jaggi Vasudev (Isha Yoga Centre), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Shri O.P. Tiwari, Dr. H.R. Nagendra (S-VYASA university) so on and so forth…

  • Dr. H.R. Nagendra is an Indian mechanical engineer, a doctoral degree holder (PhD) from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Yoga therapist, academic, worked in NASA, writer and the founder vice chancellor of Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana ( S-VYASA ), a deemed university located in Bengaluru. He is best known as the personal yoga consultant of Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India and is a recipient of Yoga Shri title from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. He has authored 35 books and over 100 research papers on Yoga. The Government of India awarded him the fourth highest civilian honour of the Padma Shri, in 2016, for his contributions to society. I feel very fortunate to have done my study in S-VYASA university <here scientific research on Yoga is happening and it has academic courses in Yoga> and to have seen, met & heard from this legendary person!

Also I feel blessed to have born in this country – India 🇮🇳, where this treasure of Yoga originated and was practised, experienced and preached by many great beings!

PS: Hope the blog was informative. Do give it a thumbs up by giving your email id below👇 for blog updates. I do conduct online & offline yoga classes 🧘🏻‍♀️ as nirvāṇa yoga @ Nirvana Yoga Shala, #20, Pionier Lifestyle, Bangalore if interested in joining please contact for further details. Thankyou 🙏!

References: Certification of Yoga Professionals Guidebook, Patanjali Yoga Sutras – made easy by Dr. Padiki Nagaraja Rao, Raja YogaAutobiography of a YogiBabaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga Tradition and wikipedia.

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Hello & Namasthe ! I am Swetha Reddem, a software professional turned yoga professional ( YIC & M.Sc.Yoga from SVYASA Yoga University and teaching yoga since 2018). I have a 8+ years young naughty boy and another one 30+ years young (my husband 😊) . And about my likes - I love ❤️ doing yoga, nothing feels more relaxing than that, photography 📸 , gardening 👩‍🌾 n reading books on Yogic lore. Am a nature lover 🌴 and would try my best not to harm it and a vegetarian by choice from almost 2 decades. Am a DIYer - n prepare most stuff that all my family 👪 n home 🏡 needs from organic grooming n beauty products 👄 👁 👣 💆 to home cleaners and food 🍲🍨🍧🥗🍦🍰🍪🥞🍕🍹 . I am inspired by the zero waste movement, minimalism & eco friendly lifestyle. I would love to share the recipes and my thoughts with you all!

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