These days, yoga has become a highly popularized form of exercise in the western world. Many of us are open to the mind-body and spiritual benefits, yet many begin yoga being only attracted to the physical benefits that we receive from an asana practice.
But when and where did yoga come from?
It’s hard to know the exact origins of how yoga began, but what we do know is that it originated in India more than 5000 years ago. There exists the mythical story of Shiva and Parvati, and how their union started the dance of mystic love. Their eternal love was so strong, that Lord Shiva had taught 84 asanas to his wife and that he never wanted to share these yogic secrets with anyone else but her. However, Parvati being the caring and affectionate goddess that she is, wanted to share these miraculous secrets with everyone as she could not handle the sufferings of people. Shiva had been reluctant to spread this cosmic knowledge, but with the loving approach of Parvati, he had been persuaded.
That is the myth on how yoga began, which I honestly find very interesting; but the true origins of yoga may even go as far back as humanity itself. Traces of yoga philosophy are found in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and other ancient scriptures. Although, the yoga that we are familiar with these days have descended from Hatha Yoga, which came from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Many sources have claimed that Patanjali lived as early as 2nd Century B.C.E. and some have claimed he lived later on. Either way, we give thanks to this ancient sage for compiling the sutras, which encompass a liberating way to perfect health and enlightenment. He encouraged finding liberation through physical postures and mindful practices, which are now commonly taught in modern yoga classes. This is why he can be referred to as the “Father of Yoga”.
How did yoga come to the western world?
Fast forward to the beginning of modern yoga in the western world and we have clearer vision of how it all began.
Krishnamacharya (November 18, 1888 – February 28, 1989), often referred to as the “Father of Modern Yoga” is one of the most influential teachers of the 20th century and is given credit for reviving “hatha yoga”. He is also widely considered to be the architect of ‘vinyasa’, in the sense of combining breath and movement. His students include many of yoga’s most renowned teachers:
Indra Devi (1899-2002), referred to as the “Mother of Western Yoga” was a female pioneer in the field of yoga that was dominated by men. She opened her yoga school in Hollywood, USA in 1947. She broke gender bias within the yoga world and spread yoga among those who were considered ‘outsiders’.
K. Patthabi Jois (1915-2009), referred to as the “Father of Ashtanga Yoga”, was an Indian yoga teacher and Sanskrit scholar who developed and popularized Ashtanga Yoga. This style focuses on Tristhana (the three places of action/attention: breath (pranayama), posture (asana) and gaze (drishti)) and Vinyasa, the alignment of breath and movement.
B.K.S. Iyengar (1918-2014), referred to as the “Founder of Iyengar Yoga”, was an Indian yoga teacher who developed a form of Hatha Yoga known as “Iyengar Yoga” that emphasizes on detail, precision and alignment. This style often uses props (belts, blocks, blankets etc) so that the postures may be accessible to both young and old.
We could go on and on about the history and origins of yoga, but this brief introduction gives you a slight idea of how it all began. We all have our own different reasons for starting a yoga practice, whether it is to alleviate stress, overcome pain or to better yourself physically and emotionally – the list of reasons are endless. But we do hope that you allow your practice to take you to a place of self-discovery and union with your mind, body and soul. Take it easy, practice yoga and let all the blessings of life flow through you. <3