How Old is Yoga?

Via on Nov 18, 2009

Disclaimer: I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m sure. So are you. If I’ve got something wrong, comment and I’ll make corrections to this elusive, enigmatic and ill-understood question as we go (that’s the wonder of the web—it’s a two-way street) ~ed.

Picture 2528

We American yoga students casually, commonly claim that history shows yoga to be at least 5,000 years old. Why? Because we’ve heard it from some yuppie hippie American dilettante, or read it in online somewhere, or in a marketing brochure.

Fact is, JC and the Buddha came about 2,009 and 2,572 years ago…that’s a loooong time ago. And you’re telling me yoga is twice that? Maybe so…but I don’t get it, yet.

The ancient Hindu Rig Veda is approximately 4000 years old, give or take 500 years…and it doesn’t mention “yoga.” Then, of course, there’s the seminal, philosophical classics Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, both of which mention yoga, which clock in in from the first millennium BCE right up to the modern period.

Picture 2529

The only substantive claim yoga has to JCx2 is an image on a coin of a man in full lotus. You call that yoga? Give yoga more credit: it’s a full and expansive, multi-faceted physical and spiritual tradition drawing from several traditions and countless influences. Defining its age necessitates defining just what yoga is—and what it’s not—and that’s tough to do.

enlighten up

A few months back, I was in the Trident cafe, downtown Boulder, talking with my longtime acquaintance Nick Rosen, and he was talking about how, in the course of starring in Enlighten Up!, and meeting with Pattabhi Jois, BKS Iyengar, others, he’d learned that yoga was…

…not 5,000 years old

…not even, really, 500 years old

…over at Yogadork, probably my most-visited yoga site these days, Nick Rosen and Svasti politely discuss whether yoga might be 100 years old…here’s an excerpt from Nick’s comments:

“As I understand it, the tradition of asana AS WE PRACTICE IT TODAY — as a set of postures and movements we undertake to achieve health and for some a sense of spiritual/medititative calm, as an end in itself — and by tradition I mean a basically unchanging continuation of practice with the same means and ends, is about 100 years old. There was a book or two traced back to 500 years ago, but the way it was practiced and why it was practiced was very different back then. so how relevant is that?”

…read the rest at Yoga Dork, it’s well worth it. For even more depth on this discussion, check Nick’s Confessions of a Yoga Guinea Pig over at Huffington Post. Excerpt:

“…In a rare interview, BKS Iyengar, the 90-year old ambassador of yoga to the West, told me that his yoga, as taught to him by his master, was a purely physical exercise and completely unrelated to ancient philosophy. He says he invented and refined much of it himself. It wasn’t until 1960, while on a visit to London, that English intellectuals introduced Iyengar to the ancient “yoga sutras”. Five years later, he combined the yoga poses and the Hindu teachings together in his book “Light on Yoga,” which then sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the United States. And voila — the modern yoga craze was born. But it was basically a new age invention, not an ancient practice…”

Yoga as we know it today—hatha yoga—could be said to be just 50 years old, when BKS Iyengar brought various traditions (including British acrobatics) together in his seminal Light on Yoga. As far as the interviews I’ve done with various teachers on this question, this seems to be as accurate a place to plant a marker in the sand as any.

Where I differ from cynical savvy Nick (who cheerfully told me about the Yogadork commentfest yesterday when we ran into each other at the climbing gym) is the importance of defining and protecting “true yoga.” Now, I understand his point that “real yoga” has never really existed. Still, in the soupy marketing hype, the giddy goldrush that is American yoga over the past 15 years, it’s important to beware/be aware of “spiritual materialism“—not from a point of view of defining true yoga and identifying charlatans so much as from a personal practice point of view. Is our practice dedicated to the welfare of all? Is it about opening up to the present moment, and all that brings? Or is it merely about refining and perfecting ourselves, and our ego? Or is the yoga we practice losing its historical, spiritual thread—is it just about refining…our yoga butt?

yoga butt

Of course, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are also a pretty darn decent marker for the advent of “yoga.” Still, the yoga Patanjali talked little about what we know as hatha yoga, and more about about yoga as a spiritual path. Not something your modern soccer mom would recognize as yoga, or even the cousin twice- removed of yoga.

Picture 2530

To read a succinct history of yoga, including lots of dates and early forms, click here.

To see my interview with Richard Freeman on the Future of Yoga, click here.

About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | facebook.com/elephantjournal | twitter.com/elephantjournal | facebook.com/waylonhlewis | twitter.com/waylonlewis | Google+ For more: publisherelephantjournalcom

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90 Responses to “How Old is Yoga?”

