History of Yoga

Master Influencers: 14 Pioneers of Western Yoga

The yoga we practice today wouldn’t exist without 
these 14 pioneers, whose work first made yoga 
accessible to 20th-century Americans.

The yoga we practice today wouldn’t exist without these 14 pioneers, whose work first made yoga accessible to 20th century Americans.

Yogi Bhajan



An Indian Sikh, Yogi Bhajan introduced Americans to Sikhism and Kundalini Yoga. He was the spiritual leader of the 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization) Foundation, and helped create the Golden Temple natural foods company and Yogi Teas.

EXPLORE Kundalini Yoga

Indra Devi



This daughter of European nobility was the first Westerner to study with Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and the first to bring his lineage to the West, opening a yoga studio in Hollywood, California, in 1947 and writing three books.

SEE ALSO A Timeline Through 40 Years of Yoga Journal

Mircea Eliade



The Romanian-born philosopher and religious historian, who studied Eastern philosophies and yoga as a young man in India, was a prolific author whose book Yoga: Immortality and Freedom was a standard 2oth-century reference on yoga, even among fellow academics.

EXPLORE Philosophy

Georg Feuerstein



The German-born Indologist was one of the most esteemed scholars on Hinduism in the West, writing more than 5o books on yoga, Tantra, and mysticism, including The Philosophy of Classical Yoga, The Yoga Tradition, and The Encyclopedia of Yoga and Tantra.

SEE ALSO Meet the Innovators: Georg Feurstein

B.K.S. Iyengar



A student of Sri T. Krishnamacharya, he was the founder of Iyengar Yoga (along with Ashtanga, the foundation of many modern yoga styles). He also wrote 1966’s Light on Yoga—still considered the bible of serious asana practice.

READ MORE A Tribute to B.K.S. Iyengar

Krishna Pattabhi Jois



Also a student of Sri T. Krishnamacharya, Jois visited the United States in 1975 and set off a wildfire of Ashtanga Yoga. After he was featured in 1967’s Yoga Self-Taught, Westerners flocked to his Ashtanga Yoga Institute in India.

READ MORE In Memoriam of K. Pattabhi Jois

Swami Kripalvananda



This Indian-born master of Kundalini Yoga, who visited the United States from 1977 to 1981, is the spiritual inspiration for the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health and the Kripalvananda Yoga Institute in Massachusetts.

SEE ALSO 6 Yogis Then + Now: Where Were They 40 Years Ago?

Satyananda Saraswati



Also a student of Swami Sivananda Saraswati, he founded India’s Bihar School of Yoga, whose students carried his teachings west, and the International Yoga Fellowship Movement.

SEE ALSO Then + Now: 40 Years of Yoga Gear

Swami Satchidananda



This Indian-born disciple of Sri Swami Sivananda appeared at Carnegie Hall, opened the Woodstock festival, and founded the Integral Yoga Institute, which includes an ashram in Virginia and more than 4o global branches.

SEE ALSO By the Numbers: Yoga Stats That May Surprise You

Henry David Thoreau

henry david thoreau


When the naturalist author sought spiritual enlightenment at Walden Pond in Massachusetts, he was dismissed as a “misanthropic hermit,” but his now-classic Walden has resonated across generations.

SEE ALSO Ignite Your Practice: 12 Inspirational Quotes for Yogis

Swami Vishnu-devananda



A disciple of Swami Sivananda Saraswati, he wrote 196o’s The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga and founded the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres, one of the world’s largest networks of yoga schools.

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Paramhansa Yogananda



Arriving in the States from India in 192o, in LA he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (now with more than 5oo centers worldwide) and wrote 1946’s Autobiography of a Yogi, since translated into 34 languages (Steve Jobs was a fan).

SEE ALSO Why Yogananda Was A Man Before His Time

T.K.V. Desikachar

tkv desikachar


The son of Sri T. Krishnamacharya, Desikachar co-founded the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Madras, India, in 1976. He went on to develop Viniyoga, which tailors the practice to each student’s physical condition, emotional state, age, cultural background, and interests.

READ MORE The YJ Interview: TKV Desikachar