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Of all the cultural export from India, none are as far-ranging as Yoga. But what is the history of modern yoga and how did it get to the west?
The use of Yoga in it's broadest sense is thought to have begun in the pre-vedic period of India, which would have been 1500BC. The discipline and goals of Yoga were so broad, crossing countries, cultures and religions that it is considered an umbrella word for performing a set of physical activities for mental, spiritual and bodily benefit.
Beginning of Modern Yoga
The history of modern yoga begins in the 11th century from tantras (a sacred text) called Amṛtasiddhi. Yoga as we know it in the west is actually a subdivision of the Hindu practice of Yoga called Hatha Yoga, the word Hatha meaning ‘force’ as an emphasis on the physical aspects of the exercise. Over the course of nine centuries masters would expand Hatha Yoga by adding practices but in the western world it was almost entirely unknown.
Until in 1888 a man was born, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya the father of modern Yoga’. A gifted scholar, holding degrees in each of the six Indian philosophies or Darsanas and a devoted teacher, Krishnamacharya’s pupils were to become the most influential teachers of modern Yoga.
From 1924 until his death in 1989, Krishnamacharya revived interest in Hatha Yoga by performing incredible feats during demonstrations across India, such a stopping his heartbeat, stopping a car with his hand and lifting heavy objects with his teeth.
While Yoga was being quietly received by academics in the west throughout the second half of the 19th century, it hadn't really touched the common man. It only began to pick up during the mid-20th century, thanks to schools formed by Krishnamacharya and Sivananda Saraswati's pupils.
This reached a high watermark during the 60’s with the boom in Hindu spirituality. A second boom, brought about by Dean Ornish, in the 80’s endorsed Yoga as a purely physical activity to improve the health of mind and body. Removed from the steep traditions of Hinduism and any new age religious ideas, people were free to use the poses to clear their mind and feel the physical benefits that came with the exercise.
From then on, Hatha Yoga has been steadily becoming more and more popular around the world with millions now practising for its health benefits. In the US alone there are over 36 million people doing their morning Crow Pose and that number is only climbing. Enjoy reading about the history of one of your hobbies?
You can also read our article on skateboarding through the decades. For further reading on Yoga, there's the how it's made of Yoga mats.