  1. This whole discussion is like using the word "fruit" and describing a banana. Then someone comes along and says, that's not what a fruit is, it's really an apple, etc.

    The only true answer to this meaningless and false conundrum is that the word Yoga is a very general term correctly used to describe a very wide variety of things. THIS IS LINGUISTIC REALITY NOT A PHILOSOPHICAL POSITION. The word Yoga is used 28 different ways in the Bhagavad Gita alone. It was already a very general term back then.

    Other quick comments:

    Any discussion of the roots of Yoga, even a summary one, is woefully incomplete without the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, which are at least co-equal with the Yoga Sutra in defining early Yoga.

    Your paragraph about the Yoga Sutra is disturbingly inaccurate in a number of ways, but I'm out of time at the moment, and I hope other commentators will jump on that. If they don't I'll write again later!

    Thanks for an interesting and provocative article.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  2. This whole discussion is like using the word "fruit" and describing a banana. Then someone comes along and says, that's not what a fruit is, it's really an apple, etc.

    The only true answer to this meaningless and false conundrum is that the word Yoga is a very general term correctly used to describe a very wide variety of things. THIS IS LINGUISTIC REALITY NOT A PHILOSOPHICAL POSITION. The word Yoga is used 28 different ways in the Bhagavad Gita alone. It was already a very general term back then.

    Other quick comments:

    Any discussion of the roots of Yoga, even a summary one, is woefully incomplete without the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, which are at least co-equal with the Yoga Sutra in defining early Yoga.

    Your paragraph about the Yoga Sutra is disturbingly inaccurate in a number of ways, but I'm out of time at the moment, and I hope other commentators will jump on that. If they don't I'll write again later!

    Thanks for an interesting and provocative article.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  3. This whole discussion is like using the word "fruit" and describing a banana. Then someone comes along and says, that's not what a fruit is, it's really an apple, etc.

    The only true answer to this meaningless and false conundrum is that the word Yoga is a very general term correctly used to describe a very wide variety of things. THIS IS LINGUISTIC REALITY NOT A PHILOSOPHICAL POSITION. The word Yoga is used 28 different ways in the Bhagavad Gita alone. It was already a very general term back then.

    Other quick comments:

    Any discussion of the roots of Yoga, even a summary one, is woefully incomplete without the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, which are at least co-equal with the Yoga Sutra in defining early Yoga.

    Your paragraph about the Yoga Sutra is disturbingly inaccurate in a number of ways, but I'm out of time at the moment, and I hope other commentators will jump on that. If they don't I'll write again later!

    Thanks for an interesting and provocative article.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  4. This whole discussion is like using the word "fruit" and describing a banana. Then someone comes along and says, that's not what a fruit is, it's really an apple, etc.

    The only true answer to this meaningless and false conundrum is that the word Yoga is a very general term correctly used to describe a very wide variety of things. THIS IS LINGUISTIC REALITY NOT A PHILOSOPHICAL POSITION. The word Yoga is used 28 different ways in the Bhagavad Gita alone. It was already a very general term back then.

    Other quick comments:

    Any discussion of the roots of Yoga, even a summary one, is woefully incomplete without the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, which are at least co-equal with the Yoga Sutra in defining early Yoga.

    Your paragraph about the Yoga Sutra is disturbingly inaccurate in a number of ways, but I'm out of time at the moment, and I hope other commentators will jump on that. If they don't I'll write again later!

    Thanks for an interesting and provocative article.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  5. Yah, that was pretty hack. I edited up both sections. Thanks for the comments.

  6. Hinduism itself is hard to define as "one" tradition.

  7. That said, thumbs up for the passion and knowledge!

  8. anonymous says:

    Furthermore, the whole '4000 years old' '5000 years old' is based on the extremely biased interpretation of vedic culture by Max Mueller who needed to fit hindu cosmology into his biased christian timeline which required the world to begin not more than 5000 years ago. Hindu cosmology goes back several billion years, but this is completely discounted due to the work of Max Mueller and friends. There are references to certain star configurations that only happened ~90,000 years ago in the vedas. Vedic literature refers to several ages (yugas) that themselves are extremely long spans of time.

  9. Matt says:

    How did vedic culture get equated with Hinduism? The Vedas gave rise to Buddhism, Jain, Hindu, and Sikh not to mention yoga. And yoga, by the way, is devoid of the gods of any religion at least the way Patanjali wrote of it and Swatmarama.

  10. anonymous says:

    *pantheistic should read polytheistic (or any -theistic if you like).

