Ralph Waldo Emerson: The First Western Yogi?

A Yogi Ahead of His Time

Ralph Waldo Emerson was a man with a deep affinity for nature and the pursuit of truth.

Famous for his writings and lectures, Emerson is considered to be the most influential author of the 19th century; his name was known far and wide.

But some of Emerson’s most endearing and powerful work came from a place many people knew very little about in America during the late 1800’s: India.

The Bhagavad Gita

Emerson was a HUGE fan of the Bhagavad Gita; after reading the spiritual classic, his message of Transcendentalism (the belief that each individual should have their own relationship with the universe) became even more solidified in his mind.

“I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-gita. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.”

Emerson came to believe that there was a powerful cord of Divinity that linked everyone and everything together, and that we could experience that Divinity without the aid of religion or priests. In other words, no mediator.

This is one of the central themes of the Gita.

First of His Kind

Emerson’s enthusiastic embrace of Hindu philosophy combined with his famous stature gave what would have been a strange text a certain level of credence.

Soon, many other famous philosophers of the time began to read it as well and voiced their support. 

All of this was sort of the “ground work” for one of the most important events in bringing yoga to the west: the visitation of Swami Vivekananda.

Emerson’s support of Indian philosophy established a respectful tone in American intellectual circles; so much so, that when Vivekananda visited America to spread the teachings of the east, he found a far more receptive environment.

Without that, the yoga movement we all know today would probably be in a much different place…perhaps even still struggling to be known.


You can read one of Emerson’s most famous writings, “Self-Reliance” by clicking here.

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Matt Caron
Matt is the content manager of the Sivana blog, an enthusiastic Yoga teacher, and life voyager. He strives to inspire conscious living and conscious dialogue- not only for others but for himself. He's the founder of TheYogaBlog.com. You can find him on Facebook.

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