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History of Yoga – A Complete Overview of the Yoga History

Written by: shaynebance

Yoga History The saying, “What’s in the past, should stay in the past” – doesn’t work here.

We might already have an idea of what Yoga is but to understand it better, we have to know what it has become as well as its roots and beginnings. A quick look at the history of Yoga will help us appreciate its rich tradition and who knows, it might help us incorporate Yoga into our lives.

Although Yoga is said to be as old as civilization, there is no physical evidence to support this claim. Earliest archaeological evidence of Yoga’s existence could be found in stone seals which depict figures of Yoga Poses. The stone seals place Yoga’s existence around 3000 B.C.

Scholars, however, have a reason to believe that Yoga existed long before that and traced its beginnings in Stone Age Shamanism. Both Shamanism and Yoga have similar characteristics particularly in their efforts to improve the human condition at that time. Also, they aim to heal community members and the practitioners act as religious mediators. Though we know Yoga as focusing more on the self, it started out as community-oriented before it turned inward.

For a better discussion of the history of Yoga, we could divide it into four periods: the Vedic Period, Pre-Classical Period, Classical Period, and Post-Classical Period.

Vedic Period

The existence of the Vedas marks this period. The Vedas is the sacred scripture of Brahmanism that is the basis of modern-day Hinduism. It is a collection of hymns which praise a divine power. The Vedas contains the oldest known Yogic teachings and as such, teachings found in the Vedas are called Vedic Yoga. This is characterized by rituals and ceremonies that strive to surpass the limitations of the mind.

During this time, the Vedic people relied on rishis or dedicated Vedic Yogis to teach them how to live in divine harmony. Rishis were also gifted with the ability to see the ultimate reality through their intensive spiritual practice. It was also during this time that Yogis living in seclusion (in forests) were recorded.


Pre-Classical Yoga

Yoga History The creation of the Upanishads marks the Pre-Classical Yoga. The 200 scriptures of the Upanishads (the conclusion of the revealed literature) describe the inner vision of reality resulting from devotion to Brahman. These explain three subjects: the ultimate reality (Brahman), the transcendental self (atman), and the relationship between the two. The Upanishads further explain the teachings of the Vedas.

Yoga shares some characteristics not only with Hinduism but also with Buddhism that we can trace in its history. During the sixth century B.C., Buddha started teaching Buddhism, which stresses the importance of Meditation and the practice of physical postures. Siddharta Gautama, the first Buddhist to study Yoga, achieved enlightenment at the age of 35.

Later, around 500″ B.C., the Bhagavad-Gita or Lord’s Song was created and this is currently the oldest known Yoga scripture. It is devoted entirely to Yoga and has confirmed that it has been an old practice for some time. However, it doesn’t point to a specific time wherein Yoga could have started. The central point to the Gita is that – to be alive means to be active and in order to avoid difficulties in our lives and in others, our actions have to benign and have to exceed our egos.

Just as the Upanishads further the Vedas, the Gita builds on and incorporates the doctrines found in the Upanishads. In the Gita, three facets must be brought together in our lifestyle: Bhakti or loving devotion, Jnana which is knowledge or contemplation, and Karma which is about selfless actions. The Gita then tried to unify Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Karma Yoga and it is because of this that it has gained importance. The Gita was a conversation between Prince Arjuna and God-man Krishna and it basically stresses the importance of opposing evil.

Classical Period

The Classical Period is marked by another creation – the Yoga Sutra. Written by Patanjali around the second century, it was an attempt to define and standardize Classical Yoga. It is composed of 195 aphorisms or sutras (from the Sanskrit word which means thread) that expound upon the Raja Yoga and its underlying principle, Patanjali’s Eightfold path of Yoga (also called Eight Limbs of Classical Yoga). These are:

  1. Yama, which means social restraints or ethical values;
  2. Niyama, which is personal observance of purity, tolerance, and study;
  3. Asanas or physical exercises;
  4. Pranayama, which means breath control or regulation;
  5. Pratyahara or sense withdrawal in preparation for Meditation;
  6. Dharana, which is about concentration;
  7. Dhyana, which means Meditation; and
  8. Samadhi, which means ecstasy.

