How yoga went from a spiritual practice to a physical practice


In his e-book The Story of Yoga: From Historic India to the Trendy West, the writer, Alistair Shearer solutions a easy query: How did “a time-honoured highway to enlightenment” flip “right into a $25 billion-a-year wellness trade”? He solutions it throughout 357 pages, the primary few chapters having a scholarly density, the sources being from historical past — excavations from Mohejodharo (c. 3000 BC – 1500 BC), and texts just like the Vedas (2500 BC – 500 BC). It eases up quickly sufficient with insights on what pushed yoga from meditative apply to bodily mat work. In a nutshell, Shearer tells us that the unique apply was at all times meant to be what he calls “mind-yoga”, the aim of which was to look inward, however what we’ve turned it into is “body-yoga”, the aim of which is health or “a secular therapeutic treatment”.

Previous Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, whereby he says solely three brief verses are dedicated to bodily postures; the Hatha Yoga Pradipika that has solely 4 asanas; and varied different texts, Shearer establishes that the aim of yoga was by no means to tone our our bodies, however “as the best way to transcend its irksome limitations altogether”. The physicality of the apply, he says, started with the British Raj’s intelligent fusion of gymnastics with yoga as promoted within the YMCA. Alongside the best way, we meet the Theosophists, Swami Vivekananda, BKS Iyengar, and encounter varied actions and alliances, just like the variety of hours of lecturers’ coaching, the forms of yoga which have come up over time, and Western drugs’s ‘stamp of approval’ — all of which have contributed to the best way yoga is seen at the moment.

In an e mail interview, Shearer, who has up to now translated the Yoga Sutras, and co-created Neeleshwar Heritage in Kerala, talks of his personal curiosity in yoga, its previous, current and future. The e-book took three years to write down, and wanted to be pruned of 40,000 phrases, thereby leaving out some components of the historical past of yoga, just like the Bihar Faculty. “A number of fascinating materials needed to be jettisoned. It’ll be within the subsequent e-book,” says Shearer.

Alistair Shearer, author of The Story of Yoga: From Ancient India to the Modern West

Alistair Shearer, writer of The Story of Yoga: From Historic India to the Trendy West
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Why a e-book on yoga — was it an concept that got here to you due to the massive curiosity in it, or was it one thing you had at all times wished to do and the time was proper?

Nicely, I’ve been excited about Indian tradition all my grownup life, first finding out Indian religions and Sanskrit academically after which instructing programs on Indian artwork and structure at varied establishments within the UK, together with the British Museum and London College. On the similar time, on the sensible degree, mind-yoga has been a continuing supply of nourishment for me since I studied with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi over 40 years in the past, and I’ve been practising and instructing meditation ever since then.

The extraordinary development of worldwide yoga as a commercialised and secular train routine, slightly than a path resulting in religious enlightenment, has boomed within the final 20 years, sparking in flip an enormous improve of educational investigation into the origins of the apply in India itself. So three or 4 years in the past, it appeared to me to be the suitable time to deliver all these totally different strands collectively and weave them right into a story in a method that was accessible to the final reader, in addition to these engaged in instructing and practising the self-discipline. Therefore the e-book.

What does yoga imply to you?

I suppose my entire life revolves round it. I’ve had a day by day routine for a few years that consists of a easy set of asanas, some pranayama and meditation, in addition to pursuing my pursuits within the philosophies of yoga and Vedanta. Then there are the retreats I lead for my college students each couple of months or so. Just lately although, the bodily facet of my apply has given technique to longer day by day durations of meditation. I preserve which means to get again to doing asanas however on condition that I even have a busy working life, it doesn’t look seemingly in the intervening time. There’s solely a lot time every day one can dedicate to self-improvement!

The e-book is kind of dense within the first few chapters and it will get simpler to learn because it goes alongside? Did you talk about this together with your editor, and why did you determine to do that?

