History of Yoga

Yoga’s history has many places of obscurity and uncertainty due to its oral transmission of sacred texts and the secretive nature of its teachings. The early writings on yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves that were easily damaged, destroyed or lost. The development of yoga can be traced back to over 5,000 years ago, but some researchers think that yoga may be up to 10,000 years old old. Yoga’s long rich history can be divided into four main periods of innovation, practice and development.

Pre-Classical Yoga
The beginnings of Yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. Yoga was slowly refined and developed by the Brahmans and Rishis (mystic seers) who documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a huge work containing over 200 scriptures. The most renowned of the Yogic scriptures is the Bhagavad-Gîtâ, composed around 500 B.C.E. The Upanishads took the idea of ritual sacrifice from the Vedas and internalized it, teaching the sacrifice of the ego through self-knowledge, action (karma yoga) and wisdom (jnana yoga).

Classical Yoga
In the pre-classical stage, yoga was a mishmash of various ideas, beliefs and techniques that often conflicted and contradicted each other. The Classical period is defined by Patanjali’s Yoga-Sûtras, the first systematic presentation of yoga. Written some time in the second century, this text describes the path of Raja Yoga, often called "classical yoga". Patanjali organized the practice of yoga into an "eight limbed path" containing the steps and stages towards obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment. Patanjali is often considered the father of yoga and his Yoga-Sûtras still strongly influence most styles of modern yoga.

Post-Classical Yoga
A few centuries after Patanjali, yoga masters created a system of practices designed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the teachings of the ancient Vedas and embraced the physical body as the means to achieve enlightenment. They developed Tantra Yoga, with radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind to break the knots that bind us to our physical existence. This exploration of these physical-spiritual connections and body centered practices led to the creation of what we primarily think of yoga in the West: Hatha Yoga.

Modern Period
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, yoga masters began to travel to the West, attracting attention and followers. This began at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago, when Swami Vivekananda wowed the attendees with his lectures on yoga and the universality of the world’s religions. In the 1920s and 30s, Hatha Yoga was strongly promoted in India with the work of T. Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda and other yogis practicing Hatha Yoga. Krishnamacharya opened the first Hatha Yoga school in Mysore in 1924 and in 1936 Sivananda founded the Divine Life Society on the banks of the holy Ganges River. Krishnamacharya produced three students that would continue his legacy and increase the popularity of Hatha Yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois. Sivananda was a prolific author, writing over 200 books on yoga, and established nine ashrams and numerous yoga centers located around the world.

The importation of yoga to the West still continued at a trickle until Indra Devi opened her yoga studio in Hollywood in 1947. Since then, many more western and Indian teachers have become pioneers, popularizing hatha yoga and gaining millions of followers. Hatha Yoga now has many different schools or styles, all emphasizing the many different aspects of the practice.

Comments 111

  1. Amazing how you can talk about honey and not mention the beehive or the bees. Yoga is a Sanskirt word, correctly pronounced as Yog. Yoga is a Hindu practice, or a practice of “Sanatan Dharma”, to be more precise.

    Not to say that anybody who wants to benefit from the practice needs to acknolwedge or even be bothered about the the religious affiliation, but when you write hundreds of words on its history without mentioning the connection, it smacks of disingenuity, something decidedly non-Yogic.
    And no, mention of India doesn’t count. It only serves as a calculated deception, because there is more to India than Hinduism, even if yoiu’re talking just religion.

    If you’re going to be a Yogi, a good place to start is by being honest and open minded. Else it’s just a lot of twisting and turning of your muscles and joints.

    Peace.

    1. Namaste Rabi. I agree with you. But also do not expect from opportunists the recognition for benefiting from features of Hindu culture. I also like the ‘honey and not mention the beehive or the bees’ analogy :)

    2. Rabi, I completely agree with you. Yoga and Hindusim are like two sides of the same coin. One doesn’t exist without the other.

    3. hi rabi,
      i wanted to ask if you could recommend any texts that would bring me into the light of the connection between yoga and hinduism. excuse my ignorance in the matter but i would like to study the topic more deeply. thank you.

  2. rabi – Our history of yoga is drawn from the ancient scriptures of India, and none of these texts mention the words Hindu or Hinduism. That is because the Vedas and Upanishads are the foundation for both yoga and Hinduism. They are linked and share a common history and culture, but they are not part of each other.

    I’m saddened to read that you think we are intentionally being deceptive and dishonest with what we write here. We respect your opinion, but please take your judgements somewhere else.

  3. Timothy,
    A history of…lets just say gospels…without mentioning Christianity? Vedas and Upanishads are more central to Hinduism than gospels are to Christianity. I grew up chanting Vedas and reading Vagvat Geeta (Upanishad) to my blind grandfather . Hinduism *is* Vedas+Upanishads and then a few other things.

    Anyway, you’ve settled on a narrative common in this part of the world that I dare not attempt to alter, so enough on this. Yoga is a gift that anybody can enjoy with a dose of any narrative that makes it palatable.

    I may be an anomaly, because I have shamelessly adopted many western and even christian views/traditions that I like. My family celebrates the spirit of Christmas, enjoys good gospel singing, and hunts for eggs during Easter.

    Good site.

    1. Rabi,
      it’s really so sad to know that you actually don’t know anything about Hinduism and Vedas. Can’t you see?? You even spelled “BHAGAVAD GITA” as ” Vagvat Geeta” and you’re saying that you’ve been reading all vedas and upanishads to your blind grandfather since childhood. Knowing some Sanskrit quotes doesn’t show that you have been into vedas and Yoga. It’s time that you should really practice doing yoga and notice the changes in your current life . Yoga is everything and it’s everywhere..

  4. Yoga is as old as the God’s themselves. It is a knowledge which was given by Lord Shiva himself to Parvati when she asked him how would humans find liberation from the cycle of birth & death. Siva Samhita is a treatise of his answer in dialogue form between Shiva & Parvati.
    Hence, I humbly submit that dating Yoga according to our prsent day Calender may be futile. Please add to my knowledge if what I have said is not correct or erroneous.
    In quest of the Truth,
    Kamini,

  5. Kamini,
    The date of origin is not what’s being discussed here, but the roots.

    However, if you are willing to consider that religious texts (in written form) have author(s) that conceived (or collected) them at some point, you will find that there are various estimates of Shiva Samhita’s date of writing, none going back further than 1500 BCE.

    You do, curiously, illustrate my point, by mentioning Shiva and Parvati. Shiva makes up the trio of divinity in Hinduism.

    The point of my comments is the fact that Yoga is entirely a Hindu pratice (by origin), in that it is a tradition inspired by and contained in Hindu philosopy…and carried forward by Hindus alone until recent times.

    Sure, the exact label “Hinduism” is of more recent origin, but it is the term available to us today to describes the same old belief system in which Yoga originated. Therefore, to say Yoga did not originate in Hinduism is a feeble play on words. To fail to mention its Hindu origin while telling its history is to start new yogis on an ignorant path.

    I will have a lot of respect for anyboy or any publication that is honest and open-minded enough to use Shiva or any other Hindu symbol as an icon next to a discussion of yoga, instead of having a chic meditating Buddha in Lotus position, a misleading, but more tolerated symbol of eastern relgion/philosophy in the west. A truth, however unomfortable, remains the truth. By suppressing it, you only subtract from the true meaning of yoga.

    Om Shanti.

  6. calmini – Yes, the historic dating of yoga is quite vague based on what we know, and is just an intelligent guess. The dates are given to give context and a sequence to the unfolding of the yoga tradition.

    rabi – Yoga and Hinduism share the same common roots, but that does not mean that “Yoga is entirely a Hindu practice.” Your analogy of the Gospels and Christianity is flawed because Christianity existed prior to the writing of the Gospels. You cannot say that Hinduism existed prior to the Vedas. Also many of the early Christian texts are also intertwined with the Jewish texts, which according to your logic would make Christianity an entirely Jewish practice.

