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A brief history of yoga: a journey into how this ancient practice has developed

La storia dello yoga affonda le sue radici in una cultura millenaria. Dai Veda alle pratiche moderne, ecco quali sono le sue origini, in breve.

Have you ever wondered when the history of yoga began? This practice dates back to ancient times, with the Indus Valley Civilisation (3000-1800 BCE), and the Quetta, Harappan, and Mohenjo Daro civilisations.

Excavations carried out in these areas brought to light statues representing people practicing yogic poses, showing how yoga was already known and practiced.

yoga antiche statue
Ancient statues prove that yoga was already known and practiced © Sutrajournal

Yoga and the Vedic period

The first writings on yoga are found in the Vedic literature. Vedas are ancient sacred texts that had been transcribed after being handed down from one generation to another thanks to the oral tradition. Despite they don’t contain precise elaborations on yoga, Vedas explain some of its main ideas.

We can find yoga’s bases in the final stage of the Vedic period with the Upanishads (800-300 BCE). Some texts, in fact, describe the Prana (life force) and the Nadis (energy pathways), which will be core themes of the Hatha-yoga, a branch of yoga based on psychophysical exercises to dominate one’s cosmic energy. Lastly, the Svatasvatara Upanishad describes yogic practices and its effects.

The epic period

The epic period (600 BCE) offers a great source to understand yoga: the Bhagavad Gita, which is part of the Mahabharata poem. Bhagavad Gita is a 700-verse work that summarises many ideas and practices of yoga, outlining three most important “paths”: the Karma yoga (path of action), the Bhakti yoga (path of devotion), and the Jnana yoga (path of knowledge).

I testi vedici rappresentano la prima testimonianza scritta dello yoga © Wikipedia
Vedic texts represent the first written evidence of yoga © Wikipedia

The Sutras

The following period is represented by Sutras (200 BCE-400 CE). Sutras are a literary composition characterised by concision. They’re brief statements that express complex ideas through essential words. Their style allowed people to learn complete teachings by heart. Some of the most important Sutras are the Yoga sutras of Patanjali, which were interpreted by many commentators who developed them according to different schools of thought.

The Tantras

Tantras dominated the literature of the medieval period. Most of Hatha-yoga practices seem to have originated in Tantras and some of its most important texts are the Hathayogapradipika, the Gheranda Samhita, and Siva. In more recent times, yoga teachers including Swami Vivekananda, Yogananda Paramahansa, Sri Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, and Swami Sivananda stood out.

Masso delle fanciulle
The ancient practice is now wide spread across Western countries

Yoga today

The term “yoga” encompasses a huge group of concepts and practices. Despite it finds its origin in the Indian tradition, yoga has crossed India’s geographical and cultural borders, merging with different philosophical doctrines and giving life to the Tibetan, Taoist, and Buddhist yoga, among others. Anyone can practice yoga, from adults to children.

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