Though yoga has exploded in popularity in the Western world over the last few decades, its history can be traced back more than 5,000 years.
Centuries later, yoga has become a household name in America. It’s now practiced by millions of people both young and old to get closer to divinity, stillness, peace, and beauty.
If you’re looking for some divine inspiration and motivation, keep reading for some of the best yoga quotes and affirmations from the masters both ancient and modern that will remind you we’re all connected.
A Brief History of Yoga
The very first documented mention of yoga was found in the ancient texts of the Rig Veda. It was originally developed by the ancient Northern Indian civilization of Indus-Sarasvati.
The Rig Veda, also known as The Vedas, was an ancient series of texts used by the Vedic priests, the Brahmans, as references for music, mantras, and traditional rituals.
The Brahmans were known as Vedic priests and mystic seers. This group of spiritually enlightened religious practitioners were the first ones to develop the concept of yoga.
They developed the concept as we know it today by recording their unique rituals and a strong belief in a collection of scriptures known as the Upanishads.
Included in the Upanishads scriptures was the Yogic scriptures of the Bhagavad-Gita, which went on to become one of the most renowned Yogic scriptures ever studied. It’s thought to have been composed around 500 B.C.
The main principles of the Bhagavad-Gita involve letting go of the ego and working toward true self-knowledge, (known as karma yoga) and wisdom, (known as jnana yoga).
Through these principles, yoga, as we know it, was born.
Yoga in the West
In the late 1800s, one of India’s greatest yoga gurus Swami Vivekananda left India to travel to America. He is considered to be the person who brought yoga to the West.
Ever since Swami Vivekananda’s first address to the nation at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, yoga gurus and spiritual leaders from the East have been bringing their ancient wisdom to Americans.
One of the most fundamental forms of yoga, Hatha yoga, was first taught in America in 1924 by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. Hatha is now the most widely recognized and commonly practiced form of yoga.
These wise ancient masters brought more to America than the physical practice of yoga. They brought with them a sense of stillness, a respect for nature, and a deep, ingrained inspiration that has been ricocheting through history for centuries.
Many of the rituals and mantras of these ancient gurus still ring true. Let’s take a closer look at some of the words spoken by some of the original yogis.
As mentioned, S. Vivekananda was the first person to bring yoga to America. If that wasn’t enough to solidify his place in history, he also offered Westerners some impactful words of wisdom:
“You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul.”
This, in many senses, is the essence of yoga. What we think Vivekananda meant with this quote is that all true knowledge comes from within.
Of course, external factors are at play. But there is something to be said of the idea that the only way to attain true knowledge of one’s self and our relationship to the external world is to look inside.
Another name that’s already appeared in this article, T. Krishnamacharya is widely regarded as the “Father of Modern Yoga”.
He was the first person to teach Hatha yoga in America, and he too had a lot of spiritual wisdom to share:
“Rid your body of its impurities, let your speech be true and sweet, feel friendship for the world, and with humility seek wealth and knowledge.”
There’s a lot to unpack in that quote. It speaks to the physical aspect of yoga which allows those who practice it to get rid of toxicity and impurities in the body by moving and stretching.
This quote also speaks to the importance of being true to your word and being kind to the world. As humans, we tend to take mother nature for granted. Those who truly listen to the spiritual yoga gurus know this way of life cannot be sustained.
Here’s another great quote by Krishnamacharya:
“No one is wise by birth, for wisdom results from one’s own efforts.”
Iyengar was one of T. Krishnamacharya’s very first students. You’ll see this name pop up on every list of popular yoga quotes, and for good reason.
B.K.S. Iyengar suffered from numerous health problems in his life, from childhood through to adulthood. He believed that his dedicated yoga practice was what kept him alive to live to age 95.
Among his many illustrious quotes, here are a couple that stand out:
“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”
Especially for someone who suffered as many health problems as he did, this quote is perhaps his wisest and most relatable. In a few words, this quote explains how yoga can give us the power to cure what we can, and endure what’s necessary.
“Yoga is a light, which once lit will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter your flame.”
His visceral love for yoga shines brightly through this quote. Since yoga was his savior, he pays it back by speaking these words that are now eternally spoken by his successors and followers.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
Jois was the yogi who developed the popular Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Now commonly practiced in studios across the world, Ashtanga yoga was originally based on excerpts from the ancient text, the Yoga Korunta.
Here’s one of his most famous quotes:
“Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.”
As those who practice yoga know, this couldn’t be truer. And this sentiment extends past the principles of yoga.
As with most things, the more you practice, the better you’ll become. Theory only takes you so far.
Here’s another great quote by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois:
“Simply be present with your own shifting energies and with the unpredictability of life as it unfolds.”
Another brilliant sentiment that entangles itself with yogic principles, this quote is a strong reminder to live in the moment and roll with life’s ebbs and flows.
Author of bestseller “Autobiography of a Yogi”, P. Yogananda was the first person to teach the Western world about the power of meditation and the elements of Kriya Yoga.
A couple of his most memorable quotes include:
“Be as simple as you can be; you will be astonished to see how uncomplicated and happy your life can become.”
This quote drills down to the complete simplicity of what yoga has to offer. It’s a good reminder that the simple life is often all we need. And that excess does not lead to happiness.
“The power of unfulfilled desires is the root of all man’s slavery.”
These few words strung together speak volumes about human nature. Don’t so many of us yearn for what we don’t have? It’s the same sentiment as “the grass is always greener on the other side”.
What Yogananda wants us to ask ourselves with this quote is – is it really? The answer, more often than not, is no.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
One of the more modern Indian spiritual masters, Ravi Shankar is still alive and well. He founded the Art of Living Foundation and made popular the rhythmic breathing practice Sudarshan Kriya.
Here are some of his most inspirational quotes:
“Difference between motivation and inspiration – Motivation is external and short-lived. Inspiration is internal and lifelong.”
This little snippet of wisdom is a great thing to remember. We think he means that a dedicated yoga practice instills a sense of ongoing inspiration rather than unsustainable bursts of motivation.
“If you can win over your mind, you can win over the whole world.”
The simplicity of this quote goes back to the root of yoga and meditation. If we can take control of our thoughts, we can gain a remarkable sense of power over the way we react to external factors.
Thus, attaining real spiritual enlightenment and freedom from the shackles of the human ego.
Other Yoga Quotes Worth a Mention
Throughout the centuries, many yogis and spiritual gurus have uttered divine words that evoke the deep sense of the inspiration that’s instilled in regular yoga practice.
Here are a few more quotes from ancient and modern masters that we’d be remiss not to mention:
“Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are.” – Jason Crandell
“It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.” – Buddha
“The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” – Rumi
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu
“My biggest struggles have been my biggest teachers.” – Kathryn Budig
“You either get bitter or get better.” – Josh Shipp
Yoga is more than exercise. It’s a divine union of the body and mind. It’s a lifestyle that must be adopted, rather than an activity to be participated in.
Even seasoned yogis know that there is no limit to progress in yoga. There is no ceiling for what can be accomplished with consistent, dedicated practice.
The most enlightened spiritual leaders know there is an infinite amount to learn, and that spiritual growth is a neverending, exponential cycle that is never truly complete.
These yoga quotes are only a handful chosen from the abundance of wisdom out there spoken by both ancient and modern yoga masters. Keep an eye on this space for more inspiration and guidance into unlocking your spiritual potential.