Patanjali believed that each individual is a composite of matter (prakriti) and spirit (purusha). He further believed that the two must be separated in order to cleanse the spirit – a stark contrast to Vedic and Pre-Classical Yoga that signify the union of body and spirit.

Patanjali’s concept was dominant for some centuries that some Yogis focused exclusively on Meditation and neglected their Asanas. It was only later that the belief of the body as a temple was rekindled and attention to the importance of the Asana was revived. This time, Yogis attempted to use Yoga techniques to change the body and make it immortal.

Post-Classical Yoga

At this point, we see a proliferation of literature as well as the practice of Yoga. Post-classical Yoga differs from the first three since its focus is more on the present. It no longer strives to liberate a person from reality but rather teaches one to accept it and live at the moment.

Yoga was introduced in the West during the early 19th century. It was first studied as part of Eastern Philosophy and began as a movement for health and vegetarianism around the 1930’s. By the 1960’s, there was an influx of Indian teachers who expounded on Yoga. One of them was Maharishi Mahesh, the Yogi who popularized Transcendental Meditation. Another one is a prominent Yoga Guru Swami Sivananda. Sivananda was a doctor in Malaysia and he later opened schools in America and Europe. The most prominent of his works is his modified Five Principles of Yoga which are:

  1. Savasana or proper relaxation;
  2. Asanas or proper exercise;
  3. Pranayama or proper breathing;
  4. Proper diet; and
  5. Dhyana or positive thinking and Meditation

Sivananda wrote more than 200 books on Yoga and Philosophy and had many disciples who furthered Yoga. Some of them were Swami Satchitananda who introduced chanting and Yoga to Woodstock; Swami Sivananada Radha who explored the connection between psychology and Yoga, and Yogi Bhajan who started teaching Kundalini Yoga in the 70’s.

Up to this day, Yoga continues to proliferate and spread its teachings, crossing the boundaries of culture and language.

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Article Comments
Thursday 2nd June 2005 at 7:38:58 PM  

Your History of Yoga has more ancient dates than some. The start of the Vedic period was not shown. The {} timeline ,which avoids the British shortening, says it started in 10,000 BCE some of which was verified astronomically. It is also interesting that the Hindu estimate of the age of our universe is about 9 billion years.

Wednesday 15th February 2006 at 9:24:08 AM  

Hi, I’m writing a paper on yoga for a university class, and have found your article on the history of yoga to be very useful. However, I’m having difficulty siting the article in my biliography, because there is no author, or compilers name. If you could please send me a name I could attribute this article too, I’d really appreciate it. My email address is Thanks

Monday 28th January 2008 at 10:30:14 PM  

The article was well written.It mentioned two great teachers of the present time Sivananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.Maharishi’sTeacher was a great sage in northern india.He was the Shankarachyrya of Joytir Math in the Himalayas.This man was the equivelent of the Pope in Catholcism.He reestalished the knowledge of the Vedic path to many including Maharishi.Maharishi made 10,000 teachers of Meditation and has had an effect on many who studied with him and his teachers.To name a few Depoch Chopra, Wayne Dyer,Dr Johnny Grey,Barbara
Deangelis to name a few.I believe he has even influenced the catholic Church with Centering Prayer which seems like a knock off of Transcendental Meditation.Not as good but still potent.Robert Principal Turiya

Tuesday 23rd September 2008 at 12:12:14 AM  

Hello. I am a University student, and I read this article for research I am doing for a speech. I was wondering if whoever wrote this article could give me some additional information, so I could properly cite this article. Please let me know if anyone knows anything! I would greatly appreciate it! Thank you!

Monday 9th March 2009 at 10:54:21 PM  

also looking to cite

Saturday 11th April 2009 at 3:57:30 PM  

Hello. I am a College student, and I read this article for research I am doing for an english report. I was wondering if whoever wrote this article could give me some additional information, so I could properly cite this article. Please let me know if anyone knows anything! I would greatly appreciate it! Thank you!