  7. Timothy, I acknowledge the depth of your belief on this topic, so I have nothing left to say.

    As a testimony to the complexiity of human thought, personal as well as professional practice of Yoga can coexist with wholesale diminutive and derogatory view of the religion that originated and carried it for centuires.

    This is my purely personal and totally arguable explanation for the increasing necessity for distancing of Yoga from Hinduism as the practice gets to the larger masses in the West. Branding is after all not an exercise in brutal and awkward truth.

    If anybody is interested in learning of the roots of Yoga, I encourage them to look further than glib explanations (developed over time by many, to be fair; this is nothing recent) that serve as much to obfuscate as much to illuminate. Wikipedia is not a bad start.

    This is the last comment, I promise, and I end with this Sanskrit quote:

    विषादप्यमृतं ग्राह्यं अमेध्यादपि काञ्चनम्।
    अमित्रादपि सद्वृत्तं स्त्रीरत्नं दुष्कुलादपि॥

    Elixir of life is to be accepted even if comes from poison, a piece of gold is to be accepted even from impurity. A good conduct is to be learnt even from an enemy and a good lady is to be accepted even from a bad community.

    Ha, did I just reinforce the perception I deplored? Let me try a different one (disclaimer: the crude translation is not mine):
    अयं निà¤: परो वेति गणना लघुचेतसाम्।
    उदारमनसानां तु वसुधैव कुटुंबकम्॥
    This is mine or (somebody) else”™s (is the way) narrow minded people count. But for broad minded people, (whole) earth is (like their) family.

  8. rabi – I’m glad we are agreeing to disagree here, although I would have appreciated (and enjoyed) a logical rebuttal based on facts rather than a dogmatic viewpoint.

    The yoga page in Wikipedia that you referenced states “The word [yoga] is associated with meditative practices in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism” which contradicts your belief that “Yoga is entirely a Hindu practice.”

    If you are not open to discussing this topic using facts and reason then please do not continue this conversation. And if you continue to lace your posts with judgements and a patronizing tone then I’ll delete them as inappropriate.

    1. It is not only disrespectful to disregard the history of Hinduism in yoga. What do you think Indus originated from? The Hindu people who live there. It is even more disrespectful for WHITE MAN to capitalize of our culture and educate us on what it is. What a joke you are. Typical colonial white dude speak.

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        Sophia – Name calling and/or putting people down is not tolerated on this website. Any further posts from you that violate our comment guidelines will be deleted.

        There is no evidence that Hinduism was practiced or invented by the Indus Valley Civilization. Secondly, yoga ≠ Hinduism. Yoga is a spiritual practice (like prayer) and Hinduism is a religion. They share similar aspects and philosophies, but were developed as separate practices. If you disagree with this viewpoint please cite any modern yoga research to back up your claims. Lastly, Indian yogis brought yoga to the West, and if it were not for western interest in yoga it most likely would have died out to become just a curious footnote in India’s long history.

        1. Why are these argumentative people on your site? What a waste of time and oxygen (on their part) to argue their nonsense. Maybe they should try something else like, get a job?

        2. Timothy.
          No. 1 Hinduism is not only a religion ..it also a way of life.
          No.2 Yoga is a way of living life to attain ‘Moksha’ devised by gods worshiped by Hindus.
          No.3 Yoga is as old as humans. Practiced by first religion of earth i.e “Sanatan Dharma”, which slowly changed to Hinduism.
          No.4 Buddhism And Jainism were preached by sons of Hindu Kings.
          These religions cater to a fraction of Hinduism.
          No. 5 Western world is doing no good to yoga. Using for ur own benefits. Commercialized it. Yoga had survived in India, is flourishing in India and will survive till eternity. Don’t dare predict decline of Yoga in India.
          I am sharing these things because if you preach these things to westerners. Tell the whole story.

        3. Timothy,
          I see great value in the Yoga practice that includes the eight limbs. I am a devote Christian and I transfer my Christian beliefs on to my Yoga practice to gain the health, mental, physical and spiritual benefits. Yoga has been redeemed for my purposes. My hope that whomever wants to claim Yoga is from their heritage be tickled and grateful that others can benefit.

    2. Timothy Hinduism existed long before Jainism and bhudism were even formed so you cannot say Yoga is originally generated from Hinduism . This is just a conspiracy against Hinduism many foreigners fooled innocent people of India and looted us in the past still we foolishly follow the latest trends from the west .

      YOGA WAS GENERATED FROM HINDUISM ITS YOUR CHOICE WHETHER YOU WANT TO PRACTICE IT OR NOT BUT PLEASE LIKE RABI MENTIONED DON’T IGNORE THE BEEHIVE AND THE BEES
      Peace.

  9. Timothy, Saying Buddhism and Jainism recognize/include Yoga is different than saying they originated it.

    You at least seem to agree on Vedas as having the oldest claim on Yoga.

    Given your study of eastern philosophy/yoga, I would think you know that Buddhism and Jainisms are specifically called “non-Vedic religions.” That’s in essence how they differ from Hinduism, because Vedas+Upanishads *are* essentially what is today called Hinduism.

    You mention vedas/brahmans/rishis in your history of Yoga. Well, Hinduism is specifically called Brahmnaic/vedic religion.

    I don’t think there is anything I can present to you here in thix box to change your position. I realize that my argument is not with you really, but with a popular western view constructed over time. So, I thank you for engaging in this conversation and wish you luck. I grew up with Yoga around me, but never got into it much. I am getting started and your site is a good resource.

    1. Rabi, I need to write a paper for a class on the origins of yoga. It seems you know your stuff. Would you mind pointing me in the right direction? Such as key ideas, great sources, and/or your own knowledge of the subject. That would be great. Thank you

  10. Thimothy,
    I agree with you that the principles of yoga existed in the Indian sub-continent before Vedas and Upanishads. What we call Hinduism is an amalgamation of yogic principles; (especially of Yama and Niyamas) and the other philosophies. Hinduism has many contrasting features from yogic principles. Many ayurvedic texts openly endorses practices like the consumption of meat including beef. It is not also against polygamy as well.

  11. Hi Timothy.

    I would love to use this brief history as a handout for my teacher trainees. Do you have a pdf version to print, so that we can source your work. I think this is a nice overview for a brief section on the history portion of the training and will encourage students to take advanced trainings in history if they so desire. Thanks! Please email me privately.
    Jillian

  12. I would love to use your very concise yoga history excerpt as a handout for a class I’m giving ( credited of course). Let me know if that would be ok. Thanks!

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  13. I am wanting to know the exact date this article was published. I am having difficulty finding this information. Thanks for any clarification!

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      Chelsea – this current version dates back to Nov 26, 2007, but the original version of this article would have been published sometime in 2000 or 2001.

      1. My respectful greetings to you for your website on yoga with some ideas of its origins. The discussion on whether its origins are Hindu or not is not really essential. The term Hindu originated as the designation of the people living along the banks of the river Sindhu referred to as Indus by the Greeks. The land was referred to as Hind, later India. Greek historians have written of how Alexander interacted with yogis while on his retreat along the Indus valley. So it is clear that Hindus, as a people, practiced yoga for thousands of years. The term Hinduism is a colonial construct to include the many practices and beliefs of the Hindu people. Hope this serves to clarify the historical connections. With respect.

      2. You are saying this article was published at 2000 ,so tell me how can I believe is any proof this article is 100℅ true ?

  14. Great, concise article! I would love to use this article as a handout for an Introduction to Yoga Class that I’m offering. The contact page indicated that I need to leave a message on this page, but I will also send a message through the contact page. If given permission, I will ensure credit to Timothy is given. Please advise. Thanks! Have an incredible day!

