by Bethany Cleg
Unless you really want to wear a loin cloth when practicing yoga, you probably have enjoyed the changes brought about by the evolution of yoga over the years. Today’s yoga practitioners have a wide variety of comfortable gym wear that wasn’t even possible 5,000 years ago, when yoga was first invented. It’s true that the practice of yoga began as a spiritual system of teaching to help students master the mind on their way to enlightenment, but that doesn’t mean that the core teachings in the physical asana won’t produce benefit in a chaotic and stressful modern world. Traditionalists may still want to visit India to get a first-hand view of older practices, but for most people in the Western world, the changes have helped this system to flourish and provide valuable guidance on health and fitness for millions, without the need for being stuck in the past. If you want to know what some of the changes are, here are just a few.
The Master-Student Relationship
Yoga was taught by gurus and had an eight-fold path that included the asana (the physical postures) that characterize modern yoga practices. However, that was not the only practice that was included in the practice of yoga. The tradition of yoga was often handed down from master to student in a one-on-one relationship that also covered meditation, mindful breathing, and concentration, amongst many other disciplines of the mind. The emphasis on physical fitness came about when yoga went from a one-on-one relationship to a classroom setting where many students followed the poses modeled by the teacher.
Elitism to Popular Appeal
Even the way yoga traversed the oceans, going from the Indus Valley in India, where it first originated to the fancy spas on the West Coast of the United States. At first, the practice of yoga was so new and esoteric that only people with money and the time to spend in fancy spas were exposed to practice. However, it didn’t take long for stressed-out CEOs and trophy wives to realize that it helped them engage life in a much calmer fashion. The physical benefits also produced results to match some of the more strenuous exercise fads of the time, without losing your breath. Eventually, as people became more familiar with yoga, studios run by former gurus popped up even in New York. At that point, the practice was adapted to accommodate large classes for more than one person. Now, you can even find a yoga class at your local YMCA or YWCA.
Back to the Future or to the Basics?
Now that yoga is widely accepted, there are two ways it is fanning out in its evolution. One segment of teachers are looking at the other past practices that were taught in schools in India and bringing those forms back into yoga, like breathing exercises and meditation. Some may even go into the esoteric spiritual teachings that underpin the practices. This can be as complicated as teaching the energetic body system of chakras and their role in health. Some have even gone back to the master-student relationship of one-on-one attention to pass on the entire system to an advanced disciple, even as they also conduct classes for beginners. While New Age fans provided a lot of the acceptance of yoga in the Western world, some people believe that this has either distorted or confused the original teachings and so they wish to go back to that entire way of teaching.
However, there are just as many people who understand that yoga was never a fixed system. They may revel in new forms of the practice from hot yoga done in heated rooms to nude yoga on the beach. There is no one to tell them what’s right or wrong about their explorations in yoga. They can be as creative as they like and still take the best of the past and combine it with the passion of the future to bring even more acolytes to this ancient practice. Expect to see many new forms of yoga as it continues to expand and grow over time.
Bethany Cleg is a small business owner at Bethany Cleg Photography. She is an avid writer, photographer, and tech geek. When she’s not writing or taking pictures, you’ll find her hiking with her family.