Updated: Mar 25, 2022
Today millions of people practice yoga, across the globe. This is really overwhelming because this popularity is very recent
From "Yogash Chitta vritti nirodhah", to Snake Yoga; the technique has been improvised many times. Sometimes so harshly that it lost its original essence, but such is the magnitude in the name (read Yog) itself that whichever form it took, it always found a following.
Today millions of people practice yoga, across the globe. This is really overwhelming, because this popularity is very recent. The efforts of our Honorable Prime Minister Mr. Modi and many others great yogis will be remembered by many generations. I remember the time when baba Ramdev has become a household name. The following he got was amazing but only a particular age group was attracted. It was 2001, and just like many others my childish mind also thought that yoga is an "old people's thing". A decade and a half later I am teaching yoga practices to teenagers and young adults. It is overwhelming to see how the youths have embraced the practice. We really have come a long way! Well, let's understand how the traditional practice is different from the one which has attracted the modern world. The practice which is more than 5000 years old is said to have originated from the lord of the universe, Adi yogi or Shiva. The intention of the practice was to achieve a unity between the individual self and the supreme self, thus the name Yog; literally meaning "unity". Adi yogi shared this knowledge with sap rishis (seven sages) and they then educated the masses for many centuries.
This unity is explained to be achieved through several ways out of which 2 are broadly accepted-
One is through the mind and
The other one is through the body.
Sage Patanjali was the first person to structure the knowledge of achieving this unity through the mind and he called it "Ashtanga Yoga" which is basically an 8 limbs process of achieving the ultimate. The limbs are-
The second was a more mysterious process called "Tantra Yoga" which is the process of using one's body's full potential to achieve unity with the supreme self. A tradition that strictly followed the teacher-disciple (guru-shishya) parampara. Unfortunately, In the absence of learned teachers, "Tantra Yoga" started getting distorted. Our ancestors may have foreseen this and they managed to improvise the Tantra Yoga practice in a way which they thought would be more acceptable, they called it "Hatha Yoga". Along with yogasana and pranayama, this practice also involved ways of cleaning the internal organs (shat kriyas), various mudras, and bandhas.
Above is a general brief of traditional yoga in laymen's language. Fast forward to the 19th century and the yogic practices were almost disappearing, owing to the constant loot of Indian culture, traditions, and of course prosperity. And then a few learned gurus like BKS Iyengar, Krishnamacharya, Swami Sivananda, Swami Vivekananda, and many others have dedicated their lives to remind people about this ancient tradition. But this time the target was the Western world. These contributions are the foundation that has compelled the world to accept India as the spiritual leader. This new audience, however, was seemingly more interested in the physical aspect of yoga. This aspect (read yogasana) was promoted, even more, considering the health benefits which come from the practice. The gymnast body shapes of the western teachers made the yogasana look even more beautiful and eventually everyone just wanted to lose weight, become flexible, gain strength with yoga. Even the pranayama lost their significance. Meditation, kriyas, mudras, Yamas, niyama, etc. were almost too boring (read nonexistent) to follow now. And suddenly every exercise has become about losing weight. Yoga practices were no exceptions and hence came the other improvisations such as Power yoga, Hot yoga, Iron Yoga and the list is endless. These forms only focused on somehow getting through the practice, there was no focus on Body and mind balance. Despite the popularity of these weight loss yogic fads, some teachers and schools continued with the traditional practices. They continue educating people about the significance of pranayama, the cleansing techniques, and all the other aspects of yogic practices. It was this persistence that has kept the real nature of the practice alive. As and when the world became more and more fast, anxious, restless, stressed, people started to understand the importance of traditional yogic practices. In order to quench the thirsts of logical minds, many scientific studies were conducted on how traditional yogic practices are effective in psychosomatic disorders. As a result, there is a significant increase in the number of practitioners who want to practice the non-yogasana aspect of yoga. The recent events of covid-19 have stamped the efficacy of pranayama and kriyas for improved lung functioning. There has been a sudden increase in the commercialization of yoga too. The practices and knowledge which were offered at free of cost earlier are now one of the highest-paying jobs. Surprisingly, the higher the fee is, the more successful (at least financially) and knowledgeable the teacher is considered. Perhaps, it's this commercialization that encourages people to keep manipulating the practice in some way or the other. Trends like Beer Yoga, Snake Yoga, etc. are a result of such commercial motivation. The conclusion here is that traditional yogic practices are wonderfully structured to achieve the optimum body and mind functioning. These can really help in realizing the full potential of human beings. Every step in keeping the practices alive is very much needed and appreciated, however one needs to be careful that any enthusiasm doesn't take the true nature of the practice away.
Let me know what you think of the modern versions. Write in the comment box or email @firstname.lastname@example.org
Nidhi (Senior Teacher @Ayushman Yog)
Level 1- 200 hrs., Level 3- 800 hrs. (YCB)
MSC (Yoga), MSC(Vedanta)