  15. I arrived at this site, hoping to begin my understanding of Yoga Practices…..I had no other preconceived ideas on the subject. It is somewhat disturbing to me as a novice, to see “masters” dispute the origins and basics of yoga. I will do further study….but today….this did help me move forward in any direction….that I can tell.

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      Hi Mike, I’m sorry to hear you feel discouraged upon starting your study of yoga. Please know that there are a few nationalistic Hindus who are actively trying to claim that you must be a Hindu in order to practice yoga. This is a small group of people with strong political motives and I doubt they actually practice or study yoga. I encourage you to read other scholarly discussions on the origins and history of yoga to confirm the facts presented on this website.

      1. Namaste Timothy Burgin,
        I read all the connection of replies and topic of the conversation.
        it seems to me that you are that teacher who really have practice yoga only to practice Asan, you have to go further in that inner quest , in order to go further you will have to trace back the history.
        The origin of YOG, is 4 pre-Vedic literature practice. It was codified through hymns, and spiritual songs and chantings,
        than Varanasi born Patanjali codified in 198 Aphorism ,which was to have our own direction experience and perception of that practice ,later on it was very limited and only privileged to Brahmins and Arhankaras.
        so since you are so stuck on trying to teach of YOG , where you are not qualified as a teacher based on limited knowledge of yours, which is based on your ancient study on Sanskrit ,translated into english, where most expression and meaning cannot be explained, so explaining a bling person how to admire beautiful sunset , i hope you get what i am trying to say here ,
        Namaste :-)

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    2. Consciousness can be unfair and cruel and even sad and mad – look at the baby animals eaten by other animals higher in the food chain – or the venus fly trap and its carnivorous appetite for flys. Reality is always the same no matter how these people debate about it. Its ok to not have the same views or recollections of the past. After all, it was once us in spirit – its just we can only experience one body-mind conscious at a time (in most cases – although Im sure there are gurus who can enter other realms of the matter time space connection. Does it really matter the history of Yoga? After all do we have a past really or is it merely a matter of collected thoughts too difficult for out distracted minds. Buddhist do it and so do Hindus and so do Christians – its evolved into a self love practice not a debate topic about our feeble attempts to understand something so scared and connecting. Westerns are as much allowed to practice and teach Yoga as a scared practice as long as we leave commonly practiced entitled western directions and egos out. my two cents

      1. You rightly say “Consciousness can be unfair and cruel and even sad and mad – look at the baby animals eaten by other animals higher in the food chain”. Like a lion need to eat lamb for it’s survival similarly west need to digest dharmic religion, Indian values into western culture,value,abrahamic beliefs to maintain it’s hegemony on the world intellectually. If you go to Wikipedia pages related to Hinduism, yogas 90% of time they quote western indologist,western intellectuals who are not even hindus to define what Hinduism is for the world.They should quote Hindus at least 50% for fair understanding of Hinduism. Who holds the final authority on matter related to Christianity. Most of the time Vatican or by the people who are Christian by faith. Similarly for Islam Muslim holds the final and most credible authority. Most authentic sources for interpreting Judaism are by Jews people. But Hindus are not allowed do that for our religion. People say that history is written by the winner.hindus were colonized by Muslims for 400 yrs and by Christians for 200ys.They wrote indian history using their colonist mindset.They tried to create a identity for hindus so that Hindus become subservient to them. As a result many of the hindus actually have become subservient to western indeas,beliefs and culture. They want approval from west. please west. Hindus are also plagued by Fake yogis,baba and fake Goodman who uses Hinduism for name, fame and power. So they dilute hindu identity to gain acceptance in west. There are 2.2 billion christens and more than 70 Christian majority country. Historically powerful countries like England,france ,spain,America have favoured Christian worldview.christinity was never colonized. There are 1.6 billion muslim and 50 muslim majority country. Islam has always been powerful. Even today very rich counties like Saudi arab,uae,Qatar are muslim nation they fund various institutes like ngos,news channel,news paper,magazine,educational institutes,gives grants for research in Islamic studies to university for proper representation of islam.Not only that they also fund left wing organization in west to undermine christinity.Jews may be less in number but historically have been very powerful and rich.at one point of time all the banking system was controlled by them and also they have sympathy of the world for what Hitler did to them. There are 1 billion Hindus but 94% live in one country. There are only 3 Hindu majority countries. There are 0 country which favor Hindu world view. Hindus are very disorganized. There are very few institutes which represents Hinduism to the world. Indian intellectual space is filled by leftwing Marxist type because the are given credibility by western intellectuals and sometime funded by them.Anyone who speaks for hindus is branded as nationalist and fascist. West is increasingly becoming more hindu on its own but they are afraid of coming out. It is like using and liking I phone but hiding the apple branding on the back of your phone because you are prejudice against apple product . In lay man term why do we do yoga, meditation bcoz we think there is a god inside oneself and by yoga we connect to that god. Jivatma with Paramatma.Now what is the difference between normal stretching, breathing exercise and yoga. Difference is concept of GOD INSIDE you and wanting to CONNECT with it. What is the difference between normal concentratition, deconcentration, relaxation, deep relaxation exercise and mediation. Difference is GOD INSIDE you and wanting to CONNECT with it. Now if you are closing your eye trying to concentrate, trying to defocus sitting in lotus position trying to relax that thing you are trying to do is not meditation if you do not believe in GOD INSIDE you and wanting to CONNECT with it. Now thing is if you believe in GOD INSIDE you and wanting to CONNECT with it you cease to be a Christine, you cease to be a Muslim, you cease to be a atheist, you cease to be a Jew, you cease to be a Buddhist.The language of Sanskrit is very difficult to translate into different languages.you can not translate jivatma.paramatma.atman,dhyan,adhyatam into other western language directly. Because language develop according to one’s lifestyle and needs and no one in the west was doing dhyan 1000 year ago or even 400 year ago. It is about being not understanding. Intellectual in west are somehow trying to digest hindu philosophy into western beliefs system. Hence emphasis of yoga not being part of Hinduism. So a Christine cannot do yoga he/she can only do stretching and breathing exercise as philosophy given in bible is not compatible with yoga. Yoga is compatible with only Hindu philosophy and to a certain extend other dharmic religion.
        The way that this world functions is that the dominant culture, with its misguided confidence of its imagined superiority tries to keep the lesser culture in its place. This is done by trivializing and deprecating the lesser culture and the claim that only the dominant culture is the “valid culture”. (Marxist have done this all along that their way is the only way, every other way is flawed). By denying the agency for the lesser culture to speak they follow a cultural imperialism that leads to political and economic imperialism and enslaves the lesser culture.
        American academia has taken over from the British the imperial project and the English speaking Indians elite have remained clueless till to date. Trying to disassociate yoga with Hinduism is symbol of cultural imperialism.

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          I think I finally understand your confusion of thinking yoga is a Hindu religious practice. One does not need to worship or believe in a specific god to do yoga. Yoga is the unification with Brahman/Atman (the ultimate reality underlying all phenomena). Yoga was not intended to connect with a specific deity or god like Shiva or Kali, but I can see how a Hindu would believe this and conflate yoga with their religion.

          1. Iam preecher of yoga. agree dt Yoga is not directly connected to hinduism. but even hindu doesnt need perticular deity or god. its his/her choice. itsveryopenculter. yess its open culture not religion. someone mentioned yoga was der before vedas. vedas comes in wrriten form when writting techniques were developed. before that also vedas exists.definatly yoga is of outshoot of hinduism. krishna a hindu god r u agree? if yes den he is called as yogendra also. one of his many names. yogendra means god of yoga. so u cant separate hinduism n yoga.

