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During the period between the Mauryan and the Gupta eras (c. 200 BCE–500 CE) the Indic traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism were taking form and coherent systems of yoga began to emerge.[49] This period witnessed many new texts from these traditions discussing and systematically compiling yoga methods and practices. Some key works of this era include the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, the Yoga-Yājñavalkya, the Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra and the Visuddhimagga.
Malaysia's top Islamic body in 2008 passed a fatwa, prohibiting Muslims from practicing yoga, saying it had elements of Hinduism and that its practice was blasphemy, therefore haraam.[298] Some Muslims in Malaysia who had been practicing yoga for years, criticized the decision as "insulting."[299] Sisters in Islam, a women's rights group in Malaysia, also expressed disappointment and said yoga was just a form of exercise.[300] This fatwa is legally enforceable.[301] However, Malaysia's prime minister clarified that yoga as physical exercise is permissible, but the chanting of religious mantras is prohibited.[302]
Malaysia's top Islamic body in 2008 passed a fatwa, prohibiting Muslims from practicing yoga, saying it had elements of Hinduism and that its practice was blasphemy, therefore haraam.[298] Some Muslims in Malaysia who had been practicing yoga for years, criticized the decision as "insulting."[299] Sisters in Islam, a women's rights group in Malaysia, also expressed disappointment and said yoga was just a form of exercise.[300] This fatwa is legally enforceable.[301] However, Malaysia's prime minister clarified that yoga as physical exercise is permissible, but the chanting of religious mantras is prohibited.[302]

Theosophists including Madame Blavatsky also had a large influence on the Western public's view of Yoga.[210] Esoteric views current at the end of the 19th century provided a further basis for the reception of Vedanta and of Yoga with its theory and practice of correspondence between the spiritual and the physical.[211] The reception of Yoga and of Vedanta thus entwined with each other and with the (mostly Neoplatonism-based) currents of religious and philosophical reform and transformation throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Mircea Eliade brought a new element into the reception of Yoga with the strong emphasis on Tantric Yoga in his seminal book: Yoga: Immortality and Freedom.[212] With the introduction of the Tantra traditions and philosophy of Yoga, the conception of the "transcendent" to be attained by Yogic practice shifted from experiencing the "transcendent" ("Atman-Brahman" in Advaitic theory) in the mind to the body itself.[213]


Alexander Wynne observes that formless meditation and elemental meditation might have originated in the Upanishadic tradition.[93] The earliest reference to meditation is in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, one of the oldest Upanishads.[67] Chandogya Upanishad describes the five kinds of vital energies (prana). Concepts used later in many yoga traditions such as internal sound and veins (nadis) are also described in the Upanishad.[59] Taittiriya Upanishad defines yoga as the mastery of body and senses.[94]
During the Gupta period (4th to 5th centuries), a movement of northern Mahāyāna Buddhism termed Yogācāra began to be systematized with the writings of the Buddhist scholars Asanga and Vasubandhu. Yogācāra Buddhism received the name as it provided a "yoga," a systematic framework for engaging in the practices that lead through the path of the bodhisattva towards awakening and full Buddhahood.[169] Its teachings can be found in the comprehensive and encyclopedic work, the Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra (Treatise on the Foundation for Yoga Practitioners), which was also translated into Tibetan and Chinese and thus exerted a profound influence on the East Asian Buddhist and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.[170] According to Mallinson and Singleton, the study of Yogācāra Buddhism is essential for the understanding of yoga's early history, and its teachings influenced the text of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra.[171]
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a technique for entering into other bodies, generating multiple bodies, and the attainment of other supernatural accomplishments; these are, states White, described in Tantric literature of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the Buddhist Sāmaññaphalasutta;[41] James Mallinson, however, disagrees and suggests that such fringe practices are far removed from the mainstream Yoga's goal as meditation-driven means to liberation in Indian religions.[42]
The Bhakti movement was a development in medieval Hinduism which advocated the concept of a personal God (or "Supreme Personality of Godhead"). The movement was initiated by the Alvars of South India in the 6th to 9th centuries, and it started gaining influence throughout India by the 12th to 15th centuries.[178] Shaiva and Vaishnava bhakti traditions integrated aspects of Yoga Sutras, such as the practical meditative exercises, with devotion.[179] Bhagavata Purana elucidates the practice of a form of yoga called viraha (separation) bhakti. Viraha bhakti emphasizes one pointed concentration on Krishna.[180]
Ascetic practices (tapas), concentration and bodily postures used by Vedic priests to conduct yajna (sacrifice), might have been precursors to yoga.[note 9] Vratya, a group of ascetics mentioned in the Atharvaveda, emphasized on bodily postures which may have evolved into yogic asanas.[59] Early Samhitas also contain references to other group ascetics such as munis, the keśin, and vratyas.[67] Techniques for controlling breath and vital energies are mentioned in the Brahmanas (texts of the Vedic corpus, c. 1000–800 BCE) and the Atharvaveda.[59][72] Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda suggests the presence of an early contemplative tradition.[note 10]

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During the Gupta period (4th to 5th centuries), a movement of northern Mahāyāna Buddhism termed Yogācāra began to be systematized with the writings of the Buddhist scholars Asanga and Vasubandhu. Yogācāra Buddhism received the name as it provided a "yoga," a systematic framework for engaging in the practices that lead through the path of the bodhisattva towards awakening and full Buddhahood.[169] Its teachings can be found in the comprehensive and encyclopedic work, the Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra (Treatise on the Foundation for Yoga Practitioners), which was also translated into Tibetan and Chinese and thus exerted a profound influence on the East Asian Buddhist and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.[170] According to Mallinson and Singleton, the study of Yogācāra Buddhism is essential for the understanding of yoga's early history, and its teachings influenced the text of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra.[171]

"...[T]here is the cultivation of meditative and contemplative techniques aimed at producing what might, for the lack of a suitable technical term in English, be referred to as 'altered states of consciousness'. In the technical vocabulary of Indian religious texts such states come to be termed 'meditations' ([Skt.:] dhyāna / [Pali:] jhāna) or 'concentrations' (samādhi); the attainment of such states of consciousness was generally regarded as bringing the practitioner to deeper knowledge and experience of the nature of the world." (Gethin, 1998, p. 10.)


Yoga is discussed in the ancient foundational Sutras of Hindu philosophy. The Vaiśeṣika Sūtra of the Vaisheshika school of Hinduism, dated to have been composed sometime between 6th and 2nd century BCE discusses Yoga.[note 14] According to Johannes Bronkhorst, an Indologist known for his studies on early Buddhism and Hinduism and a professor at the University of Lausanne, Vaiśeṣika Sūtra describes Yoga as "a state where the mind resides only in the soul and therefore not in the senses".[120] This is equivalent to pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses, and the ancient Sutra asserts that this leads to an absence of sukha (happiness) and dukkha (suffering), then describes additional yogic meditation steps in the journey towards the state of spiritual liberation.[120]


There is no consensus on its chronology or specific origin other than that yoga developed in ancient India. Suggested origins are the Indus Valley Civilization (3300–1900 BCE)[44] and pre-Vedic Eastern states of India,[45] the Vedic period (1500–500 BCE), and the śramaṇa movement.[46] According to Gavin Flood, continuities may exist between those various traditions:
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