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History of Yoga in America

For my heritage project topic, I have chosen to analyze and explain the practice of yoga in America. Based on the google definition, “yoga is a Hindu spiritual and aesthetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation”. Yoga has become a very important and popular thing to do in my generation. I have been watching my mom teach yoga for the past 10 years. It has been neat to witness many people’s lives she has changed and inspired from her teaching of yoga. I love how yoga is versatile to so many people across America.

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Yoga was believed to have been first introduced in America in the 1800s. In 1893, Swami Vivekananda, made a presentation in Chicago at the World Parliament of Religions about the concept of body, spirit, and mind. This shows how open people in Chicago were to the practice of yoga at Swamis’ presentation. This also shows the open-minded perspective Americans had to have had at this time in order for yoga to be accepted. At the World Parliament of Religions conference, Swami said, “Within each of you there is the power to remove all wants and miseries. Believe in this, and that power will be manifested.” I love this quote. I think it is inspirational and very helpful to one’s happiness and internal peace. This quote can still be applicable to life today in America, implying how each person has the power to choose their own happiness. It is fascinating how the practice of yoga also entails inspirational life lessons. At the conference, Swami also said, “In America it is the place, the people, the opportunity for everything new.” Swami, coming from India, saw America as an outlet to develop the practice of yoga. Swami saw the importance of yoga and wanted Americans to experience it. He had no doubt that yoga would be accepted in America.

Later, in 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda came to America to address a conference of religious liberals in Boston. He had been sent to spread the message of Kriya Yoga within the West. Thousands of Americans would come to his lectures. This shows the curiosity Americans possessed during this time for the practice of yoga. The Self-Realization Fellowship article explains how, “This beloved world teacher came to America in 1920 from his native India, and was the first great master of yoga to live and teach in the West for an extended period (more than 30 years). He is now widely recognized as the Father of Yoga in the West.” It is clear that Yogananda had a huge influence on the integration of yoga in America. It seems that many Americans listened to him and were heavily influenced by him. According to the Ananda website, “Kriya Yoga is an ancient meditation technique of energy and breath control, or pranayama. It is also a comprehensive spiritual path, which includes additional meditation practices and right living. According to Yogananda, Kriya is the most effective technique available to mankind today for reaching the goal of Yoga: union with the Divine.” The article then continues to note how Kriya Yoga initiations are most often given in the United States today. I think it is wondrous how Kriya Yoga serves as a form of therapy, exercise, and gratification.

Another influencer that helped with the acceptance of yoga in America was Theos Bernard. Theos returned from India in 1947, publishing the book, Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience. This book became a major source for yoga in the 1950s and is still used often in America. Pattabhi Jois also influenced the spread of yoga in America. In 1975, he made his first visit to the United States, increasing the rise of Ashtanga-Vinyasa Yoga. The article, the Founding Fathers of Ashtanga Yoga, explains how, “Pattabhi was accompanied on this journey by his son Manju Jois, who decided to stay in America to spread the traditional technique of Ashtanga-Vinyasa Yoga there.” The article continues by saying, “Ashtanga Yoga continues to gain increasing popularity all over the world.” All of these people had huge influences on how quickly yoga spread throughout America. These people are examples of how far having a passion for something and being committed to it can take you. Pattabhi Jois, Manju Jois, Theos Bernard and many others were inspiring people and helped shape what yoga is today for America.

Yoga became an aesthetically pleasing and popular hobby for woman in Hollywood due to Indra Devi’s influence. From the Yoga Journal it explains how Devi, “Living in Hollywood, she became known as the ‘First Lady of Yoga,’ attracting celebrity students like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Arden, Greta Garbo, and Gloria Swanson. Thanks to Devi, yoga enjoyed its first international vogue.” I am so thankful for the boldness Indra Devi had in introducing yoga to Hollywood. Being known as the “First Lady of Yoga” is an inspiration and shows how instrumental Devi was to yoga in America, for woman especially. By the ’70s it was very popular to find yoga and various spiritual teachings all around America. Specifically, in areas near Santa Cruz, California. California is still recognized as a very popular state for demonstrating the practice of yoga.

There are many different types of yoga. From the article, Ten of the Most Common Types of Yoga, it explains how, “Learning yoga isn’t just about breathing techniques and poses. It also involves familiarizing yourself with a great deal of vocabulary and gaining an understanding of the variations in styles of yoga.” Reading this changed my view of yoga. I realized I need to be more knowledgeable of this practice that I claim to love. The article then gives ten of the most popular types of yoga when it says, “Hatha yoga is perhaps the most beginner-friendly style of yoga and has become one of the most popular types of yoga. Vinyasa flow is a popular type of yoga that incorporates more movement than Hatha and will test your body’s endurance. Ashtanga yoga is a physically demanding, eight-part practice and is better for more experienced yogis, as it requires stamina and synchronizing your breathing with a continuous series of postures. Bikram yogis practice this style in a sauna-like room. It’s also a great style of yoga for beginners, as each session is made up of the same 90-minute sequence of 26 poses. Another type of yoga that is great for perfectionists is Iyengar yoga which revolves around precision. For those wishing to explore the more spiritual side of yoga, Kundalini yoga is another option. Yin yoga works the connective tissues around your joints, allowing for a therapeutic practice. It encourages relaxation while also challenging you to be patient. Viniyoga meets you right where you’re at and allows you to achieve your yoga goals at your own pace. Another option for novices is Anusara, which emphasizes uplifting the spirit. The purpose of Anusara is to open up your heart to connect with the divine in others around you. The philosophy of Sivananda yoga, a form of Hatha yoga, can be summarized by five principles: proper exercise (Asana), proper eating, proper relaxation (Savasana), proper breathing (Pranayama), and positive thinking and meditation.” After learning about the ten most popular forms of yoga, I feel motivated to explore each one. There is an abundance to this practice with multiple different forms of it. There is a remarkable amount of freedom within yoga which entails zero pressure. Once you discover the type of yoga that is best for your body, your intentions, and your mentality, your yoga journey can begin. Personally, I think yoga can benefit every person. Yoga is not as intimidating as it can sometimes be perceived to be.

Another common misconception about yoga is that it stems from the religion of Hinduism. The reality is that the practice of yoga was around before Hinduism. Both Hinduism, Buddhism, and other world religions integrated some of the practices of yoga. Another fallacy of yoga is that some people think yoga is becoming too mainstream in America and might be losing its true purpose and intention. While this may be true for some yogis, the overall use of yoga in America is still authentic and legitimate.

I find it ironic that yoga has been referenced as a way to cope with Donald Trump’s presidency. From USA Today, the article, Since election, yoga rises off the mat to take on Donald Trump, says, “President Trump’s election and the political cacophony that followed are driving waves of people to yoga and meditation, seeking a respite from the roller-coaster ride but also trying to recharge and build energy for a political pushback.” This shows irony in America that our president is causing an increase in the practice of yoga. It is interesting how even yoga can be connected to politics.

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Overall, yoga is a suggested way to cope with stress, anxiety, and other issues human’s internally struggle with. I think yoga is a great source for people who are very busy and need to slow down, like Americans. Americans are known to be fast paced people who are on the go. This shows a possibility of how yoga could have become so popular in America. I have also discovered that many people use yoga for self-improvement. It’s riveting how many ways yoga has made an impact on America. Ranging from being a trendy activity, to benefiting your body and mind, yoga is a well-rounded hobby that has left a mark on American history.



  • West, Kylie. (2017) Ten of The Most Common Types of Yoga,


  • (No author provided). (Bibliography). Self-Realization Fellowship. pp, 7.


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