  11. anonymous says:

    The very letters of the sanskrit language are considered seed letters – they are physical manifestations in the form of sound that represent the fundamental vibrations from which the universe was created. In Sanatana Dharma, the origin of the universe is based in the sound-tattva (principle) meaning it is based on the concept of waves. Overlapping waves (similar to sound) propagate from Brahman, resulting in the creation. These waves are termed as 'nada brahma' (vibrations emanating from Brahman). These waves are the dynamic principle (shakthi) and are perceived by a perceiver (the Witness, or Shiva). It is the union (yoga) of Shiva and Shakthi that is the Universe. The animate principle is shakthi (energy) while the static principle is shiva (the witness, or awareness consciousness).

  12. anonymous says:

    A small clarification to your statement above: Vedic culture is not equated with hinduism. Vedic culture IS hinduism. There is no difference. Without the vedas, there is no hinduism. Without the vedas, the other three offshoots would still survive – as they do not rely on the vedas for their immediate authority. They rely on the disciplic succession from master-pupil starting with the authority of their respective founders (Sikh: Guru Gobind, Buddhism: Buddha, Jainism: Mahavir, etc.). Vedic authority comes directly from the vedas. To this day, all four vedas are chanted in their original form unchanged. Sanskrit has a mathematical structure that enables it to retain its original purity. In hinduism (vedic culture / sanatana dharma) it is called the language of the Gods.

  13. anonymous says:

    As to both Patanjali and Swatmarama … both are Hindu sages. Patanjali being substantially older.

  14. anonymous says:

    As a footnote: Sanatana Dharma posits also that there have been several universes in past cycles of creation and dissolution. In each cycle of creation, a new group of 'saptarishis' (mind-born sons of the creator) manifest themselves, only to start the process of progenation all over again. The universe is said to be cyclical (samsara) where the pattern of life and death continually happen over and over and over and over again. Everything spawns from the creator, and merges back into the creator at the time of the final dissolution. The time for 1 universe cycle is many billions of years. Within that timespan, several ages are defined. …and so on.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    I thought yoga and Hinduism evolved together…or at least were evolving during some of the same time periods. (Didn't Feurstein address this subject in his big Yoga Tradition book, the title of which is now escaping me?)

    /me makes mental note to go find scholarly discussion on this topic that is backed up with research

  16. anonymous.

    I really enjoyed reading all your history of Hinduism in your many comments above. It was very interesting and informative.

    This doesn't mean you can or should change the way the word "Yoga" is used by the majority of the world today. And it doesn't mean there is any nefarious plot, as you suggest in your first comment above, to "dismantle" Yoga from its roots. I refer you back to my original comment above:

    "Yoga is a very general term used to describe a very wide variety of things. THIS IS LINGUISTIC REALITY NOT A PHILOSOPHICAL POSITION."

    You can't change the march of language. But it is certainly good for you to clarify Yoga's roots. I suggest you just focus on that, as you do in most of your interesting discourse above, and give up the quest to change the way the rest of the world uses the word "Yoga". That ship has long since sailed.

    My only other comment is that, from many other scholarly sources, and from reading the texts themselves, I have the strong impression that the Yogis of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutra were actually rebelling against much of the practices of the Vedas, not supporting them. Certainly that was true of the Buddha. In contrast, you make it seem like it was just one big happy stream of Hinduism. However, I'm not the scholar that you are, so I'm not the one to try to debate this with you.

    Thanks again for all the interesting history. And thanks again to Waylon to be willing to risk walking into this buzz saw and being so open, as he states in his opening disclaimer, to the expected strong response.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  17. anonymous.

    I really enjoyed reading all your history of Hinduism in your many comments above. It was very interesting and informative.

    This doesn't mean you can or should change the way the word "Yoga" is used by the majority of the world today. And it doesn't mean there is any nefarious plot, as you suggest in your first comment above, to "dismantle" Yoga from its roots. I refer you back to my original comment above:

    "Yoga is a very general term used to describe a very wide variety of things. THIS IS LINGUISTIC REALITY NOT A PHILOSOPHICAL POSITION."

    You can't change the march of language. But it is certainly good for you to clarify Yoga's roots. I suggest you just focus on that, as you do in most of your interesting discourse above, and give up the quest to change the way the rest of the world uses the word "Yoga". That ship has long since sailed.

    My only other comment is that, from many other scholarly sources, and from reading the texts themselves, I have the strong impression that the Yogis of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutra were actually rebelling against much of the practices of the Vedas, not supporting them. Certainly that was true of the Buddha. In contrast, you make it seem like it was just one big happy stream of Hinduism. However, I'm not the scholar that you are, so I'm not the one to try to debate this with you.

    Thanks again for all the interesting history. And thanks again to Waylon to be willing to risk walking into this buzz saw and being so open, as he states in his opening disclaimer, to the expected strong response.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  18. anonymous.

