There is a clear indication that a fitness consciousness is rising in India. This is evident in the number of gyms, health clubs, cycling groups and runners’ fraternities sprouting across the nation. Particularly, the rising craze of Yoga among Indians is quite prominent.
I was introduced to Yoga during my school years; these sessions were really interesting for most of us even though our Yoga instructor spent half of her time calming down all the hyperactive kids in order to make them perform all those asanas. Yoga has evolved greatly over the years. Today, there are so many different types of Yoga techniques that are taught, many of which have been invented recently – Hatha Yoga, Hot Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Post Natal and Prenatal Yoga, Aerial Yoga, Power Yoga, Vinyassa Yoga, etc.
Yoga is an ancient Indian discipline ultimately aims to unite mind, body, and spirit, and helps us to transcend the boundaries of the self to become one with the universal consciousness. This ancient discipline originated thousands of years ago, taught by the Rishis or Yoga gurus as they were called to their students. According to Panini, a 6th Century BC Sanskrit grammarian, the term “Yoga” is derived from two roots – Yujir Yoga (to yoke or unite) or Yuj Samādhau (to concentrate). Later in 4th Century AD, the ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ were compiled, which laid the foundation of Yoga.
Even though Yoga has its origins in India it has been widely accepted all over the world, especially the West. Swami Vivekananda was the first Hindu guru who actively advocated various aspects of Yoga to the western audience, when he toured Europe and the United States in the 1890s. Hatha Yoga was the first type of Yoga that was introduced to the West in the 1920s by three students of T. Krishnamacharya (a prominent Indian Yogi) namely, B.K.S Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar, and Sri Pattabhi Jois. These three yogis went on to reinvent Yoga and they founded the schools of Iyengar Yoga, ViniYoga, and Ashtanga Yoga, respectively.
A second “Yoga boom” followed in the 1980s, as Dean Ornish, a follower of Swami Satchidananda, connected Yoga to heart health, legitimizing it as a purely physical system of health exercises outside of counter-culture or esotericism circles, and unconnected to any religious denomination. Numerous asanas seemed modern in origin, and strongly overlapped with 19th and early-20th century Western exercise traditions.
Yoga has gained a strong foothold in Hollywood, where celebrities like Madonna, Demi Moore, Reese Witherspoon and Robert Downey swear by Yoga to help them keep fit physically as well as spiritually. The first Yoga studio in Hollywood was established by Indira Devi in 1947, which led to a steady migration of celebrities to this discipline. A lot of prominent Yoga instructors are non-Indians namely Noah Maze, Heidi Kristofer, Elena Brower, Vanessa Hudgens and many more.
In India, TV as a mass media helped boost the popularity of Yoga through renowned practitioners such as Baba Ramdev and Shilpa Shetty. Today, this practice has evolved greatly over the years and a lot of these variants that have been created in order to cater to special needs. Some of the popular forms of Yoga are:
- Ashtanga Yoga – designed to help adolescent boys calm their excess energy
- Iyengar Yoga – a form of Hatha Yoga that emphasises on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of postures (asana) and breath control (pranayama)
- Hot Yoga – a style devised by Bikram Chaudhary was used to replicate the heat and humidity of India where Yoga originated
- Acro-Yoga is another new style of Yoga gaining popularity that blends the wisdom of Yoga with the dynamic power of Acrobatics and the loving kindness of healing arts
- Hip-Hop Yoga is where you do sun salutations to the soothing sounds of Eminem
- Doga is where people essentially use their dogs as props to deepen their poses!
Even though the way Yoga has been taught in today’s world has really diversified, there are still a few Yoga gurus as they call themselves who have tried to preserve the ancient or the most orthodox form of this art. For instance, B.K.S. Iyengar who recently passed away developed the Iyengar Yoga, a form of Hatha Yoga. He has systematised over 200 classical Yogic postures and 14 different types of Pranayama.
Yoga has greatly evolved over the few years and it will continue to do so, based on the needs of every generation that comes along. In the last few years, Yoga has found a big home support and a renaissance is beginning in India. The Indian Government is putting a serious effort to restore the lost glory of this discipline by declaring June 21st as the 1st International Yoga Day in order to incite mass participation throughout the country.