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A Brief History of Yoga

Yoga originated in ancient India, thousands of years ago. The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit language and means “to yoke” or “to unite”. The practice of yoga is based on the philosophy of Hinduism and aims to bring the mind, body, and spirit into balance.

The history of yoga can be divided into four periods: the Vedic period, the Pre-classical period, the Classical period, and the Post-classical period.

The Vedic Period (1500 BC – 500 BC)

The earliest mention of yoga can be found in the Rigveda, one of the four sacred texts of Hinduism. The Rigveda is a collection of hymns and chants that were used by the Vedic priests during religious ceremonies. The hymns describe the practice of yoga as a means to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

The Pre-classical Period (500 BC – 200 BC)

During this period, the Upanishads were written. The Upanishads are a collection of texts that explain the philosophy of Hinduism. They describe yoga as a means to achieve spiritual liberation by controlling the mind and senses.

The Classical Period (200 BC – 500 AD)

This period saw the development of the Yoga Sutras, written by the sage Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras are a collection of 196 aphorisms that describe the eight limbs of yoga. These limbs include yama (moral codes), niyama (self-purification), asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (enlightenment).


The Post-Classical Period (500 AD – Present)

During this period, various yoga schools and lineages emerged, each with their unique approach to yoga. Some of the most well-known schools include Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, and Ashtanga Yoga.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha Yoga is a physical practice that focuses on postures and breathing techniques. It aims to balance the body and mind to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Hatha Yoga is the most widely practiced form of yoga in the Western world.

Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini Yoga is a practice that focuses on awakening the Kundalini energy, which is said to be located at the base of the spine. The practice involves postures, breathing techniques, and meditation to activate the Kundalini energy and achieve spiritual enlightenment.

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga is a physically demanding practice that involves a set sequence of postures. The practice aims to purify the body and mind and achieve spiritual enlightenment. Ashtanga Yoga is often practiced in a heated room to promote sweating and detoxification.

20th Century Yoga Influencers

In the 20th century, yoga gained popularity in the West, thanks to the efforts of several Indian gurus. One of the most well-known gurus was Swami Vivekananda, who traveled to the United States in 1893 to attend the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He introduced yoga to the Western world and gained a following of students who were interested in learning about the practice.

Another influential guru was Paramahansa Yogananda, who wrote the popular book “Autobiography of a Yogi” in 1946. The book described his life and spiritual journey, which included the practice of yoga and meditation.

The 1960s marked a turning point in the history of yoga as it gained popularity in the West as a means for spiritual and physical well-being. The counterculture movement saw it as a way to achieve spiritual enlightenment and counter the materialism of Western society and connect with a deeper sense of self and spirituality.

During this time, many Westerners traveled to India to study yoga with renowned gurus, such as B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and T.K.V. Desikachar. These gurus introduced Westerners to various styles of yoga, including Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, and Iyengar Yoga, which became popular in the West.

The 1960s also saw the emergence of new yoga styles, such as Power Yoga and Bikram Yoga. Power Yoga was developed by American yogi Beryl Bender Birch, who combined the physical practice of Ashtanga Yoga with a focus on breath and mindfulness. Bikram Yoga was created by Indian yoga teacher Bikram Choudhury, who developed a sequence of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, which are practiced in a heated room.

In the 1970s, yoga continued to gain popularity in the West, with the publication of influential books such as “Light on Yoga” by B.K.S. Iyengar and “The Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda. These books introduced Westerners to the philosophy and practice of yoga, and helped to spread its popularity.

Yoga as a fitness trend

The 1980s saw the emergence of yoga as a fitness trend, with the creation of yoga videos and classes focused on physical fitness. This trend continued in the 1990s, with the creation of yoga studios and the expansion of yoga into mainstream culture.

In the 2000s, yoga continued to grow in popularity, with the development of new styles such as Yin Yoga, which focuses on passive stretches and long holds, and AcroYoga, which combines yoga poses with acrobatics and partner work. Yoga has also become more accessible through online classes and smartphone apps, which made it easier for people to practice at home.

Today yoga continues to be a practice that promotes physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, and has the potential to bring people together in a shared pursuit of health and happiness.


Come discover all the benefits of yoga on one of our luxury yoga retreats.

If you’d like to find out more about our yoga retreats, visit the Yoga Escapes website.

Our yearly yoga retreat dates and locations:

Lanzarote Canary Islands: February
Marrakesh Morocco: February
Sicily, Italy: April & October
Corfu, Greece: May
Mykonos, Greece: June & September
Menorca, Spain: June
Rovinj Croatia:
Crete, Greece: October
Red Sea, Egypt: November

If you like this post, you may also like:

“Benefits of Vinyasa Yoga: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual”
“Mindfulness vs. Meditation – what is the difference?”

Yoga Escapes organizes luxury yoga retreats in beautiful places around the world, offering a mix of Vinyasa yoga and Yin yoga classes. Contact the Yoga Escapes team for information on upcoming yoga holidays.

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