History of Yoga

Timeline: Yoga in the West
  • 1870-1893: British, Germans, other Europeans visit India; "Oriental studies" gains popularity in the west.
  • 1893: Vivekananda visits first Parliament of World Religions in Chicago.
  • 1899: Vivekananda establishes New York Vedanta Society
  • 1900 - 1924: Large in-flow of Indian/yoga philosophy and practitioners come to US
  • 1924: U.S. Federal Government places limits on Indian immigration into the US; Americans begin traveling to India to study yoga
  • 1930s: Krishnamurti, Iyengar, Desikachar teach in Europe, U.S., India to westerners
  • 1947: Theos Bernard writes "Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience"
  • 1950: Richard Hittleman (disciple of Ramana Maharshi) teaches physical aspects of hatha yoga in New York City; goes on to write many books (JW: Introduces a brand of "secular yoga" in the U.S.)
  • 1960-1970: Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) gains readership in U.S. with post WWII generation
  • 1972: Lilias Folan starts PBS-TV series "Stretching with Lilias"
  • 1970 - Present: Works of Krishnamacharya, Pattabhi Jois, Iyengar, Desikachar explored; Westerners begin branding yoga asana "styles" -- secularization of yoga into gyms, cross-purposing with various exercise styles begins to pervade "fitness" industry, etc.

The philosophy and practices of Yoga may have existed since time immemorial. The first records of the practices of Yoga were found in relics of the ancient civilization of the Indus Valley (present day India) - the Aryan race. Yoga formed the foundation of this ancient culture. The Aryans lived some 5,000 years ago and were highly evolved in both the technology of the outer world and the science of the inner world.

At that time Sages or enlightened beings entered a state of deep meditation and looked within their innermost being and connected to the universal Spirit - Purusha. From this state of deep communion with the Divine they perceived and brought down to the human level the science of Yoga. Many other sciences were also revealed in this way — Sanskrit, Astrology, Ayurveda, Mantra, Yantra, Tantra, the knowledge of nature, the human mind and spirit and the ways to live in harmony with oneself, nature and the world around.

The collective works of the sacred knowledge of the Sages became known as the Vedas. The word veda means knowledge or science. The teaching of the Vedas included philosophy as well as rituals and practices for a spiritual life. The Vedas, the most ancient texts of humanity were four works, the Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva Veda.

For thousands of years Yoga and all the knowledge of the Vedas was orally transmitted from Guru to disciple. Students learned the practices of Yoga and made them part of their life. Yoga was not something to do in addition to one's life; it was life itself. Several thousand years later the illuminated sage Veda Vyas organized, compiled and wrote down the Vedas, thus securing these sacred sciences for the future of humanity.

In addition to Yoga the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta (philosophy of non-dualism) all have their roots in the Vedas Around 600 BC, Krishna, an enlightened being, laid disclosed to his great student Arjuna the path of Yoga and liberation in the sacred text the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita, or the song of God, points to three paths to self-realization.

Karma Yoga, the yoga of consecrated action, Jnana Yoga, the path of wisdom and Bhakti yoga, the path of devotion. The Bhagavad Gita is an incredible work; a succinct, yet profound exposition of the spiritual realm. Around 200 BC, the great sage Patanjali wrote down the Yoga Sutra. This work was also terse and immensely profound in its teachings of Raja Yoga - the Royal path of Yoga. For thousands of years yoga has been a highly respected science and method for the development of the human body, mind, intellect and spirit.

In the modern age much of the deeper teachings of Yoga have been largely ignored. As a result, it is mostly practiced for physical reasons. Although all those who practice know from first hand experiences the many benefits that come from consistent and dedicated practice, still much is missing. Without the deeper practices of Yoga one cannot truly transform themselves and grow spiritually.