The Evolution Of Yoga (From Essence to Cultural Appropriation)

Yoga, a practice with roots in ancient Indian philosophy with a rich history dating back thousands of years, has gained immense popularity worldwide and undergone significant changes throughout its long history. The origins of yoga can be traced to the ancient Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, philosophical texts that form the core of yogic spiritual teachings.

However, as yoga has adapted and evolved over time, its modern incarnation has deviated significantly from its original essence. Factors such as the incorporation of asanas from Indian martial arts, the impact of British colonization, the influence of California’s wellness culture, and the new age scene of Ubud, have transformed yoga into something that has now little connection to the Upanishadic roots.

The Light of Yoga.

The Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are ancient texts that serve as the foundation for understanding the original essence of yoga.

The Upanishads are a collection of sacred texts that explore the nature of reality, the self, and the ultimate truth. Yoga, as depicted in the Upanishads, was primarily a spiritual practice aimed at attaining self-realization, union with the divine, and breaking free from the cycle of death and rebirth. It involved meditation, breath control, and the cultivation of inner awareness.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is often considered the foundational text of classical yoga philosophy. Composed in around 400 CE, this concise work comprises 196 aphorisms or sutras that systematically outline the philosophy and practice of yoga. Divided into four chapters, or padas, the Yoga Sutra provides a comprehensive and concise guide to yoga, encompassing ethical principles, meditation techniques, and the cultivation of mental stillness while discussing various aspects of yoga, including its definition, the nature of the mind, the practice of meditation, and the state of self-realization, known as samadhi.

Darkness Under The British Empire.

The era of British colonization in India had a significant impact on the popularity and practice of yoga. The British colonial rulers viewed yoga as exotic and unfamiliar, often failing to recognize its spiritual and philosophical depth. Consequently, yoga faced marginalization and lost much of its cultural significance during this period. The suppression and neglect of yoga under British rule disrupted the transmission of traditional yogic knowledge, leading to a diminished understanding of its original essence and contributing to the subsequent transformation of yoga in the modern era.

In the aftermath of British colonization, Hindu yogis felt a strong sense of responsibility to preserve the cultural integrity of their sacred practice. Yoga, deeply intertwined with Hindu spiritual traditions, was considered a sacred and profound discipline that required respectful and reverent study. There was a prevailing reluctance among some Hindu yogis to share their sacred practice with foreigners. This apprehension stemmed from a desire to preserve the purity and sanctity of their spiritual traditions and maintain its cultural integrity, fearing that the essence of yoga could be diluted or misrepresented if widely shared with outsiders. Today as we look back at what yoga has become, one can only think that these yogis were indeed right.

Yoga Reborn.

With time, yoga gradually transformed from a spiritual discipline into a popular physical exercise. Contrary to popular belief, many of the asanas commonly practiced today were not originally a part of yoga. Instead, they have their roots in Indian martial arts and other physical disciplines. Ancient texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, dating back to the 15th century CE, describe only a small number of seated postures, focusing primarily on pranayama (breath control) and meditation techniques. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, asana refers to a posture for the practice of seated meditation.

It was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that prominent yoga pioneers like Tirumalai Krishnamacharya and his disciples, including B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois, began incorporating a broader range of asanas into their teachings. These individuals sought to make yoga more accessible and appealing to the masses, incorporating physical movements and sequences to enhance the physical benefits of the practice. Iyengar and Jois in particular went on to become superstars among Western students with many of their students flying back home to teach their abridged version of yoga.

Living The American Nightmare.

As yoga gained popularity in the West, it underwent further modifications to suit the needs and preferences of Western practitioners. The physical postures took center stage, with emphasis placed on flexibility, strength, and body aesthetics. Yoga classes often became more fitness-oriented, emphasizing the physical benefits while downplaying the spiritual aspects.

This new rendition of yoga became popular when the actress Indra Devi, formerly known as Eugenie Peterson returned to America after studying under the guidance of T.Krishnamacharya ( who reluctantly accepted her as a student after his employer, the Maharaja of Mysore, spoke on her behalf). She was the first foreign woman among his students in the yoga sala in the Mysore Palace, studying alongside B.K.S Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois the now world-famous yoga teachers.

Indra Devi made yoga a predominantly female pursuit in the West forging the idea in the Western mind of yoga as the exilir of beauty and longevity. Backed by her living to 101 years old that ideology turned yoga from a primarily male-dominant practice done by half-naked yogis in India to a female-dominant practice done by flexible women wearing 100 dollars yoga pants.

Yoga became even more popular in California during the 1960s and 1970s, thanks to the counterculture movement and the influx of spiritual teachers from India. It quickly became synonymous with the state’s wellness culture, attracting people seeking physical fitness, stress relief, and spiritual growth. Yoga became an inclusive part of the flower power movement with the latter adding its influence to yoga. If you have ever wondered why the 7 chakras have the same colors as the rainbow. Look no further than the Californian hippie scene of the 1960s.

A Little Bit Of New Age Crap.

Up until the late 1990s, India was still the reference for anyone who wanted to learn a yoga that was closer to its original roots. Many were still traveling to India on their spiritual quest and the only way of becoming a “certified or authorized” yoga teacher was by making regular trips to one of the schools that had a direct lineage to Krishnamacharya, and show real dedication to the practice of yoga.

By the end of the 1990s, the Yoga Alliance was founded to offer a fast track to becoming a certified yoga teacher. It was now possible to become a yoga teacher in just one month. By beginning 2000s, their Yoga Teacher’s Training was a huge success and was in big demand.

With this high demand, entrepreneurs who had no real interest in yoga or any spiritual practice started to set up many yoga schools with the goal of generating sales by offering as many yoga teacher training certifications as possible. One particular location that became the epicenter of such training is Ubud, Bali.

Thousands start flocking to Bali in search for their “Eat, Pray, Love” moment leading to the yoga scene in Ubud becoming a concentration of pseudoscience and new age nonsense.

Instead of focusing on the traditional and authentic principles of yoga, practitioners in Ubud are often caught up in a web of crystal healing, aura cleansing, and energy channeling, which have no scientific or yogic basis or proven benefits. This obsession with mystical practices has diverted attention away from the true essence of yoga, which is rooted in mindfulness, self-discipline, and self-realization.

Furthermore, the commercialization of yoga in Ubud has led to a proliferation of gurus and self-proclaimed healers who exploit unsuspecting tourists by peddling all kinds of new styles of dubious practices and charging exorbitant fees for their services.

If The water Of the River Is Unclean, Investigate The Source.

Today the modernization of yoga has turned it into a billion-dollar industry, with countless studios, celebrities teachers, fake gurus, clothing lines, and accessories catering to the needs of practitioners. This commercialization has led to a simplified and standardized version of yoga that is often disconnected from its philosophical and spiritual origins.

While modern yoga undeniably offers numerous physical and mental benefits, it is crucial to acknowledge that its essence has significantly evolved from its origins in the Upanishads, and what it has become has nothing much to do with the original meaning of yoga.

By understanding the evolution of yoga, practitioners can approach the practice with a more informed perspective, find a balance between the physical and spiritual dimensions of this ancient discipline and avoid getting scammed.

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