Hinduism is a diverse religion with many different traditions and paths, and the Hindu gods and goddesses associated with yoga reflect this diversity.
In yoga, many gods and goddesses may be invoked or meditated upon depending on the practitioner’s personal beliefs and preferences and the specific type of yoga being practiced.
For example, in Ashtanga Yoga, the focus is on the eight limbs of yoga. The gods and goddesses associated with this practice are usually different from those associated with other forms of yoga. Lord Shiva is the most recognized and revered lord in Ashtanga Yoga.
Similarly, in Bhakti Yoga, the focus is on devotion and love towards a personal deity. The gods and goddesses associated with this practice are different from those associated with other forms of yoga. Lord Vishnu and his various incarnations are most recognized in Bhakti Yoga. Lord Hanuman is also regarded as an embodiment of Bhakti yoga.
I feel it is important to mention that belief in Hindu gods or any other deity is not a requirement for practicing yoga. Many people practice yoga for its many physical, mental, and spiritual benefits, without any connection to Hinduism or other religions. Yoga can be practiced by people of any religion, belief, or non-belief.
The rishis or sages formulated the practice of yoga in ancient India. They did not intend for it to be exclusive to any particular caste or creed. The ancient Rishis believed that yoga was a means of achieving spiritual liberation and union with the divine. They intended it to be a practice that was accessible to all people, regardless of their social or religious background.
In the ancient texts of yoga, such as the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there is no mention of religion. The teachings focus on the spiritual and personal growth of an individual.
The ancient rishis believed that yoga was a path to inner peace and enlightenment that could be practiced by anyone who was interested in improving their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Today, this belief is also shared by yoga teachers and practitioners around the world. Yoga is considered a universal practice that is open to all.
“Many are the names of God, and infinite the forms that lead us to know Him. In whatsoever name or form you desire to call Him, in that very form and name you will see Him.” Ramakrishna Paramhansa
Hindu Gods of yoga
Shiva: the god of yoga and the destroyer of the ego
Shiva is one of the most important Hindu gods associated with yoga. He is known as the Lord of Yoga and is often depicted in yoga asanas. As Yogi, he is often depicted in a meditative state.
Shiva is also considered the Adiyogi, who taught the science of Yoga to the seven sages or the Saptarishis. He is also known as the destroyer of the illusion of the ego. Shiva is the destroyer of all that is in the way of spiritual growth and enlightenment.
Shiva is associated with the power of destruction and regeneration. He has the power to destroy the ego and negative traits that prevent spiritual growth.
Vishnu: The preserver and protector of the universe
Vishnu is one of the principal deities in Hinduism. He is worshipped as the preserver and protector of the universe.
Lord Vishnu is typically depicted as a benevolent deity with four arms, holding a conch shell, discus, lotus flower, and mace. He is often shown wearing a crown. He is adorned with gold and pearl jewelry. He rests on a coiled serpent and is often accompanied by his consort, goddess Lakshmi.
Devotees of Vishnu, often called Vaishnavas, often practice devotional yoga. The practice includes devotion and worship of Vishnu and the repetition of his names and mantras.
Vishnu preserves and maintains the balance of the universe through his ten incarnations, known as the Dashavatara. These include the fish (Matsya), the tortoise (Kurma), the boar (Varaha), the man-lion (Narasimha), the dwarf (Vamana), the warrior-prince (Parashurama), the prince-king (Rama), the Buddha(Gautama), (Krishna), the warrior (Kalki).
Vishnu is also revered as the guardian of righteousness and the preserver of dharma, the cosmic order. He is the embodiment of compassion, protection, and preservation.
Brahma: The creator of the universe
Brahma is depicted with four heads, each facing a different direction, and four arms, holding a ritual water pot, prayer beads, a manuscript, and a scepter. He sits on a lotus flower, which symbolizes creation. Brahma has a white complexion and is dressed in white or yellow robes. He is often accompanied by his consorts Saraswati and Gayatri.
Brahma is one of the Hindu trinity gods, the creator of the universe. He is known as the god of creation and is believed to have created the world and everything in it. Since he is the creator of this world and everything in It, he is worshipped by yogis and invoked during many yogic rituals.