  16. I wonder what Timothy Burgin thinks about the move by the student government at the University of Ottawa to ban the teaching of yoga by a young female instructor who has been offering free lessons to disabled and other students for the past 8 years or so. The student government’s reasoning being that her yoga classes were examples of “cultural appropriation”.

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      Hi Bill, thanks for pointing out that interesting news story. It sounds like their decision had probably more to do with the trend in North American universities to be hyper politically correct, especially since “cultural appropriation” is itself a controversial concept. If the council just wants the “students are aware of where the spiritual and cultural aspects come from” why didn’t they have a thoughtful discussion with the instructor instead of abruptly canceling the class via email?

      1. We hindus do not mind people of other religion and culture doing yoga.what we mind is “appropriation” of our religion for commercial purpose.how can people in west separate yoga from Hinduism.
        Vedas,Upanishads,Bhagavad-Gîtâ these are all hindu religious text and all of them ask us to do yoga. yoga as a way of life was taught to us by krishna in Bhagavad-Gîtâ.
        what yo people in west do now days is not yoga but hatha yoga.
        Hatha yoga was given to us by lord shiva.please read the story of sage matsyendranath Matsyendrasana is dedicated to it.
        Hindu people have this image of lord shiva sitting on top of himalayas and doing pranayam,dhyan and yoga all day.Lord shiva is the ultimate yogi.sun salutation you do is dedicated to sun god.praying to sun god is hindu custom.warrior pose that is virabhadrasana is dedicated to an avatar of shiva.
        separating yoga from hinduism is like cutting a limb from the body.Hindu poeple have been doing yoga for thousands of year.it is not a weight loss program for us.you people have been doing yoga for last 40 years and want to define yoga for us.

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          Yoga ≠ Hinduism. Yoga is a spiritual practice (like prayer) and Hinduism is a religion. They share similar aspects and philosophies, but were developed as separate practices. One does not need to be a Hindu to practice yoga, and likewise one does not need to be a yogi to practice Hinduism.

          1. The fact that you keep equating yoga with spiritual as opposed to Hindu being a religion is the root cause of all the confusion. The separation between spiritual domain and religious domain is purely a christian or an abrahamic concept. The fact that you are having trouble coming out of that abrahamic domain and cannot see Yoga for what it is will severely limit you in becoming a Yogi.
            The traditions that originated from India and the east do not have this abrahamic distinction. There is no separation between spirituality and religion (rituals, set of beliefs etc.). Nobody, especially not me, can tell you where Yoga ends and Hinduism begins.
            Maybe this is the reason why many followers of eastern traditions get riled up and give you the responses you do because they think you are mangling Yoga. I do not think you are doing it, but you simply cannot think outside your abrahamic framework.
            As long as you keep making this distinction between spirituality and religion, you might do good as a Yoga businessman (good for you), as a Yoga for money teacher for other abrahamics but you will never become a Yogi.
            If your intention is to teach Yoga for money, then you are doing the exactly the way it should be done in a primarily christian country. I have no issues with that.
            However, if your intention is to actually become a Yogi, please focus on the first 4 sutras of Patanjali and meditate upon them.

            This is not judgmental, but simple , honest truth based on facts:
            1. Hindus could care less about your abrahamic beliefs (christian, jeweish, marxist, atheist) as long as you want to Learn yoga, but there are certain expectations especially with respect to guru-shisya parampara (teacher-student relationship) and acknowledgement of teachers (similar to what US patent office does in US), and a conduct/framework for argument that are very closely intertwined with certain schools of philosophy in Hinduism. You simply cannot separate them and still call whatever results from that “Yoga” as separate from other Hindu schools of philosophy.
            2. From a bible perspective, the practice of Yoga is simply not in conformance with what your prophet or god wants. Even the so-called spiritual concept of yoga that you attempt to distinguish is in direct contradiction what is the minimum requirement for you to be a christian i.e. allegiance to a prophet and an exclusive single god simply based on belief which is an ‘abomination’ as far a yoga is concerned.
            By trying to take safe harbor in the so-call spiritual side, you are essentially marketing a false promise to christian adherents and at the same time leaving yourself open to accusations from dharmic adherents.
            What do you hope to achieve with this?

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            Thank you for such a thoughtful response. The word “Hinduism” is a western concept and it was created to group a bunch of beliefs and practices together into something that made sense to a western mind and belief system. Most of my responses here have been towards Indians who take a very dogmatic approach to Hinduism and believe that Westerners are being disrespectful of their religion or culture if they practice yoga without being a Hindu, or specifically, they seem very upset if someone writes a history on yoga without mentioning their religion. So while I agree that most Hindus could “care less” some do care very deeply and are adamant on making a big stink about it. I don’t know much about nationalist Hindus to know what their agenda and rational for doing so is, but I know I have little tolerance for their small minded beliefs and unkind judgements.

            I stand by my assertion that yoga and Hinduism are separate but related. I agree with your statement that it is difficult to know exactly where yoga ends and Hinduism begins–but this does not equate to them being the same. They emerged and evolved together in the same culture so it makes perfect sense that they share some philosophical ideas. From my decades of study, research and practice of yoga I have not seen, heard or read anything that says one must practice Hinduism to be a yogi. In fact, holding tightly onto strong religious and cultural beliefs will only hinder any attempts at vairagya (detachment) and thus inhibit one’s progress along the path of yoga.

            FYI–I am not a Christian and most of this website’s visitors are non-Christian. I am confused as to why you are trying to make this a religious issue.

          3. Spirituality is plagiarized version of religion. You want to enjoy all the good part of different religion but avoid certain restrictive and controversial part of a religion. It is like marriage with one person and open relationship with multiple person. If you are not happy with your marriage either you resolve your differences with your partner or break it .But some amoral people choose to CHEAT on their partner or some weak people get scared of marriage that they start believing in open relationship.
            Now people ask where is the proof of the god. It is in PEACE OF MIND and doing good deeds. People in west also want peace of mind but cannot get it in their abrahamic or atheistic beliefs.So they turn toward dharmic religion and find peace in it.But it goes against your abrahamic or atheistic beliefs to find peace in other religion hence west created this term “spirituality”.In the name of spirituality you can appropriate dharmic religion the way you want like west has created Christine yoga,holy yoga.west is trying to digest yoga into christinity.
            Hinduism was born when rig veda was conceptualized. At that time there were no abrahamic religion or other religion.There is no word for religion in Sanskrit or other Indian language,closest that come is DHARM which means your duty and right conduct.Religion is a western concept.hindu people started to behave like a religion when they feel threatened by abrahamic religion.Hindus were ruled by muslim for 400 years and by christinity for 200 years.Hinduism became religion in those 600 years of enslavement earlier it was just a way of life.christnians and muslims say that only their religion is true all other religion are false.it is unfortunate that abrahamic religion are still trying to convert people into their religion. Hindus have understood that we have to keep exerting our identity for survival.
            ”Vv” wrote such a beautiful answer which you clearly did not understand. Hindus do not believe in converting people. But we do believe in acknowledgement of teachers.Lord shiva is the first yogi.If you do not show gratitude to lord shiva you are not a yogi.
            You are stuck outside in rain..I have 10 room in my house.i use only room 1 for myself all other room are vacant. i permit you to stay inside room 3.You cannot separate room 3 from my house.
            The mainstream Hindu philosophy includes six systems (ṣaḍdarśana) – Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta.Some one following samkhya is also hindu,yoga is also hindu,Vedanta is also hindu.How do you separate Hinduism from yoga I can not understand.
            Buddism is separate because it has a founder,its different book,lineage of guru.Yoga has non of that.
            You also talk about nationalist Hindus and not knowing their agenda.Read a book called Invading the Sacred.it is available for free on internet to get a hang of it

          4. Post
            Author

            Hi Varun, I think we just need to agree to disagree about your idea that yoga cannot be practiced separately from Hinduism. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

          5. A Quote From varun
            MARCH 13, 2016 AT 2:03 PM
            “Spirituality is plagiarized version of religion”.

