The history of yoga began in ancient times, but continues into the modern age. As one of the oldest spiritual practices known to man, yoga has become popular throughout the world. Whether practiced as a spiritual discipline or a means of increasing physical health, the benefits of yoga are unquestionable.
Yoga Comes to the West
First introduced to Western culture in the eighteen hundreds, yoga was originally approached as simply a part of Eastern culture and philosophy. The growth of discussion and writing about yoga in the East had expanded the practice, bringing a variety of approaches to the basics laid down by Patanjali. Some trace this growth of interest in yoga to a presentation at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. Swami Vivekananda spoke of yoga practice, gathering the interest of many attending the event.
By the 1930s, yoga had begun to expand in popularity. More people began to practice yoga rather than simply studying it. As a health movement, it continued to grow until it had achieved wide popularity in the 60s among those seeking a simpler lifestyle. Emphasis was placed on vegetarian practice, meditation and the spiritual aspects of yogic practice. Indra Devi brought yoga to Hollywood when she opened her studio in 1947.
Also in the 1960s, many yogis from the East began to bring their versions of the ancient practice to the West. Some of these practitioners included Swami Sivananda, B.K.S. Iyengar and T. Krishnamacharya. The sixties also saw many high-profile public features, such as the Beatles, traveling to India to learn more about yoga and meditation practices.
Today, more than one hundred different schools of yoga vie for the attention of the modern practitioner. Many of these claim to provide the elements of original practice and trace their roots to yoga’s beginnings. These schools of yoga include hatha yoga, Iyengar yoga, ashtanga or Power Yoga and Bikram yoga.
The proliferation of yoga schools is confusing to many beginners today, but the basis of all yoga schools is the asana, or individual poses. Different schools emphasize different sets of poses or different ways of combining them. Some focus on meditative practice during pose sequences, while others focus on movement of energy up the spine or, like Bikram yoga, on the external surroundings.
Yoga’s popularity and the variety available for the new practitioner makes it possible for anyone interested in this ancient art to find just the right approach for their needs. Yoga classes can focus on flexibilty, core strength or weight loss. Pre-natal yoga classes help strengthen the body to support pregnancy and childbirth. Other classes help strengthen the back or the upper or lower body.
Most modern yoga classes in the West remove the spiritual element from yogic practice and focus on yoga as exercise. However, the act of performing yoga poses increases concentration and often has profound effects on blood pressure and stress levels. Even those who do not wish to pursue a spiritually based yoga path can find benefits that transcend the physical. Regardless of physical condition or religious leanings, yoga is a wonderfully versatile path to achieve greater health and well-being.