No one knows the exact date at which yoga was discovered, but it’s been around for roughly 5000 years. Predating both Christianity and Buddhism, the spiritual practice was developed in India when Yogi’s seeking a spiritual experience, rather than a symbolic ritual as commonly practiced in India’s ancient Vedic religion, developed yoga.
Skimming the surface of the vast history of yoga, Yoga was seen as a way to bring harmony to the body and peace to the soul and mind by combining physical movements with rhythmic breathing. Around 500 B.C., the pre-classical yoga period, the Bhagavad-Gita was written. The first writing devoted entirely to the practice of yoga, was relevant because it tried to combine the different practices of yoga- loving devotion, selfless action and knowledge – while opposing evil in the world.
The classical age of yoga came around the time of Christ’s birth and with the rapid spread of yoga, yogis standardized the practice. Post-classical yoga (7th-17th century) was more inclusive, as we saw women and people from a lower caste system take up the practice. Once seen as boorish and slovenly, people’s attitude towards their body began changing.
Yoga found its way to the United States in the late 1800’s, when yoga gurus travelled the country to spreadthe word and practice of yoga. It was studied as a part of Eastern Philosophy, and started a movement towards physical healthy and vegetarianism in the 1930’s. In 1947, a yoga studio was opened in Hollywood. From there, yoga spread from Woodstock to Psychology to Recovery to Lululemon. So, where do we go from here?
What started out as a way to connect the mind and body, to promote peace internally within our soul and externally among our peers, and evolved into a non-discriminating practice for all classes, religions, ethnicities and body types has become Excesserized. What do I mean by that? Let’s take yoga clothes for example. Gurus and swami’s have long worn flowing, breathable, cotton or linen garb. Today, we have fitted yoga pants and colorful lycra tops, where walking into a yoga class looks like an athletic run way show. Don’t get me wrong, I wear black yoga pants and think yoga outfits are chic, but somewhere through the proliferation of yoga, the message and it’s teaching has become commercialized in excess.
Another example is Bikram yoga, developed by Bikram Choudhury. Bikram yoga is series of 26 yoga poses, done in the same order each class, practiced in room that has been heated to 105 degrees. A controversy surrounding the practice is that the developers of the practice have been trying to copyright the poses and the sequence. Again, I feel like I need to admit that I enjoy Bikram yoga, and take a few classes a week, but the idea of copyrighting a yoga sequence seems absurd. It’s YOGA, people! Checking your ego at the door, focusing on your class and doing the best that you can do with your asanas (poses) on that day is a foundation of ancient yoga practice. However, Bikram Choudhury has been quoted as saying “Competition is the foundation for all democratic societies. For without ‘Competition’, there is no democracy.” Akin to the “Star Registry,” where people can purchase a star, and claim it as their own, some things should be enjoyed in the purest of forms. Yoga, is one of them.
I’ve had the great fortune of living in an ashram (where a yoga guru lives and practices) and studying yoga. During that time, I was schooled on the basics of yoga, its foundation and beliefs, and became certified to teach Hatha yoga. Much like food, I believe that yoga should be enjoyed in its purest form. Then again, I’ve also been told that I can be a bit too idealistic. If you have never experienced yoga, I recommend checking out a class. It’s helpful in quieting the mind, teaching me that I’m not perfect but can only do my best, and provides me with a little more patience than I had when I walked through the studio door. And flowing pants or fitted, we could all benefit from a little bit more patience!