Saturday 18th April 2009 at 4:41:22 PM  

Hi I am a graduate student and used a lot of the information in this article would you be able to send me the information so that I can properly cite this in my paper? Thanks

Saturday 25th April 2009 at 12:08:11 AM  

Hi, I too am looking to cite this article for a university course in Library studies that I’m doing. Could you help? I find this explanation of the overview extremely useful to high school students studying this topic. The rest of the site is easy to navigate and full of interactive user friendly information. Keep it up.

lisa deanne
Monday 4th May 2009 at 12:43:42 PM  

Hello. I’m also a student doing a project on the history of yoga and was wondering if you could provide me with the information to properly cite this source.Thank you very much.

Tuesday 21st July 2009 at 12:52:48 AM  

Good article. Check out some of the articles on health, and yoga, and nutrition we have as well and tell us what you think.

Jeff Behar

Monday 17th August 2009 at 7:17:46 PM  

i love u gies

patio furniture
Thursday 20th August 2009 at 6:23:31 AM  

I am amazed to know yoga was practiced so many century back. We must do yoga to lead a healthy life. Now yoga is is famous worldwide. Thanks for posting related yoga books.

Wednesday 9th December 2009 at 6:10:00 AM  

i want learn yoga

Saturday 16th January 2010 at 8:11:11 PM  

i”ve been teaching yoga for 5years, now i”m starting to write a book of yoga, thanks for the article, it”s help me a lot.. namaste

Thursday 11th February 2010 at 10:32:41 PM  

hello and namuste
Im in the 11th grade studing yoga as well and i do the practice as well. I wanted to know if anyone else does yoga and if they do ;how does it affect you ; how does it effect your world connecting with all of us being univesal. Please reply

Friday 19th February 2010 at 11:16:21 AM  

thx this was a big help 🙂

Wednesday 24th March 2010 at 7:07:41 PM  

Namaste, and I think that this article was very interesting and helpful. Helpful for a, shall I say, a “project” I wanted to do. But, just one question, how do yoga classes usually cost? Thankyou.

Monday 5th April 2010 at 1:26:23 PM  

this is a really good article a lot of good info.

Thursday 22nd April 2010 at 7:25:36 AM  

i want to know about relationship of yoga with ayurveda

shiva the yogi
Friday 30th April 2010 at 12:58:37 PM  



Betty Mason\
Saturday 5th June 2010 at 5:55:48 PM  

Yogi Gupta taught me sadana practices 47years ago, on 56 st. n.y.c. He said that when we have had enough of this miserable world just stop eating. Is this the accepted way to pass on based on the Hindu religion? appreciate u r response.

alvaro matta
Sunday 27th June 2010 at 10:47:29 PM  

Thank you for the brief history. Very nicely done.

Tuesday 27th July 2010 at 9:15:20 AM  

Namaste! Congratulations for a short and useful article.

Rupesh Joshi
Sunday 29th August 2010 at 10:51:40 PM  

Thanks for such a wonderful article, i always want to have deeper understanding of history of yoga ,it has made me happy……waiting for more in the future

Friday 3rd September 2010 at 1:47:29 AM  

Book of
History of Yoga -; by Shaynebance,is available?

Victoria Smith
Thursday 11th November 2010 at 7:29:37 PM  

i love to do yoga and i love to learn more about it

Saturday 20th November 2010 at 3:52:52 AM  

Concise, informative and well written.

Stephen Bender
Tuesday 30th November 2010 at 12:31:53 AM  

You state that yoga was introduced to the west in the early 19th century. It was introduced in the early 20th century. Please don”t dispense misinformation. There is enough myth around yoga, its practice and history.
Stephen Bender

Wednesday 1st December 2010 at 12:05:01 AM  

haha stephen, the author just made a silly mistake. the 19th century is the 1800”s, and the 20th century is the 1900”s.