    I really enjoyed reading all your history of Hinduism in your many comments above. It was very interesting and informative.

    This doesn't mean you can or should change the way the word "Yoga" is used by the majority of the world today. And it doesn't mean there is any nefarious plot, as you suggest in your first comment above, to "dismantle" Yoga from its roots. I refer you back to my original comment above:

    "Yoga is a very general term used to describe a very wide variety of things. THIS IS LINGUISTIC REALITY NOT A PHILOSOPHICAL POSITION."

    You can't change the march of language. But it is certainly good for you to clarify Yoga's roots. I suggest you just focus on that, as you do in most of your interesting discourse above, and give up the quest to change the way the rest of the world uses the word "Yoga". That ship has long since sailed.

    My only other comment is that, from many other scholarly sources, and from reading the texts themselves, I have the strong impression that the Yogis of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutra were actually rebelling against much of the practices of the Vedas, not supporting them. Certainly that was true of the Buddha. In contrast, you make it seem like it was just one big happy stream of Hinduism. However, I'm not the scholar that you are, so I'm not the one to try to debate this with you.

    Thanks again for all the interesting history. And thanks again to Waylon to be willing to risk walking into this buzz saw and being so open, as he states in his opening disclaimer, to the expected strong response.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  19. anonymous.

    I really enjoyed reading all your history of Hinduism in your many comments above. It was very interesting and informative.

    This doesn't mean you can or should change the way the word "Yoga" is used by the majority of the world today. And it doesn't mean there is any nefarious plot, as you suggest in your first comment above, to "dismantle" Yoga from its roots. I refer you back to my original comment above:

    "Yoga is a very general term used to describe a very wide variety of things. THIS IS LINGUISTIC REALITY NOT A PHILOSOPHICAL POSITION."

    You can't change the march of language. But it is certainly good for you to clarify Yoga's roots. I suggest you just focus on that, as you do in most of your interesting discourse above, and give up the quest to change the way the rest of the world uses the word "Yoga". That ship has long since sailed.

    My only other comment is that, from many other scholarly sources, and from reading the texts themselves, I have the strong impression that the Yogis of the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutra were actually rebelling against much of the practices of the Vedas, not supporting them. Certainly that was true of the Buddha. In contrast, you make it seem like it was just one big happy stream of Hinduism. However, I'm not the scholar that you are, so I'm not the one to try to debate this with you.

    Thanks again for all the interesting history. And thanks again to Waylon to be willing to risk walking into this buzz saw and being so open, as he states in his opening disclaimer, to the expected strong response.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  20. anonymous says:

    That said, nothing against 'white dudes' – but I think you understand that a person living and breathing the culture is more of an authority and more authentic than a guy who comes in off a boat somewhere to study the people and their traditions.

  21. anonymous says:

    The real question you are probably asking here: How long have people been doing 'yoga' exclusively as an exercise for the mind/body? about 50-100 years.

  22. swati jr* says:

    it's true, people like to jumble Hinduism in with all Vedic knowledge. that is incorrect. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism etc. came in the post-Vedic time period. "Ved" just means "total knowledge" and has NO religious connotation. i really wish people would stop lumping Hinduism into the same category as ved and all the vedic texts. this is incorrect. pre-Vedic times were even more interesting and based on matriarchy and nature worship. that's where it gets really interesting…..

  23. swati jr* says:

    yoga is and forever will be. all babes in the womb are practicing yoga asanas and are created out of nadum- primordial sound. life is a constant striving to return to our sacred source….to ask how old yoga is, is really a chicken and egg question. there has always been yoga. and whether humans are here or not, there will be yoga still.

  24. anonymous says:

    The sanskrit word "yoga" actually translates to "union"- Union of mind and spirit. Yoga as a physical practice was originally one of the eight ways to transcend… certainly not a means to gain physical fitness.

  25. Hi, anonymous.

    I'm not sure who you're writing to anymore. Hopefully it's not me, because I never tried to tell you "what is or isn't Hinduism or Vedic culture." In fact, I explicitly bowed to your "scholarly" knowledge in those areas.

    Neither did I ever suggest that Patanjali was not a Hindu sage, only that he rebelled against Vedic customs. Are you talking about Dwight, then? He didn't say Patanjali was not a Hindu either. He said Patanjali should not be viewed as "simply a Hindu sage", a phrase which clearly acknowledges that he was a Hindu sage and more.

    I respectfully ask that you read our comments more carefully before responding. It's just not very helpful for you to vigorously defend against statements we never made!

    I have certainly read a lot of works by Indian authors as well as foreigners, so I don't think that's an issue with my comments.

