Debating the Origins of Yoga
The origins and historical development of yoga practices have long been topics of debate in academic and yoga circles. In the blog post "Origins of Yoga: Part I" by Amara Miller, several commonly cited myths about the roots of modern yoga are critically examined.
One prominent myth that Miller seeks to address is the idea that yoga is a unified, 5,000 year old practice that originated in ancient India. While yoga elements like asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), and meditation have Indian philosophical foundations, Miller argues the contemporary forms of yoga popular in the West have more proximate historical influences. She cites the work of scholar Singleton, who detailed how gymnastics routines in European physical culture movements of the late 19th century impacted pioneers like Krishnamacharya as they introduced yoga to India under British rule.
Miller also discusses claims that yoga may have started as far back as 40,000 BCE in ancient Egypt, known as "Kemetic yoga." However, she points out there is no definitive textual or archaeological evidence linking specific spiritual/physical practices in Egypt to the lineages of yoga. While similarities exist across human traditions of movement, energy work, and contemplation, equating them is anachronistic without direct historical transmission being established.
The blog acknowledges Kemetic yoga narratives appealed to some in addressing yoga's dominance by whites in Western settings. However, perpetuating origins myths without scholarly rigor risks appropriating ancient traditions for contemporary political purposes rather than illuminating authentic cultural diffusion and evolution over time.
Overall, Miller's analysis stresses how yoga has changed drastically in recent centuries. Any direct historical lineage claimed thousands of years back lacks verification. While open to possibilities of cross-cultural influence, stronger evidence is needed before conclusions can be definitively drawn about interconnections between discrete traditions separated by vast eras. Further excavating yoga's philosophical roots and physical forms across space and time merits continued open-minded research.