Pretty good article otherwise except for the fact that Brahmanism is not a term that is used for any religion within India or the world for that matter. Ancient Hindus called their religion Dharma- their Duty. Their religious duties were as natural as it is to eat and drink. The term Hindu actually came from the Aryan or Muslim cultures – i forget which, but I”m pretty sure it was the Muslims. Sorry if it seemed nit-picky, its just that Yoga is mainly derived from the Hindu religion and I feel it is necessary to give the most accurate info regarding it. =]

Saturday 4th December 2010 at 8:00:59 PM  

Thank you, this is a fairly accurate history of a subject that is difficult to “historicize”.
However, as a grad student specializing in South Asian religions and a certified Sivananda Yoga teacher, I have found some of the details here partly misinformed, and believe them worth correcting for the sake of building a more accurate picture.
For example, pranayama is not “regulation of breath”. It is “regulation of prana”, prana being a distinct entity from breath and intermediary between matter, energy, and consciousness.
There is also the claim that Swami Sivananda opened schools in Europe and Asia. While they may bear his name-;it was not he, but his disciples who spread “Sivananda Yoga” and other connected institutions in the West.
Lastly, this is a response to Devin: In academia, we use the term “Brahmanism” to denote early forms of Vedantic Dharma that focused heavily on orthopraxy and subjugation of the lower castes.
There are other subtle discrepancies here that I”m sure more critical eyes will later address.

Wednesday 22nd December 2010 at 12:27:46 AM  

Thanks for sharing the thoughts, and you are absolutely right – medical assistants are the cornerstones of our medical system and unfortunately we are running short of them. I hope you can attract more talents to join the course and wish you all the success.

Tuesday 4th January 2011 at 6:29:08 AM  

This history needs revising. Refer to Patanjali”s Yoga Sutras with commentary by Iyengar.

Kuladeep Patil
Friday 7th January 2011 at 1:53:11 AM  

Yoga is not gift of Hinduism but its actually Jainism evaluated thousands of years before. Last Thirthankara[24th ] of Jainism born 600BC and before him 23 thirthankaras lived millions of years before who using yoga got salvation. So that you can find names of few thirthankars in Vedas [Hindu religious books]

samir parvadia
Wednesday 2nd February 2011 at 12:00:11 AM  

very good information about yoga and i like our yoga culture and sports so our nation health and fitness by our nature and body samir parvadia from sadra

Olusanya Babatunde.
Wednesday 9th February 2011 at 5:06:45 AM  

Beautiful article. Am a professional fitness trainer & a total fitness consultant based in Lagos, Nigeria. I have been practising yoga since 1999. Presently, I have a registered business name & working towards setting up my own world class Total Fitness Centre. I discovered that Yoga originated from Afghanistan, but most people think it started in India. Yoga awareness & participation is still growing in Nigeria. Its good to know that there are advocates of yoga out there. Am out for networking. Thanks.

Smith P
Saturday 12th February 2011 at 9:03:22 AM  

Did anyone ever figure out how to cite this page? I am also a student who would like to cite this work.

Wednesday 23rd February 2011 at 1:33:41 PM  

yoga is so fun but it hurts

Thursday 24th February 2011 at 1:34:16 PM  

where were the stone seals found?

Yoga for Beginners
Sunday 27th February 2011 at 3:03:33 PM  

Yoga as we identify it today is the product of a complex spiritual evolution that has taken place over centuries.

Yogesh Chokhani
Sunday 6th March 2011 at 5:02:46 AM  

Namaskar, Good article.It is belief that first Yoga was taught by Lord Shiva to his wife Devi Parwati.

Friday 1st April 2011 at 10:56:58 AM  

Hi friends,
I am practicing Raj Yoga in India, however I am not an Indian. I can share with you some experience. Do meditate and do get access to Rajyoga teachings from India-Rajasthan. It is a life-changing practice. In the mid-Febrauary I had a spiritual pilgrimage to Mount Abu-Madhuban of Rajasthan and passed 9 days practices of Rajyoga and meditation in the headquarter of Brahma Kumaris Rajyoga and it was my peak experience. Do contact anyone there and find out how to go there and how to get started. I can bet you, you will find it the most precious teaching of our time. Now, I am just oversatisfied of my life. My life has turned its way to the best direction. Contact Brahma Kumaris in Mount Abu of Inida.

