How old is yoga? 50 or 5,000?

Waylon Lewis of Elephant Journal muses:

How Old is Yoga?

by Waylon Lewis, 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.

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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 2,500 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.



6 responses to “How old is yoga? 50 or 5,000?

  1. Thanks for posting this article! Obviously there are a lot of misinformed ideas about what yoga “really” is – and a lot of anxiety over maintaining the “authenticity” of the practice. For anyone who is interested, and for anyone who wants to seriously engage with this practice, there are several fantastic books available that delve into the history of yoga and how it has been purposefully reformulated within the context of British colonialism and imperialism since the 1850s. Must reads. They end all speculation. I’d be interested in hearing what you think after reading them.

    A History of Modern Yoga, Elizaebth De Michelis
    Yoga in Modern India: The Body Between Science and Philosophy, Jospeh S. Alter

  2. well, it so happens that yoga IS mentioned in the Rigveda. the article of elephant journal was written assuming that wikipedia is good enough authority of “yoga in Rigveda”! well, wikipedia doesn’t give the entire yoga and is not the end of an argument, it may act as a guide to further sources. and a better wiki link is

    the word occurs in the following Rigveda verses:
    1.5.3, 1.18.7, 4.24.4, 10.166.5 (2 more times in different meaning)

    the prANAyAma and Asana part are clearly mentioned in chapter 2 of shvetAshvatara-upaniShad, which is part of kRiShNa yajurveda.

    what is difficult to understand is why do people who disclaim that they don’t know much on the topic, want to throw doubts and aspersions only. what is the motive of this? lack of hashish?

  3. The question which pops up in my head is, what difference does it make if it is 5000 years old or 50, I would think that getting to know the long term side effects, which are loud & clear should be the objective of knowing about its past, whether JC preached it or Patanjali, whether its Indian or American, why should it matter, till its beneficial to you when you practice it, its purpose is served.
    I am not a history student, so dont know if that can make a difference otherwise.

  4. Great post about yoga! Thanks once again. Recently i done a research on yoga, say how old is yoga? Regards,

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