            This “forum” of sort is very interesting: I know nothing about the origins of Yoga but I am a student at a local yoga studio, and I am also a Christian. I enjoy yoga very much and I feel I have benefited from it in 2 ways: 1. in a physical sense the practice of it has improved my flexibility, and 2. it appears that I am settling down and becoming more open minded about things and somehow I thiink this is partly because my teachers always display and teach the positive.

            Now: with that said, I must admit that my reading of the comments on this; so called forum came to an abrupt halt after reading the comments from varun. Those comments made more sense than anything I had read regarding the subject of yoga so I am stopping here to let those comments sink into my mind. Varun’s comments on this subject is the most appropriate descrition of what I need to continue my practice of yoga. Thank you varun!

        2. This is right. That is the ineluctable fact here. It makes me sad, too…I wasn’t going to say anything, but I have to because it isn’t about whether someone is from the West or not, but it is about people bastardizing something, it is about this secular movement of Yoga away from its roots, and it makes me cringe. In taking a second to humbly qualify myself–I am a Westerner, but I am a Yogacharya, a vedantin brahmacharya, and an M.A. candidate of a correct program in Yoga Philosophy here in the West at a private university. So, I guess you could say I know a bit about the academic as well as spiritual side of yoga.
          Yoga is not something you go and “do,” it is something you strive to “become.” Yoga is a profound way of life. That being said, although there are many ways to practice Yoga, they are absolutely devotional paths in nature. Hatha Yoga is modern yoga–particularly here in the West, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you even take, say, Surya Namaskar, it is the embodiment of the Gayatri mantra, which was originally chanted 108 times. The asan was added much later during the “Classical Yoga” period. But back to the roots: The Upanishads mention yoga, the Rig Veda are some of the earliest speculations of proto-Yoga. Lord Krishna outlines what Yoga exactly is, and it is about the highest moral and religious ideal. The Bhagavad Gita can be interpreted as Vaishnavic or Advaitic and both of those are–you guessed it–religious philosophies. Yoga is the practical application of ancient-Indo-Aryan religion. Period. People mistakenly think that the Yoga Sutras are the definitive text on Yoga and they are not. They are not meant to stand on their own because they assume that each student has proper qualifications (namely having studied/is studying the shruti). To even understand the Yoga Sutras you need to know what the Siddha Yoga lineage is first and don’t forget the Hiranyagarbha Vedic Yoga Tradition as well, because that is the quintessential aspect of what informed Patanjali.

          satyam shivam sundaram,
          Uma

  17. Its realy very astonished talk ; yoga is too old and contain in present and future all quality within.

  18. Rabi, thank you! I’ve said for years yoga is spiritual and NOT of a good spirit! Let’s call yoga what it is, a beehive.

  19. To say that yoga is not equal to hinduism is such a stupid statement.
    Read shiva samhita which is the most important test on hatha yoga. Hatha Yoga Pradipika another one,in both these book shiva is considered as the first yogi, both pay respect to shiva for teaching hatha yoga to humans.In ancient india yoga in physical form was mostly done by hardcore shiva devotee.
    do bible ask us to do yoga no.do quran ask us to do yoga no.name any other religious text that ask to do yoga.
    ONLY hindu religious text ask to do yoga.hindus have hundreds of religious text and all of them ask us to do yoga.
    Yoga sutra of patanjali is also hindu religious text.
    go and ask Christians,Jews,Muslims,Sikhs,Buddhist,jains,parsi do they consider Vedas,Upanishads,Bhagavad Gita,yoga sutra of patanjali,shiva samhita as religious text their answer will be NO.These are all hindu religious text,so each and every word written in it belong to hindu religion.Hatha yoga is given to us by shiva and yoga as a way of life is given to us by Krishna in bhagavad gita.
    Kalaripayattu an ancient martial art form which originated in india similarly game of chess,sports of kabaddi also originated in india these activities are also good for health but hindu never say that these belongs to hindu religion because they are not mention in our religious text.
    Problem is that there are so many fake yogis who do not care about yoga but want to sell it to westerners.They want to earn name and fame from yoga,earn money from yoga,create a cult around them or they have negative prejudice against hindu religion so they are trying to distort the history of yoga.
    One can not wake up a person pretending to be asleep.
    All form of positive emotion comes from one single source i.e GRATITUDE and gratitude comes only when you accept the truth but for that you need to develop a conscience.

    1. Post
      Author

      Dear varun,

      While you have a right to disagree with my statements, by calling my opinion “stupid” you are being disrespectful as well as not furthering a discussion on this issue. If you continue to be disrespectful you will be banned from leaving comments here.

      Yogis view Shiva and other Hindu gods as mythical beings who symbolize and personify facets of higher truth. Only a Hindu would view Shiva as a literal god in the yogic texts you referenced.

      From Wikipedia:
      Hinduism is a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions. Hinduism includes a diversity of ideas on spirituality and traditions, but has no ecclesiastical order, no unquestionable religious authorities, no governing body, no prophet(s) nor any binding holy book; Hindus can choose to be polytheistic, pantheistic, monotheistic, monistic, agnostic, atheistic or humanist. Hinduism emerged after the Vedic period, between 500-200 BCE and c. 300 CE, the beginning of the “Epic and Puranic” c.q. “Preclassical” period.

  20. Timothy,

    You have the patience of an enlightened monk in dealing with the overreacters of the internet… a true testament to the benefits of yoga. Thank you for your website, I’ve enjoyed reading it.

    1. Post
      Author
  21. Hi Timothy,

    I am curious to know when you wrote this article. I am planning to use this as a reference for the paper I am writing and would love to know the date so I can properly cite you.

    Thanks,
    Kelly

    1. Post
      Author

      The original article was written sometime in 2001. It was last updated/revised on Nov 26, 2007.

  22. Hi Tim,

    Thank you for your article, you have written it very well. It is clear and precise, yet makes you aware that the history of yoga is still very much uncertain. I am just starting out on my yoga journey and I have a lot to learn. However, having first started yoga in Vietnam I felt ‘united’ with myself and those around me, and this was without knowing the meaning of yoga. I was the only Westerner in the class and could not speak any VIetnamese, yet I felt welcomed and connected to everyone in my class. Based on the comments below and the little knowledge I have, it appears that although the history of yoga is VERY important it is not the most important thing. The most important aspect of yoga is being united your mind, body and those around you regardless of religion, race and culture. We are all the same person and should be helping one another to seek both inner and world peace. Namaste <3

    it has been very interesting reading all of the comments below. it has cleared up a few queries.