Neil Hudson
Sunday 17th April 2011 at 4:59:54 AM  

All you students who wish to reference this article I urge you to further research yoga history as there are a number of inaccuracies and unfounded statements. EG there is no evidence that ”yoga postures” in the modern sense were a part of yoga before the tantric period of Indian history around 1000- 1400 AD. Asana just referred to a steady seated posture used for breathing and meditation. Associating the Buddha with postures other than a lotus position is unfounded. The Buddha did push through extreme privation but mainly in isolation and food and retaining a fixed posture for days.

Tuesday 19th April 2011 at 1:04:22 PM  

this article is super cool@=!!!

Saturday 21st May 2011 at 8:53:30 PM  

hi, i am writting a paper for my college course and would like to use this source, however i am having trouble citing it. if there is any additional infomation on the author or this article please email me at

Friday 8th July 2011 at 2:45:59 AM  

A most erudite article Jay. I would only add that at one level jnana and bhakti are one, and absolutely indivisible.

yoga training
Friday 15th July 2011 at 10:33:55 PM  

This is a great overview of the history of yoga. Very well done. Although I think I would like to see more of a cultural component. But definitely a nice chunk is well covered here

Friday 26th August 2011 at 1:28:50 AM  

Vedas are scriptures of Brahmanism but scriptures of Hinduism.

kumar sapkota
Saturday 24th September 2011 at 6:29:45 AM  

This is an extensive historical background of Yoga. Thanks for this article. I am very much excited after reading this article.

Thursday 6th October 2011 at 12:18:59 AM  

@Betty Mason,
I heard from Yogi Gupta that not eating to the point of starvation was only acceptable for brahmins, i.e., those persons with a predominance of Satoguna. Would be interested to hear more about your experiences with Yogi Gupta.

Sunday 30th October 2011 at 12:19:34 AM  

i would like to teach yoga free of cost so where i can get classes for teaching yoga

Sunday 30th October 2011 at 3:33:59 AM  

very good information

Nashville Electrical
Monday 7th November 2011 at 1:19:03 AM  

very good one indeed..

Friday 18th November 2011 at 11:52:16 AM  

Thanks for giving valuable information.This is very useful.

Sunday 27th November 2011 at 4:32:37 PM  

I”m college student.This article is writen wel.I want to learn yoga as a skill.But i want to say that the history doesn”t start frm the point as above.It was started when ”ADAM” came to this earth.He was the first person who started yoga here i”ll define yoga in most simpler way that ”When you concentrate on something with complete atention called as yoga.”ADAM when sat alone and started thinking about ALLAH he found that ALLAH is every where.He doesn”t call it yoga.As time passes we called this activity as a yoga.Another thing that some of Muslim go into jungle alone and started thinking on Allah they found the same thin as Adam got.On the other han some of hindus and sikh also done the same thing amd they got extra powers.The main thing in yoga is concentration,simply when we concentrate on our studies we can easily understand them.Another thing is that our old guz says to their childern “putar jadn paray ga us welay dehan parhai ta rakhi fr chati sabak tiyar hoay ga.”

Wednesday 30th November 2011 at 11:35:41 AM  

I wonder if you can pinpoint the year or century the four major Yoga schools started- I am referring to Jnana, Bhakti, Karma and Raja Yoga schools?

maryam ghasemi
Friday 16th December 2011 at 8:20:41 AM  

I like To bigin yoga. Thanks for your information.

Pujan Gajurel
Monday 2nd January 2012 at 5:07:11 PM  

The history that you have use your fingers helped me a lot in my essays writings for GradeX classes.
Thank You !!!!!!!!!

Friday 20th January 2012 at 11:06:06 PM  


Uma Sangvai
Sunday 22nd January 2012 at 2:30:49 PM  

I liked this information very much! In my opinion Most of the things about Yoga are covered nicely and neatly.

sachini gunarathna
Wednesday 8th February 2012 at 2:50:14 AM  

i love to do yoga very much and love learn yoga very much so that this information is most importent to me.i realy apriciate this.



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