International Yoga Day: From Ancient Indian Roots to Western Adaptation

As we go deeper into our epics and scriptures, we will realize that yoga has been the practice that actually originated in India some thousand and thousand years ago

Most of us have been practicing yoga for years at large and yet, the origins of yoga have yet been unknown to us. While most of us believe that yoga was originally a western concept which was later infused into Indian habits and lifestyle, the fact is, however, is the absolute opposite. As we go deeper into our epics and scriptures, we will realize that yoga has been the practice that actually originated in India some thousand and thousand years ago. It has been an integral part of Indian tradition and culture since times immemorial. Personal grooming, healing and self-discovery are a few benefits that practicing yoga can yield.

Yoga: A part of India’s ancient history

The word ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ which actually means ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’. It was believed to be a practice by an individual with an intention to be united with the universal consciousness. History of yoga can be found in the oldest known Hindu text, Rig Veda that dates around 1500 BCE. In earlier times, yoga was considered to be a spiritual discipline, closely connected to the religious and philosophical traditions of various religious sects, Hinduism, Buddhism,, and Jainis. The earlier forms of yoga was most importantly a mediatative practice aiming at achieving spiritual enlightenment and self-realization. There were a combination of asanas (physical postures), pranayam (breathing techniques and controls) and dhyana (meditation) along with  yamas and niyamas (some ethical disciplines) that formed yoga practices. The ancient texts of yoga, such as the Yog Sutras of Patanjali, are the foundation that were compiled around 400 CE,  and they have outlined an eightfold path (Ashtang) that directs the practitioners toward achieveing a balanced and harmonious life.

The times have changed, no doubt, but the art form of yoga still has its importance in the lives today. The significant transformation of yoga has now reached the western world. Even while the core principles and benefits are the same, the adation process seems to have undergone drastic change making it a global perspective. It was way back in the late 19th and early 20th century that yoga was introduced to the Western world during various cultural exchange programmes by Indian gurus and yogis, one of them being Swami Vivekanada. It was then that a broader western audience at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893, was enlightened by Swami ji about the philosophical and spiritual aspects of yoga, rousing curiosity and admiration among the Western intellectuals and spiritual seekers. Following him, many other yogis travelled to the West popularizing the practice of yoga globally. Among them were Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, who is also known as the “father of modern yoga,”. He had played a very pivotal role in spreading the aspects and principles of practicing yoga. His disciples, such as B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi, developed distinct styles of yoga practice that emphasized physical postures and techniques suitable for Western practitioners.

The Evolution and Adaptation of Yoga in the West

As yoga gained popularity in the West, it began to evolve and adapt to the cultural and societal context. In the 1960s and 1970s, the counterculture movement embraced yoga as part of a broader interest in alternative lifestyles, holistic health, and spiritual exploration. This period saw the establishment of numerous yoga studios and ashrams, as well as the publication of influential books and manuals that made yoga accessible to a wider audience.

Also read: International Yoga Day 2024: Date, Theme, History And Importance

Western yoga practice shifted the focus from the traditional spiritual and meditative aspects to a more physical and fitness-oriented approach. The commercialization of yoga led to the development of various styles and trends, such as Power Yoga, Hot Yoga, and Vinyasa Flow, which emphasized physical fitness, flexibility, and stress relief. This adaptation made yoga appealing to a diverse range of people, including those seeking physical exercise, mental relaxation, and overall well-being. This significant evolution of yoga administered the idea that Yoga, as an art form, was a wetern concept which, now is being adapted by the Indian audience, and while it maybe true for the evolved, modern form of yoga, but the art form has had its roots way back in the ancient Indian history.

Cultural Integration and Contemporary Practice

Today, yoga is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the West, with millions of practitioners and thousands of studios offering classes that cater to different preferences and needs. The integration of yoga into mainstream culture is evident in its presence in gyms, corporate wellness programs, and even schools. The practice has also been supported by scientific research, which has highlighted its benefits for physical health, mental clarity, and emotional stability.

However, the widespread adoption of yoga in the West has not been without controversy. Critics argue that the commercialization and simplification of yoga often strip away its rich cultural and spiritual heritage. The practice is sometimes reduced to mere physical exercise, disconnected from its original philosophical and ethical foundations. This phenomenon, often referred to as “cultural appropriation,” raises questions about the authenticity and respect for the tradition’s origins.

The Enduring Legacy of Yoga

Nonetheless, the enduring legacy of yoga has had a profound impact on individuals and societies across the globe and its adaptibility that has transcended geographical boudaries altogether and while the practie of yoga has witnessed a significant evolution in the past, the art form continues to evolve. In recent years, there has been a growing movement to reconnect with the deeper aspects of yoga, promoting a holistic understanding that honors its ancient roots.

Organizations and practitioners are increasingly advocating for a more authentic and respectful approach to yoga, emphasizing the importance of understanding its history, philosophy, and cultural context. Efforts are being made to educate practitioners about the ethical principles of yoga, encouraging a practice that goes beyond the physical and fosters a deeper connection with oneself and the world.