  23. Yoga is started from very ancient time that you assumed.
    Rishi of Vedas were Aryans of middle Asia actually there were not rishi . They were just invaders and fighters
    They came to Indus river and defeated the residents.
    Vedas don’t believe in idol worship but Indus people used to worship idols of Yogis
    So we can say that yoga is older than Vedas
    And Vedic people slowly took the idea of yoga
    Father of yoga was actually shamans
    First shraman was Rishabha deva .. Who is called yogeshwara because he developed yoga.
    Letter Vedic people make them their god Vishnu’s avtar
    There a long gape in neminatha and parshva natha about 2000 years
    In that gape bhrahmin stole all concepts of shramans and made up a new religion called Vedic religion.
    Then a high level of yoga meditation and and physical balancing found in parsvanatha . Who is not bhrahmin but a Dravidian shraman ..
    Then we find same level of yoga in mahavira and Buddha

    Then after 100 years of mahavira and Buddha we found a book on yoga composed by patanjali
    But such yogas not found in Vedas
    So we can say that patanjali took idea of that from ancient shramans.
    Because in Vedas no bhrahmin required to do yogas but required to do animal sacrifice and bathing in holy water and playing illogical rituals
    Then how they can originated the yoga
    Which required a strict vegetarianism but Vedic bhrahmins were not

    Yes , shraman was father of yoga
    You can say that Shiva and rishabha was founder of yoga not Vedic rishis

  24. Dear Timothy,
    Very glad to read the content in your website. Reading healthy discussion between You and Rabi was an experience! However, I agree with Rabi, I appreciate your respectful conduct. I appreciate your patience for some other feedbacks with disrspectful utterances. It seems that you have digested the very essence of Yoga, Yog: karmasu kaushalam and :Yoga: chitt-vritti Nirodh:” योग: कर्मसु कौशलम् | (श्रीमद्भगवद्गीता) योगश्चित्तवृत्ति निरोध: (पतञ्जलि). Hinduism and Yoga are so deeply interwoven, that it would not be appropriate to separate the both from each-other just to keep yourself safe from being considered as the Pro-Hindu! Doing this will lead us to the destination which is not to be aimed by a Yogi or a Yoga learner. I think that the days have now come when we can say that these tags of religion – ‘Hindu, Christian, Bauddha’ are now out dated. Do good and be good is what all religions teach.
    But no Yogi would mind if you wish to practice Yoga, keeping yourself detached with Hinduism as well! Hinduism does not teach to fight for the yourself. It rather teaches to fight for others, for what is right and for the helpless!
    I am not answering to anybody, nor I wish to claim any body wrong. I am still a lost mind, wandering in search of the ultimate truth and the way is still misty!! I just appreciate those who are far ahead in this journey of quest of life, at least than me and wish you may find the way to show it to others!

  25. Thank you Timothy for sharing such practical information about Yoga in general. Rather the information may be agree or disagree by different individuals, I think it’s good effort that you have made to show us here in different parts of the world, outside of the areas and people of India who are not familiar of Hinduism. Regardless the information may or may not be complete. It is my believe that the more Yogis (here “yogi” is just for a general or even a superficial reference) are expose to the deep tradition, philosophy and technique of which ultimately have the power to cast off the bondage of names and forms created by the ignorance of the mind. And made possible for seeker of Truth to experience that ultimate reality of our innermost essence. This deed in itself is a practice of Yoga.

    A few hundred thanks to the ones who are honest to their bones, who dare to use strait forward words to point out the short-comings of the “world of yoga” here now in our time, in both the west and the east. Personally I believe any effort with the intention to try bring Yoga back to its proper perspective is much needed in this era of material ignorance.

    Let’s wish all may actualize the state of Yoga one day and see for ourself what Yoga really is. It is said that Jnana, Bhakti, Yoga(Raja) and Karma; any one or any combination of these 4 paths if practice with the aim of self-realization will lead to the same place. Reality, Truth or God. In my opinion, those are true Yogis who are seriously to prove it.

    if any words of mine offend anybody, please accept my apology, namaste.

  26. Hi Timothy.

    I would also love permission to use this brief history as a handout for my teacher trainees. Your work will of course, be sourced. Please send permission/ printable version to my email. Thank you so much.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Sara, this sounds possible but please use our contact us page to make a formal use request.

      1. Hi Timothy,

        I respect you, as you learned and teaching the yoga to others.

        lord Siva give you long life.

  27. Hi Timothy;
    I have been regularly practicing yoga for last 5 years, have read the Yogasutras of Patanjali over the 5 years ( it’s not an easy read) and now have been trying to read more about it.
    Your history of Yoga write-up is a great effort in clearing the air on its origins.

    As far as I can fathom, yoga does not have a belief in external God. It’s sole purpose is salvation and union of our soul with the universe.

    Reference the various discussions here about relationship between Hinduism and Yoga:
    Hinduism can be called a collaborative religion or a way of life.
    Even now in parts of India (eg Himachal), every town and village has its own god. During certain festivals, a procession from every town carries their individual gods to a common meeting point. Then all the congregated people from all across pray to all the collected gods.

    I strongly believe that India (Hindus) has so many gods because we believe in ours as well as respect and believe in others gods too.
    More so, we even believe and accept the atheists too.

    In fact, if I am correct, One source of yoga comes from atheist philosophy (Samkyas).

    May we be enlightened.

    Love

  28. still Timothy you have to deal with the fact that biggest credits goes to Hindus for Yoga.

    1. Post
      Author

      I have credited the origins of yoga to the Indus-Saraswati civilization which both yoga and Hinduism emerged from. Hinduism is a term invented by the British to describe the various religious practices of Indians at the time of colonization.

      1. I was so happy to find this page to know about history of yoga. i went through to bottom to top ..i tell you something which you haven’t found anywhere yet..human life is the most pure form of life with bodies…every soul arrives to life form to get” mukti” ” moksha” ;;;liberation….;;;Yogis-whom you called Mystic Sages…use to perform 8.4 million postures in their yogi life to get human life again…You know Yog connects to unseen spiritual world which you can’t with your these physical eyes…. to Mantras are medium to generate your vibes to connect with these which you don’t understand or gonna see ever as you don’t respect the roots……i had a laugh at your last reply as you gave credit to some one…you are chosen aye! i live in Rishikesh …Himalayas ….a lil Yogi with my own divine experiences with Jesus , Shiva….i live a blessed life…you gonna be perfect in physical and if you want to go for something more than physical life…..
        You need to spend time as it should be….
        Om Namah Shivaya….Satyam Shivam Sundaram…mean:::::Shiva is the truth:::shiva is the supreme:::shiva is the most beautiful ….

  29. I do not like the divine practise as yoga has been reduced by so many to commercial businne and I do not like that nobody mention Lord Krishna the father of all yoga practice I do nolike it is by many confused as a pactice of hinduism
    No where will find Vedas or Mahabarat the verb hindu JeiSri Krishna

    1. Post
      Author

      The current version dates back to Nov 26, 2007, but the original version of this article would have been published sometime in 2001.

  30. Hello, I’m doing a research paper on the science of yoga as a physical and spiritual practice. I’m looking for the publisher of this article. Will you please direct me to that info? Thank you and many blessings to all.

  31. Yoga without Swami Satyananda Saraswati, founder of Bihar School of Yoga, is nothing in present age.

  32. Respectfully, this brief history is erroneous and full of holes.

    The prehistoric origins of yoga that you hint at are found in archaeological evidence of various meditation postures and allusions to prana. This would be approximately around the time the Vedic culture is believed to have begun, ca 6’000 years ago.

    Aspects of tantra yoga, karma yoga and asthanga yoga developed further during the Vedanta age, as well as in Buddhism and Jainism. Pranayama, Asana, Dhyana – all these developed between the 8th and 5th centuries BCE.

    What you failed to mention completely, is the heavy influence of Western gymnastics and proto-aerobics on Yoga in the 19th century. People like Krishnamacharya, Vivekananda or Swami Sivananda attempted to portray their yoga as one and the same as Patanjali’s system (which many Indians believe to be many centuries older than what you wrote), but this is not the case at all; their ‘modern’ yoga had hardly anything to do with the spiritual, meditative yoga of ancient times. A very influencial wave of fitness, which incorporated stretching, dance and gymnastics (developed in Scandinavia in the mid 19th century) was brought to India by the many Western colonists. Much evidence exists of how this not only influenced, but more or less created what we call Yoga today.

