Hello Londoners – What images are conjured up when you hear the term yoga? People often relate yoga with complicated poses and the cliched “namaste.” Yoga is most certainly much more than this.
The roots of yoga can be traced back to the Indus civilisation. I have never been one to blindly follow any established norms, but yoga has fully gripped my interest. Yogic teachings make sense to me and they have had a powerful effect on both my body and mind since over two decades. My yogic learnings have had a profound impact on my life off the mat as well.
The advent of technology has facilitated the flow of philosophical, scientific, biological and theological knowledge of the yogic scriptures from East to West, and this was far before Online Yoga Classes in London were a thing.
The perception of yoga and yogic practices in the mind of the westerner is just surface deep and I encourage the western world to delve a little deeper into yoga. Let’s have an overview of yoga’s origin as well as it’s commencement in the West.
The term “yoga,” derived from the Sanskrit root word “yuj”, means “to join” or “to integrate.” Its origins can be traced back to the Rig Veda, an ancient text considered among humanity’s oldest. Comprising sacred chants and rituals at the core of Hinduism, the Rig Veda dates back to approximately 1500-1200 BC.
Shiva, the Hindu deity, believed to be the original yogi, symbolizes destruction of the old, followed by rebirth and renewal. Legend has it that Shiva bestowed yogic wisdom upon the Saptarishis. These seven sages, revered in India as the most learned spiritual seers, received insights and mantras during meditation inaccessible to others. These Rishis were considered guardians of the divine laws and they commanded unparalleled respect in society. The work of these seven seers was to spread knowledge to humanity.
Yoga’s Route to the West
The emergence of yoga in the Western world began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when influential figures like Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda introduced Eastern philosophies and practices to Western audiences. Their talks, writings, and teachings threw light on the transformative potential of yoga, sparking interest and curiosity among Western intellectuals and seekers.
Yogic practices gained prominence in the West during the 1960s and 1970s, in response to the search for alternative lifestyles. This period saw the emergence of renowned yoga teachers like B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and Swami Satchidananda, who disseminated diverse yoga styles, such as Hatha, Ashtanga, and Integral Yoga, respectively.
Hatha Yoga- The Yoga Most Westerners Are Familiar With
Hatha yoga was the form of yoga that first made it’s way into the west. “Hatha yoga” often termed simply “yoga,” and a component of “Raja Yoga”, was devised by ancient Rishis to strengthen the body and mind for extended periods of meditation. ‘Hatha’, derived from Sanskrit, translates to “force” or “effort,” while in Hindu belief, it signifies the balancing of opposing energies—sun (ha) and moon (tha)—creating equilibrium. This yoga form uses physical exertion to bring about body-mind transformation, demanding intense focus. While early Western yoga pioneers did focus on yoga’s spiritual basis, Hatha yoga now prevails, mostly devoid of it’s spiritual essence.
On the Western side of the globe, yoga is viewed as an exercise system, but in the East, it is an entire life philosophy. We may think yoga is about balancing postures or stretching to improve flexibility, but in truth, it is about uniting with the divine and exploring our spiritual side.
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