What is “Jain Yoga”?

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What is “Jain Yoga”?
By Christopher Miller, PhD

You know what yoga is, but what is “Jain Yoga”?


I recently prepared two new graduate seminars titled “Jain Yoga” and “Social Justice and Modern Yoga” for our online Master’s Degree track in Engaged Jain Studies.


While preparing the Jain Yoga seminar, I’ve had to make several strategic decisions about which yoga texts, scholarly readings, and yoga practices (yes, we will practice!) to include on the syllabus. There are so many to choose from, that one could dedicate their entire study to this topic alone! But since we are all very busy, especially our graduate students, I have distilled some of the most impactful and memorable resources in the growing subfield dedicated to studying Jain Yoga. I will briefly provide some insights from some of these resources in this article.


One particular article that I will definitely be using in the class comes to us from Samani Pratibha Pragya, a scholar of the Jain Yoga tradition who completed her PhD at SOAS in London on the topic. In 2020, Pragya published a short chapter summarizing the development of Jain meditative and yogic traditions in The Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies (Newcombe and O’Brien Kop 2020).


As Pragya shows, the use of yoga and meditation in the earliest of Jain scriptures such as the Sūtrakṛtāṅga-Sūtra (ca. 2nd c. BCE) refers to the practice of restraint, or saṃyama, embodied by the “yogavān” (Prakrit: jogvaṃ). In Jinadāsa’s commentary on the text, we learn that the yogavān is someone who possesses restraint and who is authoritative in jñāna-yoga, darśana-yoga, and cāritra-yoga. These three yogas of course correspond to the three jewels of the Jain tradition: enlightened worldview (samyag-darśana), enlightened knowledge (samyag-jñāna), and enlightened conduct (samyak-cāritra) (Pragya 2020: 171, 184 fn 7).


A number of practices later comprising Jain Yoga develop in these early Jain texts, and Pragya describes those such as bhāvanā-yoga (yoga of cultivation) and dhyāna-yoga (yoga of meditation). Mahāvīra, for example, is found meditating (Prakrit: jhāṇa) in multiple scenarios in the earliest surviving Jain scripture, the Ācārāṅga-Sūtra (ca. 4th c. BCE), a practice accompanying his ascetic practices through which he is convinced to commit himself to non-violence (ahiṃsā) toward all forms of life, since nothing wants to experience pain (Pragya 2020: 172-175).


In the classical period, a number of philosopher scholars both within and outside of the Jain tradition begin to produce works in Sanskrit in which they systematize various philosophies and doctrines. Umāsvāti is one such scholar, and in his authoritative Jain text Tattvārtha-Sūtra (ca. 5th c. CE), he places the word yoga in an entirely new context. Here, yoga means “vibration,” or any “action” of body, speech, or mind that attracts unwanted particles of karma toward one’s soul. In the Jain tradition, all karma must be eliminated, whether it is good or bad, to achieve omniscience and eventually liberation. The goal in this text is, then, to STOP yoga by all prescribed means.


Interestingly, Umāsvāti uses the same word to describe the stopping or restraint of yoga in his text that Patañjali uses to define yoga in his famous Yoga-Sūtra (ca. 5th c. CE): “nirodha”. For Patañjali, “yoga is the restraint (nirodha) of the fluctuations of the mind” (Yoga-Sūtra 1.2), a state resulting in meditative absorption (samādhi).


For Umāsvāti, however, “It (yoga) is the inflow of karma (āsrava)” (6.2) and must be stopped. The practice of what we can translate as “covering up (the soul)” (saṃvara) requires “the restraint (nirodha) of the inflow of karma (āsrava [i.e., yoga])” (9.1). We must, in other words engage in the stopping or restraint (nirodha) of yoga according to the Tattvārtha-Sūtra!


But who would want to stop practicing yoga? Certainly not me, and if you are reading this article, I assume you don’t want to stop either. Luckily, several Jain Yoga texts that emerged following Umāsvāti’s authoritative scripture redefined yoga as a purifying spiritual practice while maintaining a commitment to the doctrinal foundations of their Jain tradition.