  33. Glad every one here is fighting, arguing and claiming Yoga. Want to laugh out loud at so called teachers and researchers of yoga. They should know “Brahmins” are a class in Hindusim, A class which was involved in reading writing and teaching. Some people are referring here that some Veda’s promote eating meat and beef, Though I have never read them as original texts, I will like to inform that different vedas were written in different times if Rigveda was written in 1700 BCE others may be in 600 BCE. Hinduisam is not a religion but a way of living and strength of this way of living is its ability to respond to changing circumstances, acceptance of new ideas and changing accordingly.
    Originally all man kind had been non-vegetarian, even Hindus had been non-vegetarians. Except for Brahmins(whom Timonthy has mentioned in the beginning – used to practice yoga). Cow worshipping began in the later stages of evolution of Hinduism. So many good things in Hinduism have evolved in later stages because this religion is based on science and has tept evolving with new findings and discoveries. To understand that some one need to look into various studies which reveal the beef is not good for human body, cow’s urine has medicinal and heeling properties, in our villages after during first bath after delivery it is mandatory to add some drops of cow urine even a few drops are given to drink, cow dung is used to mop hows floor in villages because it is disinfectant. Cow’s urine is also used as pesticides which is not harmful like chemicals discovered by western world, composition of cow’s milk is very close to that of Human’s (please check the various researches) and there are much more benefits. All these things were discovered with time as Hindu’s discovered this they started worshipping cow and prohibited beef.
    Now comming back to ‘Yoga’, I will refer to names of certain poses:-‘ Surya Namaskar’- who worships Sun?, ‘Bhu Namskarm’- who worships Earth? . Yoga teaches and rests in the priciple that power lies inside us we need to identify and awaken it same does says Hinutva. Krishna in The Bhgavad Geeta says I am every where, in smallest particle of soil and hugest of the living beings.
    Even in some of our temples ‘Suraya Namaskar’ is part of Arti ritual. Hence I hope I have made my point here and have presented a few of evidences. Since I am grown up with Yoga around me in midst of people believing in Hindisim and people not believing in some of its teachings even being Hindu.

    Timonthy I am glad you are passionate about Yoga but at the same time we can not reep out of our learning without thanking or giving ‘ Guru Dakshina’ to our Gurus (Teachers) Here you are not even ready to recognise their contribution.
    For those who want to know more about Yoga, there can be no place better than India to learn about it, you will find it every where in our culture some times fully some times in parts. And rather than reading people who have picked some knowledge from secondary research, read about people like Maharishi Patanjali who compiled Yoga sutras and dedicated his entire life for good of mankind.

    1. Hey,

      I see you mentioned you grew around yoga. What I am really tired to see how commercial yoga has become in India. 90% of the schools are teaching yoga within one month (they call it ttc course), is it really possible? I like a fool thought a life time wasn’t enough. Anyway, can you please suggest me a good master or a school I could go to and devote myself to yoga and meditation. I would like to learn authentically rather than learning hurriedly in a span of 15 days or one month.

  34. Hi Timothy.

    Thanks for a great article outlining the basics of the history of yoga. I found many of the comments below quite intense and I applaud your replies to each of these. I too have researched the history of yoga, although in one lifetime I doubt I would have even touched the surface.

    I feel that some of the anger in the other comments is toward ‘western yoga’ and the fact yoga is now a billion dollar industry in the west and we walk around with our Ganesh Tshirts, Mala Beads and say Namaste at the end of our classes (which I find incredibly weird so don’t do it) and much of this which the west associates with yoga, is in fact, much of hinduism. I get that some people are a little peed off. What is important though, which I believe you do well Timothy, is stick with the factual history and research, which I don’t think many others have. If they had, they wound’t be disputing you. What I think we can all respect is that yoga has been a part of Hindu practice for a very long time. and it was the Hindus, of another name, who did set the foundations. It was the ancestors of hindus we know today, the people who modern Hindus actually do see as fellow Hindus.

    I have many Hindu friends from India who are all yoga teachers (we are from Sivananda) and we are all one. There’s no separation of cultures or no talk of who is more deserving of practicing yoga or who did yoga first. We are all one. This, to me, is yoga.

    I do however, question that the Sutras were compiled in the 2nd century though? Is the CE? My belief was always they were compiled somewhere between 4th – 2nd BCE. I’m wondering what your source is on this? I teach History of Yoga so this is important to me :)

    Cheers from Australia x

    1. Post
      Author
  35. Namaste. I just wanted to respectfully point out that samadhi is not the same thing as enlightenment. This is a common mistake and has been written about extensively in Yoga Philosophy. One of the better essays on it is by Michael Comans, PhD. No where is it said that the goal of yoga is samadhi. The goal of yoga is much higher than that and is laid out in the shruti. Also, the realization of “Divine Oneness” was mentioned earlier than the Upanishads, you find it in the Rig Veda as well. :)

    Hope That Helps,
    Uma

  36. you have done a good practice of yoga. Everyone taking benefit of yoga in turn nobody render any service to this great tradition. Few of you may be aware that there are hundreds of yoga manuscripts at least 1000 are available unpublished. all are not the same of Astanga yoga. there are hatha yoga, karma yoga, bhakti yoga etc. since you are teaching yoga, you should render service to this tradition by taking responsibility by publishing some of these texts.

  37. Can anyone tell me if the ‘service of humanity’ is ever mentioned (maybe in different words) in the older scriptures of Yoga…? Just askin.

  38. I didn’t realize how long yoga has really been around. It’s really cool, almost inspiring.

    i like this comment

  39. Wonderful article. I did not lnow all the details of Yoga History. Very spiritual process. Thank you ->

  40. Why isn’t Hinduism mentioned in any part of this article?? The author does mention Hinduism’s holy scriptures peppered throughout the article but fails to connect it to the religion. Odd and disappointing. For instance, right off the bat, the statement: “The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda.”

    Here’s another one: “The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests.” I suppose I should be happy that the word “Vedic” is mentioned because that’s what we Hindus are – Vedic. So, why couldn’t the word “Hindus” be included in parentheses after that statement so that people could make the connection and be truly educated?

    Also odd that “Brahmins” is mentioned but again no Hinduism – I suppose Hinduism is only mentioned when there’s something negative to say.

    The Rig Vedas are the religious texts of the Hindus. So is the holy Bhagavad Gita. What’s next? These religious scriptures won’t belong to Hindus anymore? WTH.

    1. Post
      Author

      The word Hinduism is not mentioned here because:
      1. This is the history of yoga, not Hinduism.
      2. Yoga and Hinduism are two separate traditions.
      3. The word and concept of Hinduism was coined much later than the practices of yoga:
      “It should be pointed out that the word ‘Hindu’ is not found in any of the classical writings of India. Nor can it be traced to the classical Indian languages, such as Sanskrit or Tamil. In fact, the word ‘Hinduism’ has absolutely no origins within India itself.” Source: https://goo.gl/8h2lVh

      1. Timothy,
        With all due respect, what I don’t think you’re seeing is that, while the term Hindu was coined much later than the origins of yoga, Hindu was a term to describe the varied spiritual beliefs and practices of the people of the Indus-Sarasvati region. Yoga is included in those practices and beliefs. The texts, rituals, and mantras you site in the history of yoga are the same texts, rituals, and mantras that embody Hinduism. You are focused on semantics. Yes, the word Hindu came later as a way to define the culture, religion, geographical region, etc., but modem Hindus do not separate themselves from the past cultures. Semantics aside, It’s one history. That’s all they want you to acknowledge, and I think when you have people of a certain culture, whose sacred traditions have been appropriated for superficial financial wealth, telling you they are upset, as an outsider of that culture, I would hope you could empathize with their frustration, even acknowledge that Hinduism could have been mentioned in the article, rather than painting them all as extreme nationalists with a political agenda. They are people, Timothy. They are people who want their culture respected rather than disregarded. You could have even given credit to the fact that yoga has been practiced in the Hindu tradition and grew out of the same history as Hinduism. That would have at least acknowledged Hinduism without letting go of the separatism you are clinging so hard to.

