top of page
Illustration of an old, majestic tree with rough bark, horizontal and drooping branches, adorned with large pink blossoms.

How Old Is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient practice with its roots dating back thousands of years. While the exact age of Yoga is difficult to determine, references to yogic principles and practices can be found in ancient Indian texts such as the Rigveda, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. The foundational text of Yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was written down between 200 BC and 400 AD.

 

Earliest Written Reference to Yoga

The earliest references to Yoga can be found in three ancient Indian texts:

 

  • The Rigveda, a collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns dating back to 1700 -1100 BC, which is considered the oldest of the four sacred canonical texts of Hinduism.

  • The Upanishads were composed between 800 and 400 BC and are considered a part of the Vedas. However, they were written during the post-Vedic period and are characterized by their religious and philosophical content. These texts mention energy channels known as "nadis" and discuss the significance of controlling the life-force through practices like "pranayama," marking the first instances of such concepts being explored.

  • The Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture written between 400 BC and 200 AD, forms part of the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata and addresses profound philosophical and ethical themes.

However, none of these texts offer a comprehensive or systematic elaboration on the philosophy or practices of Yoga.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The first practical guide to Yoga is attributed to Patanjali, a highly revered Indian sage who likely lived around 1400 BC (footnote 1). Patanjali's work, The Yoga Sutras, offers a practical system for attaining the highest goal in Yoga: Samadhi, a state of clarity, stillness, bliss, pure consciousness, and oneness.

 

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali consists of 196 sutras and were most likely written down between  200 BC - 400 AD.

In this text, asanas, or physical postures commonly associated with Yoga in the West, are just one of the eight limbs of yoga. The other limbs include ethical principles (Yama and Niyama), control of the life-force energy (Pranayama) for accessing the healing properties of prana energy, sense withdrawal (Pratyahara), concentration on a single object such as a mantra (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana), and the state of ultimate bliss, joy, and love (Samadhi).

Yoga May be Much, Much Older -- AdiYogi

According to Hindu mythology, Adiyogi (meaning "first" or "beginning" in Sanskrit) is revered as the first Yogi and the originator of Yoga. In the teachings of Sadhguru, a modern yogic and mystic, it is believed that Adiyogi transmitted the knowledge of Yoga to a legendary group of seven sages known as the Saptarishis over 15,000 years ago. This profound transmission is said to have taken place on the banks of Kanti Sarovar, a sacred lake located near Mount Kailash. Mount Kailash holds immense spiritual significance in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Bon traditions. It is considered a holy site, attracting pilgrims seeking spiritual experiences and enlightenment.

Footnote 1: Swami Tattwaamayananda. (2019). Controlling Vritiis with One Vritti [Audio podcast episode]. In Yoga Sutras and the World of the Human Mind. Spotify.
Patanjali
bottom of page