Yoga had a huge boom in popularity in the late 19th century. This was largely due to religious teacher Swami Vivekananda who influenced many Americans at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.
This era was different than previous ones because it emphasized the physical body as a means to achieve enlightenment. This paved the way for Hatha and Tantra yoga practices.
The Origins of Yoga
In its early stages, yoga was a mishmash of different beliefs and techniques. The first organized presentation of yoga was created by the sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras.
During this time, yoga was mentioned in Hinduism’s holy books: the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. The Vedas are ancient scriptures that were passed down orally from generation to generation.
The word “yoga” first appeared in the Rig Veda, one of the Vedic scriptures from northern India about 5,000 years ago. It was described as a system of discipline involving karma yoga (action), bhakti yoga (devotion) and jnana yoga (knowledge).
Patanjali created the Yoga Sutras as a way to organize and simplify existing teachings. His work is considered one of the earliest and most authoritative texts on yoga.
The first limb, ahimsa, involves refraining from harming living creatures. The second, truthfulness or satya, means speaking and thinking in strict accordance with fact. The third limb, nirvana, is achieved through the practice of meditation.
The philosophy that underlies yoga is called Samkhya. It was a prevailing philosophy at the time of Patanjali.
The Yoga Masters of the Middle Ages
When yoga first arrived in the West it was a complex fusion of European physical culture and occultism. Singleton argues that the postural forms that emerged were a result of a British slant on Indian men and India’s desire to resist colonial rule.
As the years went by, a few yogis and gurus began to travel and promote yoga in the West. This included the Theosophists, Swami Vivekananda and BKS Iyengar. However, they did not develop the physical postures that we know today.
The Yoga Masters of the Renaissance
The yogis of this period focused on kriyas and pranayama for cleansing the body and mind. They also began to teach seated postures as foundations for breathing and meditation.
In the late 19th century Indian yoga masters started to travel and spread the teachings to Europe and America. This sparked a growing interest in Hinduism and yoga. Yogananda gave lectures at the 1893 Chicago World Fair and Sivananda founded ashrams and yoga schools, promoting hatha yoga. This included introducing the Western audience to a physical yoga practice that was heavily influenced by Swedish gymnastics.
The Yoga Masters of the Enlightenment
Yoga became popular in the 19th Century thanks to Indian revivalists like Swami Vivekananda. Yoga grew into a practice that was more than just exercise for the body, but also a spiritual philosophy.
Until recently, yoga was practiced as a form of physical culture and mainly focused on posture. Modern postural yoga is influenced by Swedish gymnastics, making it suitable for all fitness levels and abilities. It is also a very spiritual practice with an emphasis on mindfulness.
The Yoga Masters of the 19th Century
During the late 1800s and 1900s yoga began to gain popularity in the West. Its previous mystical and magical outlook started to change into a more physical practice.
Yoga masters such as Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda toured Europe and America lecturing on Yoga. They spread the idea that yoga is a path of spiritual growth and Self-Realization.
Modern ideas of fitness and health also influenced this yoga revival. For example, European gymnastics manuals of this time compared yoga postures with their own.
The Yoga Masters of the 20th Century
The yoga we practice today wouldn’t exist without these 14 pioneers, who made it accessible to 20th century Americans.
Krishnamacharya advanced postural yoga by teaching a holistic physical culture to upper class Indian boys under the patronage of the Maharaja of Mysore.
He infused his own synthesis of yoga with Scandinavian systems from Ling, the [bodybuilding] teachings of Sandow, and methods from the YMCA. His success was due to the rising vogue for health, fitness and spirituality in Europe and America at that time.
The Yoga Masters of the 21st Century
The teachings of yoga have been transmitted orally for millennia, and yogic texts were written during the Indian Vedic period beginning around 3000 BCE. They incorporated meditation practices, spiritual development techniques and the protocols for attaining self-realisation.
Krishnamacharya shared his knowledge with many students, including BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. Iyengar developed a therapeutic, slow style of yoga that focused on alignment and the use of props for physical support, making the practice accessible to people of all ages and physical abilities.