The content material dictated it, actually. The e-book proceeds chronologically, and to look at the early roots of yoga, you don’t have any selection however to delve into the historical past of historical India and familiarize yourself with a really totally different society that had a really totally different method of seeing the world than we do at the moment. A lot of the particular proof comes from a handful of extremely esoteric Sanskrit texts, such because the Upanishads and Patanjali’s Yogasutra, that cope with the nuances of altered and unusual states of consciousness caused by extended meditation. So for the non-specialist, that is actually very unfamiliar territory that needs to be trod slowly and with some care. There’s no method spherical it. However persevere, expensive reader! Because the narrative strikes out of the dense forests and darkish caves inhabited by these early yogis, we emerge in the direction of fashionable occasions, the place there may be extra room for recognisable markers, anecdote, irony and humour and so the tone routinely lightens. Then, by the top of the e-book, I come again to discussing yogic spirituality, however in its up to date setting and in fashionable phrases, with the scientific proof and so forth.

In the event you have been to select simply the principle milestones on the highway to the rise of yoga, what would they be — within the context of it changing into part of the multi-billion greenback wellness trade?

One silent seed of the fashionable scene was the work of Shri Yogendra, who offered yoga as a secular, scientific self-discipline with measurable well being advantages, each preventative and healing. He opened his pioneering Yoga Institute, the primary on this planet, in suburban Bombay in 1918. It’s nonetheless flourishing at the moment and has develop into successfully the official spokesman of medical yoga for the Indian Authorities.

However crucial, albeit unwitting, milestone was in all probability the good Vaishnava scholar and yoga grasp, TM Krishnamacharya of Mysore. Within the 1930s, he ran a yoga faculty within the palace of his patron, Maharajah Krishna Wodeyar IV, and he combined Scandinavian gymnastic workouts, then changing into highly regarded in Europe, into his regime. TMK’s two most profitable pupils have been Ok Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar. The previous went to America and developed his vigorous Ashtanga system, whereas BKS conquered Europe along with his eponymous methodology that pioneered using props. Each these extremely bodily approaches ignored the interiority that Patanjali calls ‘the center of yoga’. Considerably, Krishnamacharya additionally accepted a feminine disciple, Indra Devi, as a result of he felt that as Indian males have been being seduced from conventional brahmin values by the need to become profitable, the way forward for yoga lay with girls. Indra went to California and launched most of the main women of Hollywood to posture work as a technique to drop a few pounds, preserve match and fight the results of ageing. Such issues have formed a lot fashionable yoga, which is a 90% feminine phenomenon.

Then got here the yogic grocery store — numerous DVDs, movies, apps, books, garments, trend gadgets and various equipment — that promotes yoga as an image-conscious and celebrity-endorsed pastime.

The book cover

How did yoga transfer from the North of India to the South?

That is an fascinating and, so far as I do know, little researched query. My feeling is that yoga was a pan-Indian phenomenon from early occasions, although most information of it are within the North. It’s broadly held that the good Vedic rishi Agastya introduced sacred data to the South, maybe establishing his foremost ashram at fashionable Thanjavur. In different centres of Tamil tradition, resembling Kanchipuram and Kumbakonam, Jain, Buddhist and Hindu yogis lived and taught alongside one another from at the very least the start of the frequent period. The famend Vedantin, Adi Shankaracharya, who was born in modern-day Kerala, in fact, travelled extensively across the South within the eighth Century AD, establishing monasteries and instructing. He advocated jnana yoga, probably the most superior sort of mind-yoga, and wasn’t excited about postural work, however we do have depictions of bodily yoga from the Pallava capital of Mahabalipuram relationship from the identical interval. Then, in medieval occasions, crucial group of yogis, the Naths, established a strong centre on the Kadri-Manjunath temple, South of Mangalaru, that dates from the 13th Century, presumably earlier.

Do you ever see yoga going again to what it was initially meant for, or do you see it evolving into one thing fairly totally different altogether?

I believe it would develop in each instructions concurrently. There can be a rising starvation for a return to a yoga that’s extra profound, extra religious than mere Instagram flexibility. The devastation attributable to COVID-19 might assist this. However on the similar time, the relentless advances of know-how will develop profitable human-machine interfacing that may end in a kind of cyborg yoga, developed by, and for, techno-nerds.

What are among the most outrageous issues individuals have stated to you about yoga, and who has stated them?

I keep in mind a public discuss I gave a number of years in the past when a severe younger man stood up shouting that yoga was ‘the work of the satan’ and I’d ‘go to hell’ for selling it. I replied that the pipe he was smoking would do him much more harm than yoga ever may. Fortunately, these days, there’s far much less ignorance and prejudice across the topic.

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