International Journal of Yoga

: 2012  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 160-

Yoga beyond union

Marcy C McCall 
 University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom

Correspondence Address:
Marcy C McCall
Kellogg College, University of Oxford
United Kingdom

How to cite this article:
McCall MC. Yoga beyond union.Int J Yoga 2012;5:160-160

How to cite this URL:
McCall MC. Yoga beyond union. Int J Yoga [serial online] 2012 [cited 2020 Aug 6 ];5:160-160
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Toward defining yoga in the West


The editorial piece in your International Journal of Yoga [2012;5:1-2] asks, 'Is yoga an intervention?' [1] and poignantly directs yoga scholars to consider the applications of yoga as an intervention in healthcare research and practice. This recent article strives to "induce workers in this area in arriving at a consensus so that a consistent terminology emerges…;" an applauded and timely request for the field.

With the propulsion of evidence-based medicine to the fore in guiding research funding and health policy decisions in the West, the yoga research community is called to increase the scientific and methodological rigor of primary studies. A standardized definition for yoga intervention is a key step in advancing the study of yoga for healthcare research and implementation for patient benefit.

On searching for a biomedical database in the West, the results indicate a growing interest in yoga therapy. An online search of PubMED (on 15 May, 2012) [2] shows that 211 yoga titles were published in 2011. Heterogeneity of yoga and the intervention definition pervades the literature, in terms of both conceptual beliefs and actual interventions. This finding supports the Executive Editor's call to improve the consistent terminology in yoga. The lack of consensus or working toward a 'gold-standard' of yoga definition in Western medical literature demonstrates a fundamental gap in the current evidence.

The prevalent definitions of yoga are limited to literal translations from Sanskirt to English. Many definitions include yoga as a verb (to yoke, bring together) or a noun (to perform spiritual exercises of mind, body, and breath). [3],[4] In Webster's dictionary, yoga [noun] is defined as (1) Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation, (2) a system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being, (3) and as verb, a word of Sanskrit origin 'union.' [5] These vague and inconsistent terms negatively impact the interpretation for yoga as a research intervention, as well as potential healthcare practice.

Furthermore, the practice of yoga in the West is complicated by the variability and evolution that has occurred since the Ancient Indian tradition arrived in the United States, in the 1960s. Yoga in the West is now practiced in fitness centers, dedicated studios, retreat centers, and delivered online to women, children, and men of all ages. These further sources of heterogeneity need to be considered in full when developing research protocols. A careful analysis of the current definitions and practices in the Western hemisphere may assist in the interpretation and transferability of results for this population.

Without this clear definition, yoga research may regrettably linger and exemplify, yet another missed opportunity for integration of traditional and modern medicine for optimal health.


1Srinivasan T. Is yoga an intervention? Int J Yoga 2012;5:1-2.
2Available from: [Last accessed on 2012-05- 02]
3Oxford dictionaries for yoga. Available from: [Last Accessed on 2012 May 1].
4Field T. Yoga clinical research review. Complement Ther Clin Pract 2011;17:1-8.
5Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary for yoga. Available from: [Last Accessed on 2012 May 1 ].