The history of yoga timeline is rich and complex and provides us with a varied account of yoga that sees the practice of ascetic monks as well as online group classes. This article looks at five main periods that outline some of the most influential texts and teachers in yoga’s history.
There has been a huge evolution of yoga throughout history and in this article, we’ll take a look at:
- A history of yoga timeline
- Where did yoga originate?
- What does yoga mean?
- How has yoga changed throughout time?
It’s important to grasp the origins of yoga before we dip into a yoga history timeline. While there is no simple answer, the earliest writings on yoga are found in the Vedas. These ancient transcriptions consisting of hymns and spiritual poems were written in Sanskrit and are still studied today.
This suggests that yoga originated in India and it would have been practiced well before the Vedas were written. Yoga has been practiced for approximately five thousand years and it has evolved significantly during this time.
While yoga may have its origins in India it is very much a global practice today.
What does yoga mean?
The word yoga has a large variety of meanings in the Sanskrit language but it is most commonly translated as “union” and this is often interpreted as the uniting of the body and the mind.
History of Yoga Timeline
The yoga history timeline is generally referred to in five different periods. All dates are approximate in this article. Let’s begin with the Vedic period.
Vedic Period (1500-500 BCE)
Vedic literature depicts the earliest transcriptions of yoga and it is estimated that they were first written around two thousand five hundred years ago.
There are four Vedas which are:
- The Rigveda
- The Yajurveda
- The Samaveda
- The Artharveda
Each of the Vedas aspires to provide the reader with the knowledge to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
At this time there was very little to no focus on the body.
Pre-Classical Period (500-200 BCE)
Let’s take a look at the Upanisads and the Bhagavad Gita.
The Upanisads – The Upanishads were compiled in the late Vedic period and are a compilation of Hindu philosophy. Often referred to as Vedanta because they are the end of the Vedas.The Upanisads explore the relationship between Brahman and Atman.
The Bhagavad Gita – The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most widely known texts within Hinduism. The seven hundred verses provide an extensive outline of the main aspects of yoga and how to reach liberation or enlightenment.
Like the Vedic period, there was very little focus on the body within the practice of yoga.
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”― The Bhagavad Gita
Classical Yoga (200 BCE – 500 CE)
It was during this time that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra was compiled. This is arguably one of the most well-known yoga texts and subsequently, Patanjali is often referred to as the father of yoga. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali provides the first systematic approach to reaching enlightenment.
It is in the Yoga Sutras that Patanjali outlines the eight limbs of yoga. They are:
- The yamas – five restraints
- The niyamas – five observances
- Asana – postures
- Pranayama – breathing exercises
- Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses
- Dharana – concentration
- Dhyana – meditation or absorption
- Samadhi – enlightenment or bliss
You’ll notice that asana or postures are a very small part of the practice of yoga and in fact, only one posture is specifically talked about in the main text. We do however begin to see some acknowledgment of the body but it is very much a practice to still the body and focus on the mind.
Post Classical Yoga (600-1899 CE)
The next important point on the yoga history timeline is the post-classical period. During this time the Hatha Yoga Pradipika was compiled and yoga in general had a greater focus on the body. There was more focus on asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing exercises) and kriyas (cleansing techniques). This is where we first see Hatha Yoga. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika was written around 1500 CE.
During the latter part of this period, yoga began to spread to the West. There were three significant teachers in this period who brought yoga out of India. Swami Vivekananda, Swami Sivananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi all contributed throughout their teaching to the dissemination of yoga.
During this time as travel became more accessible, gurus and teachers began to travel to students as a way of increasing the knowledge and understanding of yoga around the world.
There was a much greater focus on the body as a part of practice and using the body as a vehicle for practice. It was at this time that tantric practices became more popular as well as prolonging life.
The Modern Period (1900- present)
By far the most influential teachers of modern yoga are B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and TKV Desikachar. They were all students of the legendary Krishnamacharya. All of the modern styles that we know today have been influenced by these three influential figures.
It was during this period that group classes began to emerge and yoga, as we know it today, was established. Up until this time, yoga was generally taught one-on-one with a guru and students would seek out a specific guru.
The modern period also saw the rise of yoga as a therapeutic tool. Science began to take an interest in the benefits and effects of yoga.
Some of the modern styles of yoga that continue to be popular are:
- Ashtanga Yoga – Devised by Pattabhi Jois, this energetic and flowing practice is generally practiced six days per week and requires huge dedication. It has a set sequence of postures that are linked with vinyasas.
- Iyengar Yoga – The style attributed to B.K.S. Iyengar is an alignment-focused practice that uses props as part of the practice.
- Vinyasa Yoga – This flowing and creative style takes inspiration from both Iyengar and Ashtanga and is a dynamic breath movement form of yoga.
- Yin Yoga – A restorative style of yoga that gently stretches and stresses the tissues is the basis of yin yoga.
- Restorative Yoga – Restorative yoga uses many props to prioritise comfort while gently opening the body.
- Hot Yoga – Hot yoga generally uses a standard sequence and it is practiced in a room that is heated to around 100 degrees.
- Yoga Therapy – A type of yoga that is most often taught one-on-one and is tailored to finding relief from certain. Ailments and diseases of the body and the mind.
In the modern period, the body has become a central part of the practice of yoga, in fact, it is now most likely the most recognizable feature of yoga practice today.
“Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.”― B.K.S Iyengar
What are the recent changes and developments in the history of yoga timeline?
Social media and the internet have had a huge influence on the way that yoga is taught and disseminated. Especially since the 2020 pandemic, people have become more and more used to practicing yoga online in their own homes rather than in-person with their teacher.
Platforms such as Instagram and YouTube have given yoga teachers a platform to market themselves and share their teaching in a way that was not possible before. Not to be dismissed is that so much of the content provided by teachers is free.
The rise of teacher trainings
In recent years yoga teacher training programs have been created. This means that more than ever before, more and more people are training to be yoga teachers. The 200-hour yoga teacher training program has become not just a qualification allowing people to teach but also a way for people to deepen their practice.
Until recent decades, people began to teach when they had gained enough experience with their particular teacher, now people tend to attend intensive or long-form trainings with one or more teachers over a short period of time.
”Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are”― Jason Crandell
Yoga history timeline roundup
There are four main periods within the history of yoga timeline. They are:
- The Vedic period – 1500-500 BCE
- The pre-classical period – 500-200 BCE
- The classical period – 200 BCE – 500 CE
- The post-classical period – 600- 1899 CE
- The modern period – 1900 – present
Yoga has evolved enormously throughout time and has gone from a meditative practice with the goal of liberation to a physical and self-care practice.
Once a practice passed from spiritual teacher to student now yoga is taught in large groups, over the internet and in medicalized settings.
If this history of yoga timeline has got you wanting more about yoga history then why not check out Illuminating the Hatha Yoga Pradipika: A Yogi’s Guide