International Day of Yoga : History of Yoga
International Day of Yoga, or commonly and unofficially referred to as Yoga Day, is celebrated annually on 21 June since its inception in 2015. An international day for yoga was declared unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice attributed mostly to India. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his UN address suggested the date of 21 June, as it is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and shares special significance in many parts of the world.
The idea of International Day of Yoga was first proposed by the current Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi during his speech at the UNGA, on 27 September 2014.
” Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in well being. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day ”
— Narendra Modi, UN General Assembly
The origins of yoga are shrouded in mystery and mythology while some historians find many clues in the practices of Himalayan Shamans as still be seen in Tibet and Nepal. The Lord considered the father of ancient yoga while some historian claims that Patanjali is the father of modern yoga.
By the 5th century, BC yoga was becoming well known and begun to appear in Vedic Scripture. The word Yoga is a Sanskrit word and it comes from the root word Yuja which basically means to bind to align to hold.
On 11 December 2014, India’s Permanent Representative Asoke Mukherji introduced the draft resolution in UNGA. The draft text received broad support from 177 Member States who sponsored the text, which was adopted without a vote. This initiative found support from many global leaders. A total of 177 nations co-sponsored the resolution, which is the highest number of co-sponsors ever for any UNGA resolution of such nature.
When proposing 21 June as the date, Modi said that the date was the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere (shortest in the southern hemisphere), having special significance in many parts of the world. From the perspective of yoga, the summer solstice marks the transition to Dakshinayana. The first full moon after summer solstice is known as Guru Poornima. Shiva, the first yogi (Adi Yogi), is said to have begun imparting the knowledge of yoga to the rest of mankind on this day, and became the first guru (Adi Guru).Dakshinayana is also considered a time when there is natural support for those pursuing spiritual practices.
Following the adoption of the UN resolution, several leaders of the spiritual movement in India voiced their support for the initiative. The founder of Isha Foundation, Sadhguru, stated, “this could be a kind of a foundation stone to make scientific approach to the inner well-being of the human being, a worldwide thing… It’s a tremendous step for the world.” The founder of Art of Living, Ravi Shankar, lauded the efforts of Modi, saying, “It is very difficult for any philosophy, religion or culture to survive without state patronage. Yoga has existed so far almost like an orphan. Now, official recognition by the UN would further spread the benefit of yoga to the entire world.
History of Yoga
Yoga is essentially a spiritual discipline based on an extremely subtle science, which focuses on bringing harmony between mind and body. It is an art and scince of healthy living.
The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’, meaning ‘to join’ or ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’.
As per Yogic scriptures the practice of Yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with that of the Universal Consciousness, indicating a perfect harmony between the mind and body, Man & Nature.
According to modern scientists, everything in the universe is just a manifestation of the same quantum firmament. One who experiences this oneness of existence is said to be in yoga, and is termed as a yogi, having attained to a state of freedom referred to as mukti, nirvana or moksha.
Thus the aim of Yoga is Self-realization, to overcome all kinds of sufferings leading to ‘the state of liberation’ (Moksha) or ‘freedom’ (Kaivalya).
Living with freedom in all walks of life, health and harmony shall be the main objectives of Yoga practice.”Yoga” also refers to an inner science comprising of a variety of methods through which human beings can realize this union and achieve mastery over their destiny.
Yoga, being widely considered as an ‘immortal cultural outcome’ of Indus Saraswati Valley civilization – dating back to 2700 B.C., has proved itself catering to both material and spiritual upliftment of humanity.Basic humane values are the very identity of Yoga Sadhana.
How yoga Started
The practice of Yoga is believed to have started with the very dawn of civilization. The science of yoga has its origin thousands of years ago, long before the first religions or belief systems were born. In the yogic lore, Shiva is seen as the first yogi or Adiyogi, and the first Guru or Adi Guru.
Several Thousand years ago, on the banks of the lake Kantisarovar in the Himalayas, Adiyogi poured his profound knowledge into the legendary Saptarishis or “seven sages”. The sages carried this powerful yogic science to different parts of the world, including Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa and South America. Interestingly, modern scholars have noted and marvelled at the close parallels found between ancient cultures across the globe.
However, it was in India that the yogic system found its fullest expression. Agastya, the Saptarishi who travelled across the Indian subcontinent, crafted this culture around a core yogic way of life.
The Number of seals and fossil remains of Indus Saraswati valley civilization with Yogic motives and figures performing Yoga Sadhana suggest the presence of Yoga in ancient India.
The phallic symbols, seals of idols of mother Goddess are suggestive of Tantra Yoga. Presence of Yoga is available in folk traditions, Indus valley civilization, Vedic and Upanishadic heritage, Buddhist and Jain traditions, Darshanas, epics of Mahabharat and Ramayana, theistic traditions of Shaivas, Vaishnavas, and Tantric traditions. In addition, there was a primordial or pure Yoga which has been manifested in mystical traditions of South Asia.
