Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

History of Yoga – where/when did Yoga begin


When did Yoga begin? Yoga poses have been practiced in Hinduism and Buddhism since ancient days, but when did this practice start?

This question is difficult to answer. There is no doubt that the initial beginnings of Yoga must have been informal and scattered among several teachers. But Yoga can be said to have formally begun with the scripture by Patanjali, ‘The Yoga Sutras’. This scripture codified and formalized the practice of yoga and all yoga methods have been based on this book since then.

However, this does not really help us in determining the approximate period when Yoga began.

The Samkhya–Yoga schools of philosophy in India are considered the oldest schools of philosophy, older even than the Vedanta school, based on the Upanishads. Hence the Yoga sutras are at least as old, if not older than the Upanishads.

There is still no firm conclusion about the dates of the Hindu scriptures like the Upanishads and the Yoga sutras. The early Western historians usually date them from around 1000 BCE to 500 AC. However, this dating is not based on archeological evidence, it is based entirely on analysis of the scriptures, on their grammar, language, etc. Such analyses are notoriously prone to error and that is why there is so much controversy about the dates still. Any archeological evidence for dating would thus have been immensely helpful.

In this context, this image from Mohenjadoro is vitally important.

Yogi Seal

This image is from a seal in Mohenjodaro. Mohenjodaro was a city of the Indus–Saraswati civilization in ancient India. The seal undoubtedly depicts a figure in a Yogic pose, with the feet turned outwards, as if the figure is meditating. This figure is usually taken to be that of Shiva, the God of Yoga, based on features of the image like the three sided face, the peepul leaves in the crown, buffalo horns, etc.

The importance of this seal is that it can be archeologically dated. Since the seal is undoubtedly from before 3000 BCE, we can say that Yogic postures had been formalized from at least this period.

This fits in with the belief of Indian tradition which believes that the Vedic civilization is more than 5000 years old, that is, from before 3000 BCE.

Hence this seal, depicting the first Yoga pose surviving till today, is immensely important for the history of Yoga.

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Advaita Philosophy, Yoga Philosophy

The Circle of Fire: The Metaphysics of Yoga

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