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True or False? Physical Yoga Has Influenced America More than Spiritual Yoga.

January 17, 2011

True or False? Physical Yoga Has Influenced America More than Spiritual Yoga.

Answer: False!  The reverse is true.  Spiritual Yoga has had a far bigger impact on America than the physical poses most people think of as Yoga.

You’ll almost certainly agree after reading the startling new book  American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation How Indian Spirituality Changed the West  by Philip Goldberg

(See  accompanying interview with Phil Goldberg.)

The spirituality of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, the original texts of Yoga,  has found its way into the very core of spiritual life in America, according to Goldberg, even though this is often masked by the form it has taken, and sometimes through outright repression of historical facts.

American Veda is an absolute must-read for anyone serious about Yoga.  It is one of the  most important books I’ve personally ever read about Yoga, or anything else, for that matter.  It is surprising, entertaining, and highly readable throughout, and it will cause you to forever think differently about the impact of Yoga in America.

This book is so momentous, that at first I had trouble imagining how I could adequately describe it’s message and scope in a “review”.  Then I suddenly realized that this would be the easiest review I’ve ever written.  Here it is:

The following is just a partial list, just to give you an idea, of the famous people who, as documented in American Veda, have been profoundly influenced, not just a little bit influenced, but profoundly and pivotally influenced, by the Yoga of the original ancient Yoga texts, the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, often referred to as “Vedanta Yoga” (Most are Americans, but I also included others who heavily influenced Americans.):


Ralph Waldo Emerson     Henry David Thoreau     Walt Whitman     Aldous Huxley

Samuel Taylor Coleridge     William Wordsworth     William Blake     Emily Dickinson

Robert Frost     Jack Kerouac     Allen Ginsberg     Alan Watts     Gotham Chopra

Tim Gallwey (Inner Game of  Tennis)        Herman Hesse     Oliver Wendell Holmes

Somerset Maugham    J. D. Salinger     Christopher Isherwood     Timothy Leary

Huston Smith    T.S. Eliot     William Butler Yeats


William James     Carl Jung     Abraham Maslow     Stanislav Grof     Daniel Goleman

New Spirituality/Self-help

Eckhart Tolle     Deepak Chopra     Michael Beckwith (Agape)     Ken Wilber

Joseph Cambell    Madame Blavatsky (Theosophical Society)    Wayne Dyer

Marianne Williamson     Norman Vincent Peale     Tony Robbins

John Gray     Joan Borysenko     Andrew Harvey

Musicians & Entertainers 

The Beatles (especially George Harrison)     Philip Glass     Judy Collins

Russell Simmons    Elvis Presley     John Coltrane     Alice Coltrane    Donovan

Mick Jagger     Marianne Faithful     Mia Farrow    Mike Love

Paul Horn     Madonna     John McGlaughlin

Yehudi Menuhin     Van Morrison     David Lynch     Shirley McClaine

Jerry Seinfeld     And many others

Religious Figures

Mary Baker Eddy (founder Christian Science)     Ernest Holmes (Religious Science)

Thomas Keating    Thomas Merton     Father Bede Griffiths     Rabbi David Gelberman

The “New Thought” Movement (source of many modern congregations)


John Adams     Martin Luther King (through Mahatma Gandhi)     Booker T. Washington


Arthur Schoepenhauer     Friedrich Hegel    Alfred North Whitehead


David Bohm (quantum physicist)     Rupert Sheldrake (biologist)     Fritjof Capra (The Tao of Physics)

J. Robert Oppenheimer     Erwin Shroedinger (physicist, close friend of Einstein)

Nikola Tesla (legendary inventor)     John Hagelin     Amrit Goswami

Health and Wellness

Andrew Weil     Dean Ornish     Mehmet “Dr.” Oz.     Herbert Benson (The Relaxation Response)

See also:  How Yoga Has Transformed American Spirtuality: An Interview with Phil Goldberg, Author of “American Veda”, and then read the book!

Phil Goldberg is the author or coauthor of nineteen books, including “Roadsigns: On the Spiritual Path” and “The Intuitive Edge.” Based in Los Angeles, he is an ordained interfaith minister, a public speaker and seminar leader, and the founder of Spiritual Wellness and Healing Associates. He is director of outreach for and blogs regularly on religion for the Huffington Post. Visit or for more information. 

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  1. Bob, I totally agree with you. Without spiritual yoga there would be no physical yoga and in the American historical context physical yoga is a late comer … also in India… as physical yoga has always been one of many expressions of yoga in India always integral to the spiritual yoga, which includes and transcends the physical.

    Still have not read this book, but I will, then I will write the book American Tantra….as you know, Bob, I still think yoga is more tantric than vedic…..

    • Right, Ramesh. Be sure to take a look at the interview, too. I asked that question at the end about the use of the word "Veda" partly for you. Phil rarely uses the word "Veda" in the text itself. His explanation above makes sense to me. And he certainly does talk about Tantra in the text, although probably not to your entire satisfaction.

      But if you have a mind to, why not get your ideas out right here and we'll ask Phil to respond? It would certainly be an interesting discussion.

  2. yogabird permalink


    Wow…I can't wait to read it. Thanks for this.


  3. I am very intrigued. Like many, my first instinct was to say that Physical Yoga has had a greater impact. You have successfully convinced me to read this book 🙂

  4. Physical yoga and spiritual yoga? Is there really a place where one ends and the other begins? I don't believe so. Looking forward to reading the book, though. Thank you for posting.

  5. steve permalink

    My first answer was "physical yoga", then I read the question more carefully.
    Ok, which has had more influence? spiritual yoga, I'm sure
    Which is practiced more? Physical yoga, by a wide margin. Speaking from my own limited experience (fairly new to yoga and living in small town Virginia) I believe that when most people think of yoga they think of people (mostly women) doing stretches and strange twists and ballence stances.
    Got the book "american veda" next on my book list, thx

    • That's an interesting distinction, steve. It was tricky to write that True or False question.

      Please write back and tell us what you think after reading the book.

      • freesoul permalink

        I was thinking the way Steve was thinking, when I first read the question. Not new to yoga but clearly I find a fine line between the two. Most of my students don't think of the spiritual aspect of yoga, they come to move. They might be getting more from that movement and not informing me but clearly the goal is to move. Some have never heard of these ancient texts. Looking forward to adding the book to my ever growing list.

  6. Melissa permalink

    My yoga journey started with the physical practice then evolved into the spiritual. So while the spiritual has more effect, by getting people to start with the physical journey then at least the journey begins!

    Sounds like a great book, can't wait to read it.

  7. Ah, there are SO many more too, including Benjamin Franklin, one of the great pioneers in the science of Yoga. If you read Linda Johnsen's book, Lost Masters: The Yoga of the Ancient Greeks (Amazon: you will be astonished to learn that our yoga roots go back to the ancient city of Rome, where "Durka" (Durga) was the presiding deity. No kidding.

    • Hi, Ragani. Thanks for introducing us to Linda's work. I'm going to download it on Kindle right away!


      • Hi Bob– hope you enjoy! Would be wonderful to have her post some of her writings here on Elephant… :o)

  8. Hi Bob,

    Another great article! I took a few workshops with Mark S.:
    He wrote a great book of history of Yoga in America. Also, the great OM…I had no idea.


  9. I'd love to see this expanded more….:)

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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