This was the time when Yoga was being practised under the direct guidance of Guru and its spritual value was given special importance. It was a part of Upasana and yoga sadhana was inbuilt in their rituals. Sun was given highest importance during the vedic period.
The practice of ‘Surya namaskara’ may have been invented later due to this influence. Pranayama was a part of daily ritual and to offer the oblation. Though Yoga was being practiced in the pre-Vedic period, the great Sage Maharshi Patanjali systematized and codified the then existing practices of Yoga, its meaning and its related knowledge through his Yoga Sutras. After Patanjali, many Sages and Yoga Masters contributed greatly for the preservation and development of the field through their well documented practices and literature.
Historical evidences of the existence of Yoga were seen in the pre-Vedic period (2700 B.C.), and thereafter till Patanjali’s period. The main sources, from which we get the information about Yoga practices and the related literature during this period, are available in Vedas (4), Upanishads(108), Smritis, teachings of Buddhism, Jainism, Panini, Epics (2), Puranas (18) etc.
Tentatively, the period between 500 BC – 800 A.D. is considered as the Classical period which is also considered as the most fertile and prominent period in the history and development of Yoga. During this period, commentaries of Vyasa on Yoga Sutras and Bhagawadgita etc. came into existence.This period can be mainly dedicated to two great religious teachers of India –Mahavir and Buddha.
The concept of Five great vows – Pancha mahavrata- by Mahavir and Ashta Magga or eightfold path by Buddha – can be well considered as early nature of Yoga sadhana. We find its more explicit explanation in Bhagawadgita which has elaborately presented the concept of Gyan yoga, Bhakti yoga and Karma Yoga.
These three types of yoga are still the highest example of human wisdom and and even to day people find peace by following the methods as shown in Gita.
Patanjali’s yoga sutra besides containing various aspects of yoga, is mainly identified with eight fold path of Yoga. The very important commentary on Yoga sutra by Vyasa was also written. During this very period the aspect of mind was given importance and it was clearly brought out through Yoga sadhana, Mind and body both can be brought under control to experience equanimity.
The period between 800 A.D. – 1700 A.D. has been recognized as the Post Classical period wherein the teachings of great Acharyatrayas-Adi Shankracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhavacharya-were prominent during this period.
The teachings of Suradasa, Tulasidasa, Purandardasa, Mirabai were the great contributors during this period. The Natha Yogis of Hathayoga Tradition like Matsyendaranatha, Gorkshanatha, Cauranginatha, Swatmaram Suri, Gheranda, Shrinivasa Bhatt are some of the great personalities who popularized the Hatha Yoga practices during this period.
The Fundamentals of Yoga Sadhana
Yoga works on the level of one’s body, mind, emotion and energy. This has given rise to four broad classifications of Yoga: karma yoga, where we utilize the body; bhakti yoga, where we utilize the emotions; gyana yoga, where we utilize the mind and intelect; and kriya yoga, where we utilize the energy.
Each system of Yoga we practice would fall within the gamut of one or more of these categories. Every individual is a unique combination of these four factors. “All the ancient commentaries on Yoga have stressed that it is essential to work under the direction of a Guru.” The reason being that only a Guru can mix the appropriate combination of the four fundamental paths, as is necessary for each seeker.Yoga Education:Tradiitionally, Yoga Education was imparted by knowledgeable, experienced, and wise persons in the families (comparable with the education imparted in convents in the west) and then by the Seers (Rishis/Munis/Acharyas) in Ashramas (compared with monastries). Yoga Education, on the other hand, aims at taking care of the individual, the ‘Being’. It is presumed that a good, balanced, integrated, truthful, clean, transparent person will be more useful to oneself, family, society, nation, nature and humanity at large. Yoga education is ‘Being oriented’. Details of working with ‘being oriented’ aspect have been outlined in various living traditions and texts and the method contributing to this important field is known as ‘Yoga’.
Present days, Yoga Education is being imparted by many eminent Yoga Institutions, Yoga Colleges, Yoga Universites, Yoga Departments in the Universities, Naturopathy colleges and Private trusts & societies. Many Yoga Clinics, Yoga Therapy and Training Centers, Preventive Health Care Units of Yoga, Yoga Research Centers etc. have been established in Hospitals, Dispensories, Medical Institiutions and Therapetical setups.
Different social customs and rituals in India, the land of Yoga, reflect a love for ecological balance, tolerance towards other systems of thought and a compassionate outlook towards all creations.Yoga Sadhana of all hues and colours is considered panacea for a meaningful life and living. Its orientation to a comprehensive health, both individual and social, makes it a worthy practice for the people of all religions, races and nationalities.
Now-a-days, millions and millions of people across the globe have benefitted by the practice of Yoga which has been preserved and promoted by the great eminent Yoga Masters from ancient time to this date.The practice of Yoga is blossoming, and growing more vibrant every day.