Ganesha: The god of wisdom and remover of obstacles
Ganesha is a plump elephant-headed deity with one broken tusk, large ears, and a pot-bellied body. He is often shown holding a laddu or modaka, a sweet treat, in one hand, and a lotus flower or his broken tusk in another.
Ganesha is a Hindu god widely worshipped in yoga as the god of wisdom, knowledge, and new beginnings.
Ganesha is also the patron of arts and sciences and the god of intellect and wisdom. He is one of the most popular and widely worshipped deities and is invoked at the beginning of any new venture or important undertaking as a symbol of success and victory over obstacles.
Ganesha is also related to yoga, as he symbolizes overcoming obstacles and attaining wisdom and self-realization.
By removing obstacles, both physical and mental, Ganesha enables practitioners to advance on their spiritual path and achieve a state of inner peace and enlightenment. Ganesha’s image is often used in yoga and meditation practices as a focal point for concentration and the removal of obstacles to spiritual progress.
The practice of yoga helps us remove our own personal obstacles and attain a state of peace and wisdom, much like Ganesha.
Hanuman: The god of devotion and selfless service
Lord Hanuman is worshipped as the embodiment of devotion and selfless service. He is known for his unwavering devotion to Lord Rama, his bravery, and his physical strength. He is also regarded as a symbol of knowledge, wisdom, and devotion.
Lord Hanuman is considered a symbol of physical strength and devotion and is worshiped as a symbol of devotion and strength in yoga and spiritual practices. Hanuman’s story in the Hindu epic Ramayana is often cited as an example of unwavering devotion and discipline, which are core principles in yoga.
Lord Hanuman is also a reincarnation of Lord Shiva, the ultimate Yogi.
Krishna: the destroyer of ignorance
Krishna is a central figure in Hinduism and is worshiped as the 8th incarnation of the god Vishnu. Krishna is revered as a god of love, compassion, and devotion, and is considered the embodiment of divine joy and ecstasy.
He is often associated with the philosophy of Bhakti yoga, which emphasizes devotion and love towards the divine as a path to spiritual liberation.
Krishna is considered a divine teacher and the embodiment of the ultimate reality, and his teachings in the Bhagavad Gita are considered central to the understanding of yoga philosophy. Krishna’s message in the Gita emphasizes the importance of yoga as a path to union with the divine and liberation from the cycle of rebirth. Krishna represents the essence of devotion and love, which are central to the practice of Bhakti yoga.
In this sense, Krishna is seen as a source of inspiration and guidance for those pursuing a spiritual path through yoga.
Rama: The embodiment of righteousness and virtue
Rama is worshiped as the 7th incarnation of the god Vishnu. He is the protagonist of the Hindu epic Ramayana and is revered as a model of righteousness, virtue, and devotion.
Rama represents the ideal human being and is an embodiment of dharma, the universal principle of moral order and duty. His life story is seen as a representation of the struggle between good and evil, and his unwavering commitment to dharma serves as an inspiration for those pursuing a life of righteousness.
In this sense, Rama is seen as a source of guidance and inspiration for those pursuing a spiritual path, including the practice of yoga. Rama may be a Hindu god but he is revered in Yoga as a model Yogi who always followed the path of Dharma.
Surya: The god of the sun and energy
Surya is the Hindu god of the sun and is considered the source of all life and energy in the universe. He is depicted as a radiant being riding in a chariot pulled by seven horses and is worshiped for his ability to bring light and life to the world. Surya is also associated with physical strength and vitality and is seen as a symbol of health, abundance, and prosperity.
Surya is revered as a source of inner light and energy. Through the practice of Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), we can connect with the energy and light of the sun, and cultivate physical and mental strength and vitality.
Agni: The god of fire and transformation
Agni is the god of fire and is considered the intermediary between the gods and humans, as well as the mediator of offerings to the gods.
Agni is associated with transformation and renewal and is revered for his ability to purify and accept our offerings in a fire ritual.