    I like swati jr's answer the best so far. Yoga has a life of it's own as the wondrous reality of the universe, regardless of human definitions and regardless even of human existence! A pretty abstract concept, but almost certainly the highest and most infinite truth, for those who like to think that way. Not everyone's cup of tea, for sure. But it tastes delicious to me!

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  26. Hi, anonymous.

    I'm not sure who you're writing to anymore. Hopefully it's not me, because I never tried to tell you "what is or isn't Hinduism or Vedic culture." In fact, I explicitly bowed to your "scholarly" knowledge in those areas.

    Neither did I ever suggest that Patanjali was not a Hindu sage, only that he rebelled against Vedic customs. Are you talking about Dwight, then? He didn't say Patanjali was not a Hindu either. He said Patanjali should not be viewed as "simply a Hindu sage", a phrase which clearly acknowledges that he was a Hindu sage and more.

    I respectfully ask that you read our comments more carefully before responding. It's just not very helpful for you to vigorously defend against statements we never made!

    I have certainly read a lot of works by Indian authors as well as foreigners, so I don't think that's an issue with my comments.

    I like swati jr's answer the best so far. Yoga has a life of it's own as the wondrous reality of the universe, regardless of human definitions and regardless even of human existence! A pretty abstract concept, but almost certainly the highest and most infinite truth, for those who like to think that way. Not everyone's cup of tea, for sure. But it tastes delicious to me!

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  27. Hi, anonymous.

    I'm not sure who you're writing to anymore. Hopefully it's not me, because I never tried to tell you "what is or isn't Hinduism or Vedic culture." In fact, I explicitly bowed to your "scholarly" knowledge in those areas.

    Neither did I ever suggest that Patanjali was not a Hindu sage, only that he rebelled against Vedic customs. Are you talking about Dwight, then? He didn't say Patanjali was not a Hindu either. He said Patanjali should not be viewed as "simply a Hindu sage", a phrase which clearly acknowledges that he was a Hindu sage and more.

    I respectfully ask that you read our comments more carefully before responding. It's just not very helpful for you to vigorously defend against statements we never made!

    I have certainly read a lot of works by Indian authors as well as foreigners, so I don't think that's an issue with my comments.

    I like swati jr's answer the best so far. Yoga has a life of it's own as the wondrous reality of the universe, regardless of human definitions and regardless even of human existence! A pretty abstract concept, but almost certainly the highest and most infinite truth, for those who like to think that way. Not everyone's cup of tea, for sure. But it tastes delicious to me!

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  28. Hi, anonymous.

    I'm not sure who you're writing to anymore. Hopefully it's not me, because I never tried to tell you "what is or isn't Hinduism or Vedic culture." In fact, I explicitly bowed to your "scholarly" knowledge in those areas.

    Neither did I ever suggest that Patanjali was not a Hindu sage, only that he rebelled against Vedic customs. Are you talking about Dwight, then? He didn't say Patanjali was not a Hindu either. He said Patanjali should not be viewed as "simply a Hindu sage", a phrase which clearly acknowledges that he was a Hindu sage and more.

    I respectfully ask that you read our comments more carefully before responding. It's just not very helpful for you to vigorously defend against statements we never made!

    I have certainly read a lot of works by Indian authors as well as foreigners, so I don't think that's an issue with my comments.

    I like swati jr's answer the best so far. Yoga has a life of it's own as the wondrous reality of the universe, regardless of human definitions and regardless even of human existence! A pretty abstract concept, but almost certainly the highest and most infinite truth, for those who like to think that way. Not everyone's cup of tea, for sure. But it tastes delicious to me!

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  29. Music is a tough one…a lot of yoga studios, teachers and students love it…it does and can add something to our practice. That said, it's not strictly traditional, I don't think, and can give some classes an acrobatics flair that seems inappropriate to some.

    My advice—go back, since you've paid, leave a suggestion in the suggestion box, and breathe through any irritation! Then go to a new studio if, at the end of your paid month, it still doesn't feel like a good fit for you. Depending on where you are, I can probably give you some personal recommendations on where you might best enjoy practicing.

    Main thing: keep practicing, that's the hard part for me!

  30. I agree, but that's like saying Buddhism is 8000 years old because the "present moment" has been around forever. When folks casually claim that yoga is 5,000 years old, they/we need to know what we're basing that on. You can't just make up history.

  31. Right…not exclusively, but when we say the word yoga, most folks now think body/mind practice…a physical practice that has spiritual aspects of varying degree depending on where and how we practice. Buy that definition, seems to be 50 or 100 years old. Why, only 100 years ago, women weren't even allowed to practice yoga—now they're 80% of the demographic, according to Yoga Journal.

