Various yogic groups had become prominent in Punjab in the 15th and 16th century, when Sikhism was in its nascent stage. Compositions of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, describe many dialogues he had with Jogis, a Hindu community which practiced yoga. Guru Nanak rejected the austerities, rites and rituals connected with Hatha Yoga. He propounded the path of Sahaja yoga or Nama yoga (meditation on the name) instead.[201] The Guru Granth Sahib states:

Yogaśataka a Jain work by Haribhadra Suri 6th century CE "With conviction, the lords of Yogins have in our doctrine defined yoga as the concurrence (sambandhah) of the three [correct knowledge (sajjñana), correct doctrine (saddarsana) and correct conduct (saccaritra)] beginning with correct knowledge, since [thereby arises] conjunction with liberation....In common usage this [term] yoga also [denotes the soul’s] contact with the causes of these [three], due to the common usage of the cause for the effect. (2, 4).[32]

According to Crangle, some researchers have favoured a linear theory, which attempts "to interpret the origin and early development of Indian contemplative practices as a sequential growth from an Aryan genesis",[54][note 4] just like traditional Hinduism regards the Vedas to be the ultimate source of all spiritual knowledge.[55][note 5] Thomas McEvilley favors a composite model where pre-Aryan yoga prototype existed in the pre-Vedic period and its refinement began in the Vedic period.[58]
^ The Pāli and Sanskrit word bhāvanā literally means "development" as in "mental development." For the association of this term with "meditation," see Epstein (1995), p. 105; and, Fischer-Schreiber et al. (1991), p. 20. As an example from a well-known discourse of the Pali Canon, in "The Greater Exhortation to Rahula" (Maha-Rahulovada Sutta, MN 62), Ven. Sariputta tells Ven. Rahula (in Pali, based on VRI, n.d.): ānāpānassatiṃ, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi. Thanissaro (2006) translates this as: "Rahula, develop the meditation [bhāvana] of mindfulness of in-&-out breathing." (Square-bracketed Pali word included based on Thanissaro, 2006, end note.)

The spiritual sense of the word yoga first arises in Epic Sanskrit, in the second half of the 1st millennium BCE, and is associated with the philosophical system presented in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, with the chief aim of "uniting" the human spirit with the Divine.[24] The term kriyāyoga has a technical meaning in the Yoga Sutras (2.1), designating the "practical" aspects of the philosophy, i.e. the "union with the supreme" due to performance of duties in everyday life.[25]

According to Geoffrey Samuel, our "best evidence to date" suggests that yogic practices "developed in the same ascetic circles as the early śramaṇa movements (Buddhists, Jainas and Ajivikas), probably in around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE." This occurred during what is called the ‘Second Urbanisation’ period.[9] According to Mallinson and Singleton, these traditions were the first to use psychophysical techniques, mainly known as dhyana and tapas. but later described as yoga, to strive for the goal of liberation (moksha, nirvana) from samsara (the round of rebirth).[78]
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Modern yoga was created in what has been called the Modern Yoga Renaissance[213] by the blending of Western styles of gymnastics with postures from Haṭha yoga in India in the 20th century, pioneered by Shri Yogendra and Swami Kuvalayananda.[214] Before 1900 there were few standing poses in Haṭha yoga. The flowing sequences of salute to the sun, Surya Namaskar, were pioneered by the Rajah of Aundh, Bhawanrao Shrinivasrao Pant Pratinidhi, in the 1920s.[215] Many standing poses used in gymnastics were incorporated into yoga by Krishnamacharya in Mysore from the 1930s to the 1950s.[216] Several of his students went on to found influential schools of yoga: Pattabhi Jois created Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga,[217] which in turn led to Power Yoga;[218] B. K. S. Iyengar created Iyengar Yoga, and systematised the canon of asanas in his 1966 book Light on Yoga;[219] Indra Devi taught yoga to many film stars in Hollywood; and Krishnamacharya's son T. K. V. Desikachar founded the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandalam in Chennai.[220][221][222] Other major schools founded in the 20th century include Bikram Choudhury's Bikram Yoga and Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh's Sivananda Vedanta Schools of Yoga. Modern yoga spread across America and Europe, and then the rest of the world.[223][224]

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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]

The first Hindu teacher to actively advocate and disseminate aspects of yoga, not including asanas, to a western audience, Swami Vivekananda, toured Europe and the United States in the 1890s.[204] The reception which Swami Vivekananda received built on the active interest of intellectuals, in particular the New England Transcendentalists, among them Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), who drew on German Romanticism and philosophers and scholars like G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831), the brothers August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767–1845) and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel (1772–1829), Max Mueller (1823–1900), Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860), and others who had (to varying degrees) interests in things Indian.[205][206]
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Theosophists including Madame Blavatsky also had a large influence on the Western public's view of Yoga.[207] 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.[208] 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.[209] 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.[210]
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The Rigveda, however, does not describe yoga, and there is little evidence as to what the practices were.[7] Early references to practices that later became part of yoga, are made in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the earliest Hindu Upanishad.[67] For example, the practice of pranayama (consciously regulating breath) is mentioned in hymn 1.5.23 of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (c. 900 BCE), and the practice of pratyahara (concentrating all of one's senses on self) is mentioned in hymn 8.15 of Chandogya Upanishad (c. 800–700 BCE).[68][note 8] The Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana teaches mantra repetition and control of the breath.[71]