Yoga’s history, from its beginnings to the present day

Yoga, which is today well known and practiced in Western nations, originated in India, as everyone knows.

But how did it end up in our hands? Is it something that has been practiced in the West for a long time?

Was the physical practice, which is frequently summed up, present from the beginning?

Due to the oral transmission of sacred writings and the esoteric nature of yoga’s teachings, there are numerous murky areas in its history. Furthermore, the first yoga writings were recorded on delicate palm leaves that were easily damaged, destroyed, or lost.

Yoga has been practiced for about 5,000 years, but some academics estimate it could be as old as 10,000 years. To Practice, a multi-style 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training Course in Rishikesh join YTTI Rishikesh.

There are four significant phases in the history of yoga.

Northern Indian pre-classical yoga is described in the Rig Veda:

Yoga appears to have originated with the Indus-Sarasvati culture in northern India approximately 5,000 years ago.

The word yoga, which means “to unite,” was first referenced in the Rig Veda, one of the world’s oldest sacred scriptures. For Brahmins, the Vedic priests, the Vedas were a collection of writings comprising chants, mantras, and rituals.

Brahmins and rishis (seers) gradually polished and perfected yoga, documenting their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a massive body of work spanning over 200 volumes.

The Bhagavad-Gîtâ, written around 500 BC, is perhaps the most well-known of the yogic writings.

The Vedas’ idea of ritual sacrifice was assimilated by the Upanishads, who taught the ego’s sacrifice by:

  • wisdom
  • action (karma yoga)
  • self-awareness (jnana yoga)

Patanjali defines classical yoga as follows:

Yoga was a mash-up of diverse concepts, beliefs, and techniques in the pre-classical period, which occasionally clashed and contradicted one another.

The Yoga-Sûtras of Patanjali, which comprise the earliest systematic presentation of yoga and provide the framework, characterize the classical period.

The path of Raja Yoga, sometimes known as “classical yoga,” is described in this literature, which was penned in 200 BC.

Patanjali divided yoga practice into an “eight branch path,” which included the steps and steps leading to Samadhi, illumination, and realization.

Patanjali is commonly referred to as the “Father of Yoga,” and his Yoga-Sutras continue to have a significant influence on most modern yoga systems.

Tantra yoga and hatha yoga are examples of post-classical yoga.

Yoga gurus developed a system of practices aimed at renewing the body and extending life a few centuries after Patanjali.

They separated themselves from the ancient Vedic teachings and saw the physical body as a way to enlightenment.

They created Tantra Yoga

By devising extreme procedures for cleansing the body and mind to undo the ties that bind us to our physical life.

The study of these physical-spiritual linkages and body-centered practices led to the development of Hatha Yoga, which we now consider to be the sole yoga in the West.

However, we can observe that this yoga is neither the first nor the last.

Hatha yoga

It is a tantric practice that aims to bring the two powers of life, pranic energy and mental energy, into harmony.
Shakti, the cool feminine current that runs through the Nadi, and the mind, the warm male river that travels via the Nadi Pingala, are two more names for these two elements.

It is the unification of body and mind, as well as the awakening of higher consciousness, that takes place in the central channel (Sushumna Nadi).

Hatha yoga is so deeply entrenched in the Hindu tradition’s initiatory phase. It is not just a physical discipline, but also a path to complete spiritual progress: certainly, one considers physical control to be the starting point and support for spiritual evolution; as a result, this sport practice is extremely essential, but it is not the ultimate objective.

It is neither better nor worse than other techniques like pranayama or meditation; it is simply another approach, similar to how there are multiple ways to the top of a mountain; none are better than the others, and all lead to the same destination.

Yoga history from East to West

Diffusion in the West throughout the modern period: the pioneers

Writings on yoga began to circulate in the 16th century as a result of East-West interactions, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that India began to occupy a more prominent place in French intellectual circles: this is when the texts were translated. Yoga is also referenced in Victor Hugo’s poem “Supremacy,” which appears in the Legend of the Centuries.

The masters of yoga began to go to the West around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century to spread the discipline.

Read Mre: How To Choose A Yoga Teacher Training

Swami Vivekananda (Swami Vivekananda)

The Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 was one of the earliest events:

Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902) was a Hindu mystic who lived from 1863 to 1902.

His teachings on yoga and the universality of religions enthralled his audience.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda, and other yogis such as Ramakrishna (article here), Sri Yogendra, Yogananda, and others considerably improved Hatha Yoga in India.


Krishnamacharya (1888–1889) was a Hindu sage who lived from 1888 to 1889.

He comes from a family of intellectuals and spiritual teachers who are Brahmins.

After studying philosophy and later yoga, he began teaching yoga to the Royal Court and the people of Mysore when he was a Maharaja’s instructor.

He also continued his research to design a way that would combine yoga and Ayurveda practices to alleviate particular illnesses and suffering.

He devised an athletic type of yoga, known today as Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, because many of his pupils were young, dynamic lads.

Swami Sivananda

Swami Sivananda (1887–1963) was a Hindu sage who lived from 1887 to 1963.

After working as a doctor, he went on to become a yogi and master. He had a strong desire to help others.

On the banks of the holy river Ganges, he launched the Divine Life Society in 1936.

There, he taught a version of Yoga that incorporated all of the existing Yoga traditions.

In the West, the Yoga of Synthesis is the foundation of current practice.

Many renowned disciples, including Swami Vishnudevananda, were trained there.