Haribhadra Virahāṅka’s Yoga-Bindu (ca. 6th c. CE) outlined a 5-fold yoga consisting of the following (cf. Tatia 1956: 134):


  1. adhyātma: self-contemplation and moral conduct
  2. bhāvanā: cultivation of purity leading to samādhi
  3. dhyāna: meditation and remaining in cultivated purity
  4. samatā: equanimity and the abandonment of dislikes and likes
  5. vṛttisaṃkṣaya: destruction of mental fluctuations, elimination of karma, and arising of liberating knowledge


Haribhadra Yākinīputra’s later Yoga-Dṛṣṭi-Samuccaya (ca. 8th c. CE) describes a three-fold yoga influenced by his tantric milieu as well as three, eight-fold yoga systems. One of these includes a system under the guise of Patañjali’s eight-limbed yoga found in the Yoga-Sūtra. The two others are drawn from a Buddhist and Vedāntic system (Pragya 2020: 180).


Finally, Hemacandra, who wrote his famous and widely studied Yoga-Śāstra under the rule and patronage of the Śaiva King Kumārapāla, included a number of tantric and Śaiva influences in his text. He also frames his yoga following Patañjali’s eight limbs, but only after establishing Jain ethics and the three jewels of enlightened worldview (samyag-darśana), enlightened knowledge (samyag-jñāna), and enlightened conduct (samyak-cāritra) as the basis of his yoga system, much as his ancient predecessors had (Qvarnström 2002).


What is remarkable about the works of Haribhadra Virahāṅka, Haribhadra Yākinīputra, and Hemacandra is their steadfast commitment to the purification of karma following Jain doctrinal logic, even as they creatively include language and practices such as āsana (posture) and prāṇāyāma (breath control) from other traditions. These are of course practices still undertaken in contemporary forms of yoga, though in these Jain texts they are only a means to help eliminate karma in meditation on the way to liberation.


The Jain Yoga tradition continues to receive focused, scholarly attention. There is nevertheless much research to be done regarding this incredibly transformative philosophy of living. If you are interested in learning and practicing Jain Yoga, which will undoubtedly enhance your existing yoga practice, don’t hesitate to take one of our self-study courses on the topic, or to even apply to our graduate program and attend my yoga seminars in the coming semesters to help us continue to advance the field of Jain Yoga Studies. 


I look forward to seeing you in the classroom and at our upcoming conference Yoga in Jainism taking place on Saturday, April 20, 2024. 


Hosted and sponsored by Arihanta Institute, the Yoga in Jainism online conference explores the burgeoning field of Jain Yoga Studies, delving into the intersection of Jain yoga texts, ideas, and practices with a focus on engaging Jain perspectives on social issues such as environmental concerns, animal advocacy, war, racism, casteism, and gender justice. The free, one-day event also aims to provide a platform for scholars and practitioners to discuss the historical, social, and intellectual dimensions of Jain yoga, fostering a dialogue that spans modern and pre-modern contexts within South Asia, the global Jain diaspora, and beyond. We hope you can join us! 


For more information and registration, visit:  Yoga in Jainism

Jai Jinendra!






Newcombe, S., & O’Brien-Kop, K. (Eds.). 2020. Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies (1st ed.). London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781351050753


Pragya, Samani Pratibha. 2020. “Yoga and meditation in the Jain tradition”   
in Newcombe, S., & O’Brien-Kop, K. (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies (1st ed.). London: Routledge.


Qvarnström, Olle (ed. and trans.). A Handbook On The Three Jewels of Jainism The Yogasastra of Hemacandra (A 12th Century Jaina Treatise on Yoga). Cambridge: Harvard Oriental Series, Vol. 60.


Tatia, Nathmal. 1956. “Ācārya Haribhadra’s Comparative Studies” in Yoga Acarya Vijayavallabhasuri Commemoration Volume. Bombay: Shri Mahavira Jaina Vidyalaya. 129-146.