Pinpointing the exact origins of yoga can be tricky due to the sacred texts being orally transmitted and the fact that it was very secretive. To make it worse, the early writings about yoga were on palm leaves that were not only fragile but are also easily lost or destroyed.
The accepted history of yoga today is that the ancient Indus-Sarasvati people from Northern India originated the practice, which they created over 5,000 years ago. Regarding the origin of the word “yoga”, it was mentioned first in the Rig Veda, which is the oldest of the sacred texts of the practice.
Before the classical stage of yoga, the practice was a confusing amalgamation of different beliefs and styles. Unsurprisingly, they would often have contradicting ideas. What is known as the classical period of yoga started with Patanjali’s Yoga-Sutras, which was the first time that yoga was systematized.
This text described the path of Raja Yoga, which is popularly known as classical yoga. Instead of having a mish-mash of beliefs, Patanjali made yoga into a more organized “eight-limbed path” system, which contains the steps towards obtaining enlightenment.
A couple of centuries after the creation of the eight-limbed path, many yoga masters came up with their own styles, most of which were mainly for improving one’s health and prolonging life. These new sets of yoga masters did not abide by the Vedas’ teachings. They instead believed that developing the human body is the means to gaining enlightenment.
These new masters developed Tatra Yoga, which included radical techniques meant to cleanse the mind and body and undo the ties that bind people to their physical existences. They explored the connections between the physical and the spiritual, which led to the creation of the type that Westerners thought is yoga, the Hatha Yoga.
In the period between the late 17th and early 18th centuries, yoga found its way into the West, and it gained instant popularity. It all began when Swami Vivekananda gave a lecture at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.
Yoga masters like Swami Sivananda, T. Krishnamacharya, and others, strongly promoted Hatha yoga in India during the 20s and 30s. It then continued to trickle into the Western hemisphere and suddenly exploded in popularity in 1947 when the first yoga studio of Indra Devi opened in Hollywood. After that, even more Indian teachers came in and started their studios, thereby popularizing hatha yoga even more.