In addition, he authored over 200 books on various elements of yoga and communicated with hundreds of yoga students. His mission was to spread yoga as widely as possible over the globe.

Yogananda’s contribution to yoga’s history

Another master worth mentioning is

Yogananda (1893–1952) was born into an upper-caste household and grew up visiting several saints. He went on to study philosophy and subsequently yoga.

In 1920, he visited the United States as a representative of India at the Boston Congress of Liberal Religions.

In 1920, he created the Self-Realization Fellowship and lectured around the United States. His organization’s major goal is to propagate Kriya Yoga’s traditional techniques and philosophy.

After a tour of the United States in 1924, he built the headquarters of his organization in Los Angeles, at a site known as “Mount Washington.” Meditation and the practice of particular Kriya Yoga techniques are central to its teachings.

Yogananda’s autobiography, Autobiography of a Yogi, was released in 1946 and has been translated into 45 languages. He recounts his adventures, as well as his contacts with notable individuals and the presentation of Kriya Yoga ideas.

Many others, like George Harrison and Steve Jobs, have found inspiration in his memoirs.

By betting that Indian philosophy could coexist with Western science and medicine, these geniuses helped build a bridge between East and West.

They ensured that Indian yogi culture could blend with Western culture, in particular by reconsidering women’s roles and emphasizing postures over pranayama and spirituality.

They were the first generation, and it was their students who completed the process, allowing the practice of yoga to spread even further.

Their students include:

For instance, one could quote

Indra Devi was a Krishnamacharya disciple in India. Many celebrities began to practice yoga after she launched her class in Hollywood in 1947. Marilyn Monroe learned and practiced yoga as a result of her.

Swami Sivananda’s students include

Yoga was first taught to Woodstock by Swami Satchitananda.

History of yoga, Swami Vishnudevananda

Swami Vishnu Devananda

Another of his students, Swami Vishnu Devananda, has established ashrams throughout the world. BKS Iyengar, TKV Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois were among Krishnamacharya’s three students who carried on his legacy and boosted Hatha Yoga’s popularity.

Swami Vishnudevananda (1927–1993) came on the California shore in 1957, carrying only ten rupees in his pocket. Swami Sivananda, his master, had dispatched him to the West to spread yoga, first in the United States and subsequently in Europe. After a few decades, there are now 70 Sivananda yoga centers and ashrams around the world.

He is most known for being the Beatles’ yoga instructor.

In 1971, he and actor Peter Sellers flew to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to leave flowers and peace messages; it was the first of a series of peace flights over combat zones. During the Sinai War, it will also fly over the Suez Canal and through the Berlin Wall to East Germany.

TKV Desikachar, Pattabhi Jois, and BKS Iyengar are three of Krishnamacharya’s pupils who carried on his legacy and boosted Hatha Yoga’s popularity.

Desikachar is a yoga historian.

T.K.V. Desikachar (1938–2016)

one of Krishnamacharya’s sons, has perpetuated and propagated his teaching, particularly in the West; he is also the founder of Vini yoga, even if he eventually drifted away from it.

History of Yoga by Pattabhi Jois
Pattabhi Jois is a well-known Indian cricketer.
At the tender age of twelve,

Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009)

attended a Krishnamacharya lecture and became his pupil the next day. He learned ashtanga yoga from Krishnamacharya.

Krishnamacharya’s demonstrations were frequently accompanied by Jois.

They collaborated for a long time, till Krishnamacharya left Mysore in 1941.

At his new house in Lakshmipuram, he founded the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in 1948.

André Van Lysebeth (1919-2004), a Belgian, spent two months with Jois in 1964, learning the elementary and intermediate levels of Ashtanga Yoga asanas. Shortly after, van Lysebeth published I’m Learning Yoga, a book in which she discussed Jois and included his address. Westerners began to arrive in Mysore to study yoga.

Madonna, Sting, and Gwyneth Paltrow were among his students. The same training was given to all of his students, including celebrities and his grandson (who is now the head of the Ashtanga Institute).

BKS Iyengar

B.K.S. Iyengar was born in Bellur, India, in 1918. He was a fragile, frail child who was fighting illness, malaria, TB, and typhoid fever. His immunity was at an all-time low, and physicians were pessimistic about his prognosis. It seems impossible, given his subsequent thriving health and vigor, which he maintained until he was well into his senior years.

Iyengar had studied yoga with Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, his brother-in-law, who is credited with modernizing Hatha yoga (postural yoga). Iyengar began teaching yoga in 1937, seeking to disseminate the practice that he believed had saved his life.

In 1954, he met the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and it was this meeting that changed his life: while Iyengar demonstrated the yoga postures that are now known as “Iyengar yoga,” Menuhin was so impressed that he offered to travel with him, allowing him to spread yoga throughout the Western world.

Iyengar was designated one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2004 for his contribution to popularizing yoga in the West.

Iyengar continued to teach classes at his Pune, India, institute until he died in 2014, at the age of 96.

Today, Iyengar yoga is practiced all over the world.

Many more western and Indian teachers have trained since then, helping to popularise hatha yoga and acquire millions of adherents.

Read More: How to Start Yoga for Beginners at Home

And this is how yoga is currently known, in various forms, both in the East and in the West

As a result, we can observe that yoga’s ancient past is more complicated than one might think.

Through moral and spiritual studies, more and more of us are choosing yoga to enhance our health, stay in shape, and regain or maintain emotional balance…

These many techniques are not mutually exclusive; rather, they demonstrate the breadth and complexity of yoga.

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