  32. elephantjournal.

    You write in a reply above, " When folks casually claim that yoga is 5,000 years old, they/we need to know what we're basing that on. You can't just make up history."

    I agree with you, except when people use the 5,000 years old number, I don't think they're doing it casually, but rather reflecting authoritative sources they've read.

    The logic for the 5,000 years is simply this. Patanjali and the early Upanishads were about 2400 years ago. But rather than marking the "advent of yoga" as you write in your original article above, scholars all agree that Patanjali was merely describing a wide range of practices called "Yoga" that had already been practiced for many years before.

    How many years is the hard part. Based on other strong but admittedly non-conclusive evidence, many scholars believe the meditative practices and spiritual beliefs in the Yoga Sutra began in an embryonic way as many as 2500 years earlier, hence the 5000 years. But there is no absolute proof of this.

    But we know for sure Yoga did not begin with Patanjali. The Buddha himself, who precedes Patanjali by 100-300 years, was a fully practicing Yogi himself before kind of starting his own little movement.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  33. elephantjournal.

    You write in a reply above, " When folks casually claim that yoga is 5,000 years old, they/we need to know what we're basing that on. You can't just make up history."

    I agree with you, except when people use the 5,000 years old number, I don't think they're doing it casually, but rather reflecting authoritative sources they've read.

    The logic for the 5,000 years is simply this. Patanjali and the early Upanishads were about 2400 years ago. But rather than marking the "advent of yoga" as you write in your original article above, scholars all agree that Patanjali was merely describing a wide range of practices called "Yoga" that had already been practiced for many years before.

    How many years is the hard part. Based on other strong but admittedly non-conclusive evidence, many scholars believe the meditative practices and spiritual beliefs in the Yoga Sutra began in an embryonic way as many as 2500 years earlier, hence the 5000 years. But there is no absolute proof of this.

    But we know for sure Yoga did not begin with Patanjali. The Buddha himself, who precedes Patanjali by 100-300 years, was a fully practicing Yogi himself before kind of starting his own little movement.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  34. elephantjournal.

    You write in a reply above, " When folks casually claim that yoga is 5,000 years old, they/we need to know what we're basing that on. You can't just make up history."

    I agree with you, except when people use the 5,000 years old number, I don't think they're doing it casually, but rather reflecting authoritative sources they've read.

    The logic for the 5,000 years is simply this. Patanjali and the early Upanishads were about 2400 years ago. But rather than marking the "advent of yoga" as you write in your original article above, scholars all agree that Patanjali was merely describing a wide range of practices called "Yoga" that had already been practiced for many years before.

    How many years is the hard part. Based on other strong but admittedly non-conclusive evidence, many scholars believe the meditative practices and spiritual beliefs in the Yoga Sutra began in an embryonic way as many as 2500 years earlier, hence the 5000 years. But there is no absolute proof of this.

    But we know for sure Yoga did not begin with Patanjali. The Buddha himself, who precedes Patanjali by 100-300 years, was a fully practicing Yogi himself before kind of starting his own little movement.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  35. elephantjournal.

    You write in a reply above, " When folks casually claim that yoga is 5,000 years old, they/we need to know what we're basing that on. You can't just make up history."

    I agree with you, except when people use the 5,000 years old number, I don't think they're doing it casually, but rather reflecting authoritative sources they've read.

    The logic for the 5,000 years is simply this. Patanjali and the early Upanishads were about 2400 years ago. But rather than marking the "advent of yoga" as you write in your original article above, scholars all agree that Patanjali was merely describing a wide range of practices called "Yoga" that had already been practiced for many years before.

    How many years is the hard part. Based on other strong but admittedly non-conclusive evidence, many scholars believe the meditative practices and spiritual beliefs in the Yoga Sutra began in an embryonic way as many as 2500 years earlier, hence the 5000 years. But there is no absolute proof of this.

    But we know for sure Yoga did not begin with Patanjali. The Buddha himself, who precedes Patanjali by 100-300 years, was a fully practicing Yogi himself before kind of starting his own little movement.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  36. elephantjournal.

    You write in a reply above, " When folks casually claim that yoga is 5,000 years old, they/we need to know what we're basing that on. You can't just make up history."

    I agree with you, except when people use the 5,000 years old number, I don't think they're doing it casually, but rather reflecting authoritative sources they've read.

    The logic for the 5,000 years is simply this. Patanjali and the early Upanishads were about 2400 years ago. But rather than marking the "advent of yoga" as you write in your original article above, scholars all agree that Patanjali was merely describing a wide range of practices called "Yoga" that had already been practiced for many years before.