        1. Post
          Author

          Your stating that “Hindu was a term to describe the varied spiritual beliefs and practices of the people of the Indus-Saraswati region” is incorrect. “The religion of the Vedic period was the religion of the Indo-Aryans of northern India. It is a historical predecessor of modern Hinduism, though significantly different from it.” Source: https://goo.gl/o2D4KG

          You and others complaining about this issue have intentionally blurred the history and use of the word Hinduism. For what end you and others are doing this I am unsure, but it would be naive to disregard the current popularity of Indian nationalism as a motivation.

          If you look through our website it should be clear that we consistently and passionately respect the origins and history of yoga and take extreme care to not promote cultural appropriation and superficiality. Why do you need to try to taint my character as insensitive, disrespectful and uncaring to make your argument? I have yet to see anyone provide a source (even an unreliable one) to discredit the notion that yoga and Hinduism are two separate traditions and that yoga emerged from Vedic philosophy. All I have seen from people trying to make your argument are personal attacks, most of which I’ve had to delete (some have been racist and downright disgusting) as they have violated our terms of conduct.

  41. Hi Timothy, I’d love to cite your article, History of Yoga, in my literature review. I’m wondering when the article was written. Great read. Warm regards – Elise Greig

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      Author

      The current version dates back to Nov 26, 2007, but the original version of this article would have been published sometime in 2000 or 2001.

  42. Hi Friend,
    I was intrigued by the thread of discussion on whether Yoga is part of Hinduism or not. To me it is meaningless discussion. What are we going to achieve by proving if Yoga is a “Hindu” tradition or otherwise. When Jesus arrived at Bethlehem, he did not arrive to preach Christianity, rather he arrived to teach universal knowledge, which is acceptable to everyone. It was later codified as Bible 500 years later at Constantinople. Similarly when Patanjali composed Yoga, it will be wrong to say that he did it for the sake of Hinduism. Because the term religion did not exist during his time. Later when Hinduism was codified, Yoga was indeed incorporated as one of the six pillars of Hinduism (the other five pillars are Samkhya, Vaisesikha, Nyaya, Mimamsa and Vedanta). However, the teachings of Yoga is definitely universal, like the teachings of Jesus, and one does not either need to prove that it is a Hindu “thing” or has to be a “Hindu” to practice it.
    I totally reject this chest thumping of a section of “Hindus” who have forgotten a core principle of Hinduism, namely Humility.
    Cheers

  43. Wow – sooo many clashing egos.

    Live in the moment – be free and joyus

    Swami Guy

  44. Hi Timothy, I’d love to cite your article, History of Yoga, in my literature review for my history of american culture class can you give me the references also please and thank you!

  45. I have enjoyed reading this discussion. As a white American female, I have to side with the Hindus on what yoga is. They should know their own religion. I would be flabbergasted if a foreigner tried to tell me I did not understand my religion. I would think they were quite arrogant to think they knew better. I feel the Hindus on this site have been very honest and I appreciate that. The real issue is the deception in the West to convince the masses that yoga is not a religious practice. For all the Christians who have posted on this site about how much they enjoy yoga, I have to say that the Hindus understand Christianity better than you do. They cleverly pointed out that it is impossible to be a Christian and do yoga. They are correct. The two are not compatible. If you think they are, you only deceive yourself. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to God the Father, except through me”. If you mix religions, you are no longer worshipping Jesus, for he demands your faithfulness. He does not want someone to be like a harlot chasing other gods. Choose this day whom you will serve.

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      Author

      Yoga is not a religion, which is why so many Christians find that their yoga practice deepens and enriches their faith and connection to God.

  46. I can – not eat beef and love a cow and not be Hindu.
    I can – not eat pork or bottom feeders or not put cheese on my burger and not be Jewish.
    I can – love others and be kind, compassionate, empathetic, believe in Jesus’ existence and not be Christian.
    I can – pray and not be Muslim, Christian, or Jewish.
    I can – practice yoga and not be Hindu.

    — Disclaimer – I eat beef, pork, bottom feeders, looove cheeseburgers, practice ahimsa daily, pray, work towards presenting the most kind, compassionate, empathetic sides of myself, believe that Jesus existed, and I practice and teach yoga. But I am not Christian, Muslin, Jewish or Hindu. I am a human being who seeks God and yoga helps me access Him in the most tangible and directly connected way – through my physical body, the one given to me by Him. I am an instrument that I learn how to play and then share with the world the expressions that are possible within me.

    p.s. Timothy’s “yoga ≠ Hinduism” isn’t him saying Yoga is not a part of Hinduism, he is saying that Yoga does not equate to/equal Hinduism. It’s like, all humans are animals but, not all animals are human. Animals ≠ Humans, animals do not equal humans. But certainly they come from the same Source. :) Just because you speak different languages, who owns the birth of sound? When was the first sound made? Is sound a religion, because it seems most people make it, use it, believe in it, even if they are deaf or mute, sound can be made with the body. Is sound proprietary to any one religion? I think not, yet all religions use it and even those who do not believe in anything religious, spiritual, or Godlike use sound. Is sound therefore being commercialized and misappropriated by everyone? Or sports – if I “hit a ball” – am I playing baseball, golf, tennis, hockey (okay it’s a puck), volleyball, or table tennis? Is hitting a ball only “allowed exclusively” to one sport?

    ** The question is, can you only practice yoga (and nothing else) and still be Hindu according to Hindus?

  47. When we talk about self enlightenment, I become weary. We have become a nation of selfish self centered people in the US. You can quote all the “history” of yoga you want. It is a false replacement for the one true God who created all things. He even gave us free will. Too many have fallen prey to anti God “religions”. We all were put on this plane for one reason, and that is to attain heaven. Do you really want to have a honest and peaceful heart? Pray the Rosary and meditate on it’s mysteries. Yoga isn’t going to get you into heaven, This is the heaven that God the Father created for you. Now, let all the Catholic bashing commence! Richard.

  48. Love this. We all preach Yoga and we let the mind take over with dates, names, ideas of what is right or wrong, loosing the actual practice. Thank you for remind me how I, as human being am so small compared to the force around me that works and evolves. Thank you for reminding me why I am destroying the world and everything around it. Thank you for reminding me, as a human being why I like wars and differences. I hope that one day we will say “it is all good, it doesn’t matter”. ” Let’s do our best”. “Let’s go out and do something good”. “Let’s stop the ego game”.
    Good life to you all.
    With gratitude.
    Namaste, Amen or what is appropriate for you.

  49. Wow what a tedious discussion this is, I had no idea a lot of Hindus felt this way about yoga. They are obviously not familiar with Joseph Campbell and the entire idea of comparative mythology and religion. Believe it or not, when the world myths and religions are seen comparatively there emerges much elucidation on the structure and process of enlightenment. One example is how the Kabbalistic Tree of Life correlates with the cakras for instance, which is based upon number. Sahasrara = 1 = Kether down to Muladhara = 7 = Netzach-Malkuth. One moves up this ladder through life and hopefully eventually crosses the abyss and attains enlightenment, the little “I” becomes the big “eye” and is wed to the eternal, which is the undefinable. It is like the probability cloud of quantum physics, everything potentially and nothing actually. I think the system gains from being stripped from fundamentalism and any one religion, as people learn to drop their pre-conceived beliefs. Enlightenment is universal and can be attained by various methods. I think bodywork methods such as Hatha yoga, the Reichian therapy of Regardie, hypnsosis, are great, but they seem to need a devotional element to really push one into a higher realm. Perhaps sexual Tantric yoga using the cakras or actual magickal ritual will do this. I crossed the abyss using only a version of the LBRP ritual and classical yoga and pranayama, as well as studying a lot, but would now include a lot more bodywork seeing how powerful it is. Eventually there will congeal a great body of work upon what practices are most effective and pleasurable for enlightenment or the best change in quality of self without any dogma attached to them.

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