“It’s a bunch of vegan hippies, chanting, stretching and meditating in hemp shorts on a mountain.”
Not far off what my first ever perception of yoga was.
But it wasn’t until years later when I began my yoga journey that I couldn’t have been so far off. Don’t get me wrong there are hemp wearing hippies that are living off the land like the apocalypse is nigh.
However, I have discovered that the simple question of “What is Yoga?” opens up a black hole of possibilities. The answer is a complex one, and totally individual to every human being on Earth.
I guess if you do ask many people in the western world “What is Yoga?” then they would reply with something close to a description of ‘middle aged white women in leggings aligned in a studio getting into some crazy physical poses’.
I’d of totally said the same thing. It was quite literally the many reason I stayed away from yoga for so long. As a professional athlete I knew that yoga could help my sport, the physical benefits as well as improved mental focus were starting to be broadcast on the internet. Yet, I steered clear for so long as my male ego wouldn’t allow me to walk into a class.
It wasn’t until I began my yoga teacher training that it really dived into the understanding of what yoga was and where it came from.
Originating from India, it is believed that yoga began around the fifth or sixth centuries. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (the first scriptures of yoga practices) aren’t clear as to a date they emerged, nor who by, however they give an outline of the basis of which yoga was founded.
Asking which yoga practice is the first nor, which is the best is a broad question and discussion so I’m going to stay by with what I have been taught. But simply type this sort of question into Google and you can go tumble down the rabbit warren of theories and beliefs.
For the sake of time, I will give a quick (very quick) outline of the path of traditional yoga.
Hatha yoga is seen as the first style of yoga that was created and when the first yogi’s such as Swami Vivekananda ventured to the western world around the 1890’s. Yoga teachings began it’s rise and so it’s study into it’s benefits.
SIDE NOTE: Yoga has traditionally viewed as the poses (Asana) that you see in classes. While this is a large element of the yoga practice, it is not the only. In the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali, there are 7 other elements that make up a yogic practice, involving more spiritual practices, internal self-development, interaction with the world and everything in it.
As yoga began it’s rise in the western world (mainly mainland America) around the 1960’s it reached it peak of interest and so began the increase of influential teachers making the trek over the pond. Teachers such as Sivananda Saraswati and Tirumalai Krishnamacharya followed by B.K.S Inyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois, both students of Krishnamacharya.
Eventually different schools of yoga began to be introduced such a Kundalini, Ashtanga to name a few. By the 2000’s yoga’s popularity hadn’t just risen in America but around the world. In America, the number of people practicing some form of yoga has risen from 4 million (2001) to 20 million (2011), with that number still rising.
So back to “What is Yoga”. With Yoga now being so much further away from it’s traditional heritage. Yoga has developed just like the modern world has. It has evolved into a business, with brands able to build multi-million dollar businesses off the back of it’s popularity.
Most people will see Yoga as a physical practice and, like most people, I began yoga for its physical benefits that the poses offer. I was an professional athlete looking for improve my bodies performance, and I got it. However, if you begin to break the surface of yoga you understand that it is much more than just leggings vests and smoothie bowls. For me I have understood it as being a better understanding of yourself and how you interact with yourself and then your interaction with the world around you.
Yoga can be whatever you really want it to be. It fundamentally depends on what you are looking for in your life. Maybe you are looking for a better feeling body, maybe you are looking for a calmer mind, maybe you are looking for a belief system to follow, maybe you are looking for a set of values. Whatever you want your yoga to be, it can be. It’s a way of living. Fundamentally to make you and the world around you a better place to be.
So I say more power to you if yoga isn’t traditional, I don’t believe in there having to be some spiritual-ometer within yoga and if your practice is just physical, meditation, breathing exercises, if you are looking to make yourself a better person then im behind you one hundred percent.