    How many years is the hard part. Based on other strong but admittedly non-conclusive evidence, many scholars believe the meditative practices and spiritual beliefs in the Yoga Sutra began in an embryonic way as many as 2500 years earlier, hence the 5000 years. But there is no absolute proof of this.

    But we know for sure Yoga did not begin with Patanjali. The Buddha himself, who precedes Patanjali by 100-300 years, was a fully practicing Yogi himself before kind of starting his own little movement.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  37. elephantjournal.

    You write in a reply above, " When folks casually claim that yoga is 5,000 years old, they/we need to know what we're basing that on. You can't just make up history."

    I agree with you, except when people use the 5,000 years old number, I don't think they're doing it casually, but rather reflecting authoritative sources they've read.

    The logic for the 5,000 years is simply this. Patanjali and the early Upanishads were about 2400 years ago. But rather than marking the "advent of yoga" as you write in your original article above, scholars all agree that Patanjali was merely describing a wide range of practices called "Yoga" that had already been practiced for many years before.

    How many years is the hard part. Based on other strong but admittedly non-conclusive evidence, many scholars believe the meditative practices and spiritual beliefs in the Yoga Sutra began in an embryonic way as many as 2500 years earlier, hence the 5000 years. But there is no absolute proof of this.

    But we know for sure Yoga did not begin with Patanjali. The Buddha himself, who precedes Patanjali by 100-300 years, was a fully practicing Yogi himself before kind of starting his own little movement.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  38. It's still correct to say that "modern asana-dominated Yoga as practiced today in the West" is only 50-100 years old, depending on how narrowly you define it.

    But as another commentator wrote earlier, this could have been said about any period in the progression of Yoga history, the period of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, for example, or the time when before that when Yoga was strongly influenced by Buddhist meditation practices. Everything new is 50-100 years old at some point.

    I don't think the fact that it's a relatively new phenomenon or even that it's happening in the West means that it shouldn't be linked to the rest of Yoga history. Plus it's not the only thing going on. The practice of Yoga in the West is incredibly varied, ranging from exercise classes to traditional ashrams.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  39. It's still correct to say that "modern asana-dominated Yoga as practiced today in the West" is only 50-100 years old, depending on how narrowly you define it.

    But as another commentator wrote earlier, this could have been said about any period in the progression of Yoga history, the period of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, for example, or the time when before that when Yoga was strongly influenced by Buddhist meditation practices. Everything new is 50-100 years old at some point.

    I don't think the fact that it's a relatively new phenomenon or even that it's happening in the West means that it shouldn't be linked to the rest of Yoga history. Plus it's not the only thing going on. The practice of Yoga in the West is incredibly varied, ranging from exercise classes to traditional ashrams.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  40. It's still correct to say that "modern asana-dominated Yoga as practiced today in the West" is only 50-100 years old, depending on how narrowly you define it.

    But as another commentator wrote earlier, this could have been said about any period in the progression of Yoga history, the period of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, for example, or the time when before that when Yoga was strongly influenced by Buddhist meditation practices. Everything new is 50-100 years old at some point.

    I don't think the fact that it's a relatively new phenomenon or even that it's happening in the West means that it shouldn't be linked to the rest of Yoga history. Plus it's not the only thing going on. The practice of Yoga in the West is incredibly varied, ranging from exercise classes to traditional ashrams.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  41. It's still correct to say that "modern asana-dominated Yoga as practiced today in the West" is only 50-100 years old, depending on how narrowly you define it.

    But as another commentator wrote earlier, this could have been said about any period in the progression of Yoga history, the period of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, for example, or the time when before that when Yoga was strongly influenced by Buddhist meditation practices. Everything new is 50-100 years old at some point.

    I don't think the fact that it's a relatively new phenomenon or even that it's happening in the West means that it shouldn't be linked to the rest of Yoga history. Plus it's not the only thing going on. The practice of Yoga in the West is incredibly varied, ranging from exercise classes to traditional ashrams.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  42. Yoga Network says:

    The ancient doctrines of Yoga have, through time gone through some highly questionable etymological processes and often appear as nothing more than Dogma, or academic relics that have since been exploited by a vast array of "common interest" organisations that set out to serve the widest possible range of approaches from religious fundamentalism to the faddish and even what might be considered culturally offensive.

    http://yoga-eu.net/opensource/view/YogaMe/English

  43. Thanks for the info–you know much more about me on this, which is why I love the web 2.0 aspect of blogging–comments can inform and be more interesting that the original articles, unlike as in print, which is more one-way.