Agni is seen as a symbol of the inner fire that can ignite spiritual transformation and liberation.
Through the practice of Agni Hotra, a fire ritual, practitioners can connect with the transformative power of Agni and seek spiritual purification and growth.
Additionally, the heat generated in certain styles of yoga, such as Bikram or Hot Yoga, symbolizes Agni’s transformative power and helps us purify our body and mind.
Rudra: A powerful and fierce aspect of Shiva
Rudra is a powerful and fierce aspect of the Hindu god Shiva. He is revered for his ability to both create and destroy and is considered a source of both blessings and terror.
Rudra is depicted as a wild and unpredictable deity who is both loved and feared by humans. However, despite his fearsome reputation, Rudra is also seen as a source of compassion and is revered for his ability to heal and protect.
Rudra is worshiped as a deity in yoga and meditation and is seen as a symbol of transformation and purification through destruction. Through the practice of Rudra Puja, a ritual performed in honor of Rudra, we can connect with the transformative power of Rudra and seek spiritual growth and transformation.
Kartikeya: The god of war and victory
Kartikeya is the Hindu god of war and is the commander of the divine army. He is the son of Shiva and Parvati and is depicted as a handsome and strong young warrior riding on a peacock. Kartikeya is associated with victory and is revered as a symbol of courage and valor.
He leads the gods to victory in the battle against demons. Kartikeya is worshiped as a deity in yoga and meditation and is seen as a symbol of the inner strength and courage necessary for spiritual growth and victory over inner demons and obstacles.
Through devotion to Kartikeya practitioners can connect with the strength and courage of Kartikeya and seek victory in their own spiritual journey.
Bhairava: An aspect of Shiva as the protector and guardian
Bhairava is a fierce aspect of the Hindu deity Shiva, who is believed to be the protector and guardian of the universe. He is often depicted with a terrifying appearance and is associated with destruction and transformation. Despite his fearsome reputation, Bhairava is also revered as a benevolent deity who offers protection and blessings to those who worship him.
Bhairava is connected to the yoga tradition as he is considered to be the personification of the ultimate state of consciousness, known as “yoga.” Yoga is the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness, and Bhairava is seen as the embodiment of this ultimate state of being.
By meditating on Bhairava, one can attain the state of yoga and achieve liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
Matsya: An avatar of Vishnu in the form of a fish, who saves humanity from a great flood.
Matsya is the first avatar (incarnation) of the Hindu god Vishnu, who took the form of a fish to save humanity from a great flood.
According to Hindu mythology, the world was in danger of being destroyed by a massive flood, and Matsya appeared to warn king Manu of the impending disaster. Manu was instructed to build a large boat and gather all the species of animals on it to survive the flood. The boat was then saved by Matsya, who pulled it to safety using a rope in its mouth. After the flood subsided, Matsya returned to its divine form and disappeared.
The story of Matsya is seen as a symbol of the ultimate power of divine protection, and it is considered to be a reminder of the importance of performing good deeds and living a virtuous life.
Lord Matsya, an avatar of the Hindu God Vishnu, is connected to yoga in many ways. He saved humanity from a great flood by providing guidance and protection, which represents the concept of liberation in yoga. Lord Matsya is used as an object of meditation in yoga, to help develop awareness and inner peace.
I find great joy in learning about Hindu gods and I feel it deepens my practice. But the fact remains that we don’t have to learn about Hindu gods in order to practice yoga, as yoga is primarily a spiritual practice with roots in ancient India.
However, understanding the cultural context and history of yoga can deepen our appreciation and understanding of the practice.
Additionally, for some practitioners, exploring the spiritual aspects of yoga, including references to Hindu gods, can enhance their personal practice.
Ultimately, the choice to learn about Hindu gods in relation to yoga is a personal one.
If learning about Hindu gods enhances your enjoyment and understanding of yoga, then there’s no harm in pursuing that knowledge.
Everyone’s relationship with yoga is unique and personal. As long as your study of Hindu gods and their connection to yoga aligns with your personal beliefs and values, it can be a valuable and enriching part of your practice.
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