Are you interested in the history of how notions of yoga have developed? There’s a bit of debate heating up the topic. Many teachers are quick to tout the ancient origins and development of postural yoga, but Mark Singleton's well-documented 2010 book, Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, presents yoga as a modern multi-cultural conflation rather than a timeless Vedic science preserved or resurrected. Well-known yogi Alanna Kaivalya has shared her interesting views on the subject in HuffPost.
Though it sounds like an orientalist assault on Indian heritage, the story Singleton tells is a necessary contribution to the history of yoga. Somewhere in the hazy middle, it appears that India needed western influence to overcome its own negative impressions that asana yoga was the embarassing hobby of beggars.
In the late 1800’s, a mainly Anglophone yoga revival began in India, and new syntheses of practical techniques and theory began to emerge, most notably with the teachings of Vivekananda (1863-1902). But even in these new forms the kind of asana practice so visible today was missing. Indeed, asana, as well as other techniques associated with hatha yoga were explicitly shunned as being unsuitable or distasteful by Vivekananda and many of those who followed his lead. As a result, they remained largely absent from initial expressions of practical Anglophone yoga…[What were] the reasons asana was initially excluded from most modern yogas and what changes it underwent as it was assimilated into them[?]…how did asana attain the standing it enjoys today as the foundation stone of transnational yoga?...The yogi [had come] to symbolize all that was wrong in certain tributaries of the Hindu religion. The postural contortions of hatha yoga were associated with backwardness and superstition, and may people considered them to have no place in the scientific and modern yoga enterprise. (Singleton, 4)
Exploring how a new “ancient” tradition was reinvented against the backdrop of India's colonial experience, Singleton drives home the point that contemporary yoga movements owe a great deal to diverse and forgotten influences at work in the 19th and 20th centuries both in Europe and America as well as the English-speaking cultures of British India.
To many it will come as a surprise that people far and wide were stretching and strengthening in quasi-religious group settings and that devotional and mystical approaches were common in western exercise culture before yoga’s arrival. The early asana yoga exported from India in the 20th century was itself a hybrid product of western exercise culture in India, and returned to western cultures that were well-prepared for yoga's reception.
In 2008 the Indian government formed an official body to compile all historical asanas into a public database called the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL). A large inter-disciplinary team has identified over 900 asanas from 35 ancient texts including the Hindu epics, the Mahabharata, the Bahagvad Gita, and Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.
Never before has such a comprehensive attempt to authenticate asana yoga been achieved. This project was not instituted to support and enforce the India “brand” upon the world of asana yoga. Rather, it was instituted to demonstrate to international patent offices that asanas are public knowledge that shouldn’t be patented by canny yoga marketeers. The TKDL is clearly a strong claim for the authentic and historic Indian-ness of asana yoga, but at the end of the day, and like everything else, yoga is revealed to be a constantly transforming blend of practices and philosophies tailored to fit the requirements of particular times.
Sounds like the perfect legacy for a transformative practice.
My introduction to yoga started with a bang.
In the first winter we were together, my girlfriend decided to enroll in yoga teacher training. In order to win her heart and be a good partner, I agreed to be her first yoga student guinea pig. These are the things a man will put his mind and body through for love.
There we were, on a cold, dark night in her tiny living room. Not too far into the routine, I attempted my first low lunge and it happened. The peaceful silence of the vinyasa flow was rudely interrupted when I involuntarily ripped a fart.
I was mortified. My loving sentiment of wanting to help my girlfriend of three months was tainted - by flatulence.
After a long, overnight flight from Colorado, London greeted me with a big smile in the form of Charli Sales. The London yoga instructor, known for her original yogic style and program called Yoga Rhythm, met my plane.
“London is not like Manitou," she said immediately. "It’s a little more fast-paced.” I laughed, knowing what a different world I had stepped into.
Let me begin by telling you how much I love your knees.
Even if we've never met, I will bet you I'm more concerned about your knees than most other strangers. Why? I teach yoga. And despite what you may have read recently in the New York Times, I care deeply about your well-being, your mental health and your knees.
While I haven't got the space to devote to those other characteristics, allow me to give you a few pointers about keeping those beautiful knees healthy in a yoga practice.
1. Can you see your toes?: If you're standing in nearly any posture, you need to see the big toe poking out in front of your knee. If the big toe is visible, that means the knee is stacked above and behind the ankle, a good thing. Please also keep the knee pointed straight ahead. Don't let it lean toward the big-toe side of the foot.
Because of its cathartic power, yoga can be an important tool in helping people heal from a variety of psychological ailments. But why exactly does it make us feel better?
Yoga emphasizes awareness of breath. Breathing, the only autonomic function easily brought under conscious control, has a direct influence on our mood state. When we inhale we activate our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight or flight reaction. Our exhales activate the parasympathetic, or “calm down,” nervous system.
All yoga postures can help us move further in our journey toward balance, or satva. The following sequence focuses on postures with specific benefits for depression and anxiety. As in any yoga practice, please modify postures to work with your body. Remember that your body, like your moods, changes from day to day and what is easy on one day may feel impossible the next. Practicing at home is an ideal time to explore this fluctuation.
As yoga therapist Bo Forbes says, “Yoga doesn't erase difficulty, it illuminates it.”