    I know more about the Buddha than I do the history of yoga, however we define "yoga." And I therefore well know that the Buddha himself was a hardcore yogi…that said, the ascetic practices he excelled at were nothing like what we would now recognize as yoga. They involved things like eating one grain of rice a day…they were all pointed directly toward attainment. After seven years, was it, he realized that all his attainments were worthless…he was still unhappy, confused. And so he gave up, and, sitting below the Bodhi tree…as they say, the rest is history.

    My basic point in the article above is that we American yoga practitioners DO say "yoga is 5,000 years old" casually and frequently, and most of us, unlike yourself but like myself, don't know what we're talking about. So, inspired by my friend Nick Rosen of Enlighten Up!, who told me a year ago at the Trident cafe about his talks with BKS Iyengar and others, I now view yoga, as commonly understood in the US today, to be about 50 years old.

    On the other hand, yes, its roots are ancient. But roots are not the tree.

  44. Thanks, Waylon. I agree with most of your original article, in case anyone has a different impression.

    Once one is forced to define how the word "Yoga" is being used, then the conversation can make sense. One is forced to say "banana" for "banana", instead of saying "fruit" and expecting everyone to assume "banana".

    Your original article and videos brought this into clear relief, and that's why we've had such a great discussion. Most of what I've written have been clarifications of one sort or another, not disagreement with your main point–that "yoga as commonly understood in the US, today" is pretty new, and certainly not 5,000 years old.

    (There might be a much larger percentage than you are aware who still study and practice the meditative and spiritual path of the Yoga Sutra, etc., but it's certainly small compared to the number practicing primarily physical Yoga.)

    Thanks for kicking off a great discussion.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  45. Thanks, Waylon. I agree with most of your original article, in case anyone has a different impression.

    Once one is forced to define how the word "Yoga" is being used, then the conversation can make sense. One is forced to say "banana" for "banana", instead of saying "fruit" and expecting everyone to assume "banana".

    Your original article and videos brought this into clear relief, and that's why we've had such a great discussion. Most of what I've written have been clarifications of one sort or another, not disagreement with your main point–that "yoga as commonly understood in the US, today" is pretty new, and certainly not 5,000 years old.

    (There might be a much larger percentage than you are aware who still study and practice the meditative and spiritual path of the Yoga Sutra, etc., but it's certainly small compared to the number practicing primarily physical Yoga.)

    Thanks for kicking off a great discussion.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  46. Thanks, Waylon. I agree with most of your original article, in case anyone has a different impression.

    Once one is forced to define how the word "Yoga" is being used, then the conversation can make sense. One is forced to say "banana" for "banana", instead of saying "fruit" and expecting everyone to assume "banana".

    Your original article and videos brought this into clear relief, and that's why we've had such a great discussion. Most of what I've written have been clarifications of one sort or another, not disagreement with your main point–that "yoga as commonly understood in the US, today" is pretty new, and certainly not 5,000 years old.

    (There might be a much larger percentage than you are aware who still study and practice the meditative and spiritual path of the Yoga Sutra, etc., but it's certainly small compared to the number practicing primarily physical Yoga.)

    Thanks for kicking off a great discussion.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  47. Thanks, Waylon. I agree with most of your original article, in case anyone has a different impression.

    Once one is forced to define how the word "Yoga" is being used, then the conversation can make sense. One is forced to say "banana" for "banana", instead of saying "fruit" and expecting everyone to assume "banana".

    Your original article and videos brought this into clear relief, and that's why we've had such a great discussion. Most of what I've written have been clarifications of one sort or another, not disagreement with your main point–that "yoga as commonly understood in the US, today" is pretty new, and certainly not 5,000 years old.

    (There might be a much larger percentage than you are aware who still study and practice the meditative and spiritual path of the Yoga Sutra, etc., but it's certainly small compared to the number practicing primarily physical Yoga.)

    Thanks for kicking off a great discussion.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  48. [...] the yoga class we did toppling tree and birds of paradise, now two of my favorite poses. Both toppling tree and birds of paradise are bound balancing poses, and both remind me to maintain [...]

  49. Yoga is quite old. It's been said that Fred and Wilma Flintstone practiced asana just before the car hop put those ribs on their car that caused them to tip over. They came through it without severe injuries, thank goodness. Had they adopted a more yogic, plant based diet, it would've helped, to be sure, but more injuries would have been sustained had they not been so relaxed from their practice and meditation.

  50. JamesPMorrison.Thanks for filling us in on that little know bit of Flintstone's history.

    That's probably the first known instance of human Yoga. We know, of course, from "Babar's Yoga for Elephants" that Yoga was originally developed by elephants in prehistoric times, and only adopted by humans much later, probably by the Flintstones, who probably picked it up by seeing the same elephant Yoga cave drawings that Babar references.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

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