Yoga is the spiritual science that focuses on the eternal union of the mind, body, and spirit. It is an ancient practice that is believed to have originated during the Indus Valley civilization (2700 B.C). The mention of yoga can also be found in sacred texts such as the ‘Rig Veda’. The yogic practices were said to be mastered and documented by mystical seers and sages of India. This was the pre-classical yoga period.
The Journey of Yoga through the Centuries
The Hindu scriptures suggest that the ultimate goal of yoga is to bring about the union of the individual consciousness with the universal consciousness. The classical yoga period was defined by the celebrated yoga guru Patanjali in his yoga-sutras. It presented the first orderly presentation of yoga. ‘Classical Yoga’ is also called ‘Raja Yoga’ and laid the foundation of the modern yogic practices.
Hatha Yoga or post-classical yoga explored the practice of body rejuvenation and living in the present moment. Tantra Yoga and Hatha Yoga was given pre-dominance in the 9th and the 10th century. The modern form of yoga is a gift of the learned gurus, who traveled to western countries to spread the practice of yoga by preaching the benefits of yoga and starting several yoga schools.
All throughout history, great yoga masters have helped millions of people through their teaching. Many yoga masters have devoted their entire life to passing their knowledge to the younger students. From the divine Paramahansa Yogananda who wrote the spiritual eye-opener ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’, to the ever-present Mahavataara Babaji, Kalyug has been blessed with all-powerful yogi gurus.
Yoga Practice Reaches the American Shores
Americans were introduced to yoga in the year 1893, when an Indian religious speaker Swami Vivekananda spoke about the unique concept of mind, body and spirit. Later in the 1900s, another key figure set up a yoga exercise and research center in New York known as ‘Kaivalyadhama’.
Many prominent spiritual personalities such as Paramahansa Yogananda helped spread the practice of ‘Kriya Yoga’ in the western countries. Many seminars and yoga centers were conducted all over the US. Popular celebrities like Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, and George Bernard Shaw were known to have attended these seminars.
Theo Bernard & Richard Hittleman
Theos Bernard was a prominent yoga master in the US, who also published an informative book called Hatha Yoga – The Report of a Personal Experience. His book became an instant success and inspired countless people worldwide to start the ancient practice of yoga.
In the year 1947, a young Russian woman named Indira Devi gained recognition as the ‘First Lady of Yoga’. The yogi launched her very first Hatha Yoga workplace or studio in Hollywood. But, according to reports, it was Richard Hittleman, who played the vital role of bringing the practice of yoga into the forefront and into the lives of every common man in America. He succeeded in making people understand the true concept of yoga and its benefits on our human mind and body. He inspired many American students and motivated them to study and learn the philosophy of yoga, yogic breathing techniques and meditation. Richard also managed to develop a television documentary on yoga in the year 1961.
And due to the combined efforts of the eastern masters and western gurus, Yoga is practically a household name and an important aspect of their lifestyle. In the year 2016, it was found out that almost 90 percentage of Americans know about yoga and an unbelievable 36.7 million Americans are dedicated yoga practitioners.
Let us throw light on some of the venerable yoga gurus of the past:
- Patanjali – He was a revered Indian sage who was also a physician and philosopher. He wrote the legendary Yoga Sutras more than 2000 years ago. In his writings, Patanjali has explained the many aspects of yoga practice. Experts feel that it is one of the most remarkable literary pieces on the subject of yoga to date. The eightfold sutras are still taught in many yoga schools and are an integral part of any yoga tutor’s curriculum.
- T. Krishnamacharya – He was popularly known as the architect of vinyasa. He was a celebrated yoga teacher and ayurvedic healer. Born in the year 1888, he developed a unique yogic technique of aligning the process of breathing with physical movement. He managed to combine the ancient teachings with the needs of the modern world to create a perfect yoga technique.
- B.K.S. Iyengar – He was introduced to the ancient techniques of yoga by the famous yoga teacher Krishnamacharya. However, Iyengar later branched out to establish his own yoga technique known as ‘Iyengar Yoga’. This therapeutic yoga method comes under the Hatha Yoga section. The book ‘Light on Yoga‘ is one of the well-read and popular writings on Yoga that was much appreciated in the western world.
- Swami Sivananda – Founder of Sivananda Yoga, Swami Sivananda also has played a crucial role in shaping the modern-day yoga society in the west. His life was dedicated to teaching specific yoga styles to his students. He has founded around 85 yoga centers all around the globe. He was a reputed doctor and a saint. Born into an illustrious Tamil family in the year 1887, he displayed a natural inclination towards the study of Vedanta scriptures and performing arduous yoga poses.
The practice of ‘Surya Namaskar‘ while reciting the mantras became an important part of an early morning ritual. This yogic form of workout is also popular in the west. Many Americans have been worshiping the nature while offering salutations to the sun doing this form of ‘Surya namaskar’ yoga. This yogic ritual is conducted to offer obligations to the Sun God. You can find many people who practice this age-old ritual of offering prayers through yogic poses.
Primary features of Surya Namaskar:
- Sun salutation is a series of twelve power-packed yoga poses.
- It is immensely beneficial for our body and mind.
- It is a kind of cardio-vascular workout.
- It is typically done early in the morning before breakfast.
- There are two sets and every set has 12 yoga poses.
- Daily practice can bring about wondrous positive changes.
- Apart from good health Benefits, Surya Namaskar is an excellent way to express your humble gratitude to the Sun God
Many grand yoga masters have written or recorded documented yoga practices for assisting the future generation in its quest to learn more about the practical yet mystical Yogic practices.
Following the Eightfold Path
In modern times, there are many yoga styles and mostly all these different styles are guided and influenced by the Yoga Sutra texts. It offers the best yoga poses and techniques to lead a balanced life. Yoga can aspire you to gain the right kind of perceptive and balance in your life. The different styles, technique, and poses of yoga have to be followed diligently under the guidance of a physical yoga trainer or a yoga master. It is advisable to exercise some caution while doing intense breathing or pranayama yoga techniques. A wrong step during the technique can have adverse effects on your health and vitality. Similarly, a perfectly conducted regular yoga practice can work like an elixir of life.
New Age Yoga in the United States
During the 20th century, several noted American yoga gurus started using television as an effective communication link to present the different forms of yoga to a wider audience. The birth of the New Age movement also played a significant hand in popularizing yoga. And soon enough, yoga institutions and yoga centers mushroomed all over the United States. The 80 and 90s decade saw Americans buying VHS tapes and DVD explaining simple to complex yoga exercises. Special studios were formed to teach and spread the yoga technique for the benefit of mankind.
The efforts of erstwhile masters like Vivekananda slowly gained acceptance in the west. Yoga came to be known as a unique influential and universal culture that was wholeheartedly embraced by the Americans.