The Mystical History of Yoga

Yoga is a practice that spans the entire spectrum of human experience. Its mystical origins, classical systematisation and post-classical emphasis on spiritual liberation have created the multifaceted wellness phenomenon we know as yoga today.

The 19th century saw yoga grow from obscurity to popularity in India, before Swami Vivekananda introduced it to the West. He even addressed the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893.


The history of yoga dates back thousands of years, even before organized religions or belief systems. Its ancient texts describe how to join mind, body and soul in a quest for enlightenment and self-realisation.

Early yogic practices focused on breathing exercises and meditation, and aimed to bring body and mind into harmony with the universe. The earliest known mention of yoga is in the Hindu texts called the Rig Veda.

In the 1900s, Swami Vivekananda popularized yoga in America, focusing on jnana yoga, which involves deep meditation. In India, Krishnamacharya ran a yoga school at the palace of Maharajah Krishna Wodeyar in Mysore. His students K Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar developed the vigorous Ashtanga system of yoga, which is still practised today. They also incorporated Scandinavian gymnastic movement into their regime.


In modern times, yoga has become a popular fitness practice in the West. While it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact inventor of modern-day yoga, many influential yogis have contributed to its evolution.

Early Sanskrit texts, such as the Vedas and Upanishads, discuss the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga, while other Indian philosophies also developed teachings on yoga, such as Tantric Hinduism and Jain yoga.

In the 19th century, a religious teacher named Swami Vivekananda was instrumental in bringing yoga to America, where he promoted yogic religion. He helped to establish Hinduism as a respectable area of interest for Americans, and taught yoga at the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He is credited with introducing the Western world to yoga’s meditative side.


The word yoga is most likely derived from the root of the word “to join or combine.” It also suggests “steady and focused attention.” This idea can be applied to any activity. However, yogic philosophy takes it a step further.

It teaches that everything, including humans and plants, has a soul. And that soul is eternal, wise and blissful.

One of the most well-known teachings is that we are all interconnected and therefore one must treat others with compassion, kindness and respect. This is a basic tenet of Hinduism and can be found in the Bhagavad Gita.


Yoga is now a $10 billion industry with many followers, but not everyone is aware of its rich and varied history. The discipline’s ancient roots have given it a spiritual dimension that is often missed by those seeking physical development alone.

The word “yoga” comes from two Sanskrit roots, yuj and yog, meaning ‘union’ or ‘connection.’ It was first mentioned in the Vedas, a set of ancient sacred texts. The earliest one is the Rig Veda, followed by the Upanishads, which include Hindu, Jain and Buddhist teachings. People relied on ‘rishis’ to instruct them in the practices and beliefs of the Vedas.

In the 19th century Indian yoga masters started to travel abroad and spread the spiritual teachings of yoga. Swami Vivekananda introduced yoga to America at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, and later Paramahansa Yogananda toured the world delivering lectures about yoga as a path to self-realization.


The history of yoga is a complex one that can be traced back over 5,000 years. The earliest writings on yoga were transcribed on fragile palm leaves that could be easily damaged, destroyed or lost.

These early Sanskrit texts, like the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, discussed yoga practices that connected the body to the spirit. They also taught that yogis should live lives of selflessness, teaching yogis to do their duty without expecting anything in return.

Over time, yoga would continue to evolve and adapt to different cultures around the world. Today, yoga has branched out into many forms and is used as a form of exercise, meditation, philosophy and spirituality. The goal of yoga is still to merge the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness.