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Timeline of Yoga Therapy

Early Influencers in the West

In 1893, Swami Vivekananda introduced yoga to America through his speech at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Notably, Vivekananda began his famous address with gratitude and the words “Sisters and Brothers of America” (Vivekananda, 1893, n.d.). Influenced by his teacher, Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda emphasized Raja Yoga and spiritual teachings over physical postures. Raja Yoga primarily focuses on meditation, concentration, and ethical principles as key practices to attain a state of inner peace, self-awareness, and connection with the divine. Vivekananda founded the Vedanta Society in San Francisco in 1900 (Hammond, 2007).

Traveling from Mumbai, India where in 1918 he founded The Yoga Institute, the oldest organized yoga center in the world, Shri Yogendra Ji came to America. He made his mark in 1919 by founding The Yoga Institute of America in Bear Mountain, New York, contributing to the early education of yoga principles in the United States. Shri Yogendra's teaching approach emphasized the practical aspects of yoga that could be integrated into daily life. He adapted traditional yoga practices to suit modern lifestyles and promoted yoga as a means to attain physical health, mental clarity, and emotional balance (The Yoga Institute, 2022). 

Paramahansa Yogananda played a pivotal role in 1920 when he introduced Kriya Yoga at a religious conference in Boston. He went on to establish the Self-Realization Fellowship, in Los Angeles, California with now over half a dozen temples in the United States. Kriya Yoga is a form of Raja Yoga that emphasizes meditation, breath control, and inner spiritual awakening. It focuses on the practice of meditation to attain self-realization and communion with the Divine (Hammond, 2007).

In the 1930s Krishnamacharya taught lectures and demonstrations of Hatha yoga throughout India (Ruiz, 2007). Unlike his predecessors who brought spirituality and meditation, Krishnamacharya’s focus was primarily on the asanas or postures. Which carried through to some of the most popular yoga styles in America, through his students B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Pattabhi Jois (Hammond, 2007). Indra Devi is another student of Sri Krishnamacharya, she may have been the first woman to train with him and she went on to open the Hollywood Yoga Studio in 1947. She also wrote several books on yoga and health, including "Forever Young, Forever Healthy" and "Yoga for Americans".

Haridas Chaudhuri's California Institute of Integral Studies, founded in 1951, brought the concept of "integral" or "total yoga" to San Francisco, emphasizing a holistic approach to yoga and its integration into modern life. The institute's curriculum integrated various disciplines, including psychology, philosophy, arts, and yoga, fostering a comprehensive understanding of human potential and spirituality (Hammond, 2007).

Dr. Rammurti Mishra founded the New York Yoga Society in 1958. He also made significant contributions to the field of yoga psychology through publications like "Fundamentals of Yoga" and "Yoga Sutras: The Textbook of Yoga Psychology" (Hammond, 2007). 

Swami Vishnudevananda, trained by Swami Sivananda, established Sivananda Yoga Centers in San Francisco in 1958, furthering the accessibility of yoga teachings from India. Swami Vishnudevananda shared his love for yoga poses, breathing, meditation and lessons to a large population in America for over four decades (Hammond, 2007). 

Yogi Amrit Desai's Kripalu Ashram, founded in 1960 is named after Swami Kripalvananda, a revered spiritual teacher and yogi. In 1983, the Kripalu Ashram transformed into the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. Kripalu remains to this day to be a hotspot for yogis and spiritual practitioners seeking answers by traveling to it’s location for trainings and retreats in Stockbridge, Massachusetts (Hammond, 2007). 

Swami Sachitananda's Yogaville, established in 1966, continued the transmission of Swami Sivananda's teachings and provided a center for yogic learning in Virginia. Swami Satchidananda’s teachings promoted the study of interfaith understanding and unity. He gained recognition for his participation in the Woodstock Festival in 1969, where he delivered an opening address that emphasized the interconnectedness of all faiths and the importance of inner peace (Hammond, 2007).

Swami Rama's Himalayan Institute, founded in 1969, became a hub for authentic yogic teachings, rooted in his early training in the Himalayas of India. Swami Rama's emphasis on the mind-body connection and the integration of yogic practices into daily life resonated with health professionals, including doctors, psychologists, and therapists, who sought to incorporate holistic approaches into their practices (Hammond, 2007).

The establishment of Iyengar Yoga Centers by B.K.S. Iyengar in 1973 played a significant role in shaping the perception of yoga, particularly in the United States, as primarily focused on physical poses (asanas). B.K.S. Iyengar's approach emphasized precision, alignment, and meticulous attention to detail in the practice of asanas. This emphasis on proper alignment and technique led to a heightened awareness of physical postures. The influence of Iyengar Yoga contributed to the popularization of yoga as a physical exercise regimen that emphasized flexibility, strength, and balance. As a result, the physical aspect of yoga, particularly the practice of asanas, became more prominent in the perception of yoga in the West (Kowalski, 2023).

The United States’ immigration reform of 1965 lifted the Johnson-Reed act which had been in effect since 1924 and had severely limited the number of immigrants allowed per country. With less restrictions, many cultures and teachings spread throughout America, including the increase of the popularity of Yoga. The publication of Yoga Journal in 1975 marked a milestone, providing a platform for sharing yoga-related information and fostering the growth of the yoga community in America (Hammond, 2007).

Thomas Hannah developed Somatics and his wife,  Dr. Eleanor Criswell's somatic yoga approach, introduced in 1989, brought the field of yoga psychology to academic and therapeutic settings, deepening the understanding of yoga's psychological benefits (Butera, 2023). 

Following the teachings of Sachitananda, Bo and Sita Lozoff's yoga initiatives in prisons, beginning in 1985, aimed to bring the transformative power of yoga to incarcerated individuals, promoting healing and personal growth. Their book, titled "We're All Doing Time," is generously provided free of charge to individuals in prison through the efforts of the Prison Ashram Project (Hammond, 2007). 

Dr. Dean Ornish's adoption of yoga practices for health and wellness programs in 1990 marked a significant milestone in the integration of yoga into mainstream healthcare and holistic well-being approaches. By incorporating yoga into his comprehensive lifestyle interventions, known as the Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease, Dr. Ornish highlighted the potential of yoga to support heart health, reduce stress, and enhance overall well-being. This move further solidified yoga's place in the realm of integrative medicine and underscored its potential to complement conventional medical treatments (Hammond, 2007 & Devi, 2007).

Dr. Ornish's collaboration with Nischala Joy Devi, a renowned yoga teacher and author, added depth and authenticity to his yoga-based programs. Nischala Joy Devi's expertise in yoga philosophy and therapeutic applications enriched Dr. Ornish's approach, infusing it with a deeper understanding of the mind-body connection and the profound impact of yoga on health and healing. Together, their partnership helped bridge the worlds of modern medicine and traditional yoga, fostering a more holistic and patient-centered approach to wellness that continues to influence healthcare practices today (Devi, 2007).

Kundalini Yoga with Yogi Bhajan 

Kundalini yoga is a spiritual practice that incorporates movement and meditation to increase a rise in energy and balance the masculine and feminine qualities within. Yogi Bhajan brought the teachings of Kundalini to the American public in 1970. He died in 2004 and was not free from controversy or scandal of his own, empowering many Kundalini followers to revert back to its original teachings. The approach to Kundalini yoga has been compared to “placing a tiger behind somebody you want to teach how to run fast (Butera, 2023)”. The intense nature of Kundalini is to shine a light on karma, however a person can be overwhelmed by their trauma and that can lead to more distress and other issues. Therefore students with unresolved trauma may find more advantages in starting with trauma-informed yoga. 

Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga Yoga emphasizes a specific sequence of postures combined with synchronized breath. It was popularized by its founder, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009), and is often referred to as "Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga." His emphasis on disciplined practice, breath control, and the connection between movement and breath influenced the development of other vinyasa-style yoga practices. Many renowned teachers and practitioners today trace their lineage back to Pattabhi Jois, Krishnamicharya, and the Ashtanga tradition. Pattabhi Jois said “yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory” the practice of Ashtanga is more about the body and control of the body and lacks in psychological development of spiritual practice (Burgin, 2021). The belief that by twisting and straining the body in order to attain spiritual awareness for the modern person is probably unlikely.

Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga is a style of yoga that focuses on passive, long-held stretches targeting the deeper connective tissues and joints. Its origins can be traced back to Taoist yoga traditions and its emphasis on cultivating stillness and surrender. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Paulie Zink, a martial artist and Taoist yoga teacher, introduced Yin Yoga to the West, blending his knowledge of Taoist practices with yoga postures. His students Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers, further developed and formalized Yin Yoga as a distinct practice. They integrated principles of Chinese meridian theory into the practice, emphasizing the balancing of energy flows in the body (Jain, 2016). Although this practice may have originated with a set of 26 poses, those poses have evolved and other poses that can be held for a few minutes with the intent to release tightness in the tissues and fascia can also be considered Yin. Yin Yoga can benefit anyone seeking a mindful and therapeutic practice for physical health, mental well-being, and inner harmony .

Restorative Yoga

If Yin and Restorative yoga were to be compared, Restorative Yoga is the yin to the yang of Yin Yoga. Restorative Yoga is a soothing and nurturing practice formed as a response to the fast-paced demands of modern life. It emphasizes relaxation, deep rest, and rejuvenation. In the 1960s, B.K.S. Iyengar introduced the concept of using props, such as blankets, bolsters, and blocks, to support the body in yoga poses, allowing practitioners to experience a profound sense of comfort and release. Judith Hanson Lasater, a student of Iyengar, went on to further enhance the popularity and style of Restorative Yoga (YD Blog Team, 2018). Restorative Yoga allows practitioners to unwind, balance homeostasis in the nervous system and, cultivate inner stillness, making it an essential practice for stress relief and holistic well-being in our modern world.

The Yoga Alliance, established in 1999, initially emerged as a response to concerns within the yoga community regarding the quality and depth of yoga teacher training programs. It aimed to establish standards and provide a structured framework for yoga teacher education, ensuring that aspiring instructors received comprehensive instruction. The catalyst for forming the Yoga Alliance was the rise of "fitness training" programs that promised to teach yoga in a condensed timeframe, sometimes over a single weekend (Yoga Alliance, 2020). These programs were criticized for inadequately addressing the philosophical, spiritual, and therapeutic dimensions of yoga practice. In response, the Yoga Alliance mandated a minimum of 200 hours of training for registered yoga teacher (RYT) certification, encompassing a well-rounded curriculum that covered yoga philosophy, anatomy, teaching methodology, and practical experience.

Over time, the Yoga Alliance's stance on yoga therapy became a contentious issue. Some voices within the yoga community felt that the organization was becoming more rigid in its approach to integrating yoga therapy within its guidelines. This shift led to concerns that the Yoga Alliance was shifting away from recognizing yoga as a therapeutic tool and placing a greater emphasis on yoga solely as a fitness and exercise discipline.

This shift sparked discussions and debates within the yoga community about the Yoga Alliance's role and scope in regulating and defining yoga practice. This discourse eventually led to yoga therapists distancing themselves form Yoga Alliance and aligning more with the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).

This is an excerpt from Stefanie J. Hahn's Paper on the Origins of Yoga Therapy. For references and access to the full article please email

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