A quick history of modern yoga

Tied to the International Day of Yoga, this piece runs through the modern history of yoga pretty succinctly. Maybe a not-so bad read for a holiday (here in America, at least). It includes what I might argue are our yoga lineages, both Pattabhi Jois and Vishnu-devananda:

The modern revival of yoga can be traced to T. Krishnamacharya, who started teaching it from Mysore in 1924. Among his students prominent in popularizing yoga in the West were B.K.S. Iyengar (Iyengar Yoga) and K. Pattabhi Jois (Viniyasa Yoga). Another major stream of influence within India and and abroad has been Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh and his equally formidable disciples including Swami Vishnu-devananda (Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers), Swami Satyananda (Bihar School of Yoga) and Swami Satchidananda (Integral Yoga). In India lately, Baba Ramdev has taken his yoga-pranayama mix for curing ailments to every nook and corner of the country.

Yoga also received a fillip with the introduction of Indian spirituality to the West starting with Swami Vivekananda’s iconic address to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in 1893 in Chicago. Followed meditation movements of Yogananda Paramahamsa (‘Autobiography of a Yogi’; fame), TM guru Maharishi Mahesh Yoga, Swami Muktananda, Osho Rajneesh, Yogi Bhajan, and more recently Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. These too had a yoga component.

It gets to the question of whether yoga these days is just exercise.

Posted by Steve

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Today’s hilarious definition of Ashtanga

I think it is safe to say this website — cocos.co.in — isn’t one you’ll need to be checking in on regularly. But its definition of Ashtanga caught my attention — and made me laugh:

Another term given to Ashtanga Yoga is Power Yoga. In just a few days after it was developed, it immediately gained popularity as being one the best and most well-rounded work out sessions for yoga. In addition to the regular premises of yoga, it also enhances the practitioner’s stamina and strength, while the other kinds of yoga put more focus on relaxation, mobility, and breathing.

Given the myriad efforts to pull apart Ashtanga’s history and roots, I’m super drawn to an alternative universe where Ashtanga gets developed and a few days later, boom!, is super popular everywhere.

The piece goes on in a similar, and similarly funny, vein. Worth noting: Even in that alternative universe, Ashtanga is hard.

Posted by Steve

Explore the history of yoga asana

Just how we got to the point where we are doing down dogs and any and every other yoga pose is a matter of some debate. (Browse through these pieces for some of that debate.) I suppose it can be summed up as the “yoga is 5,000 years old vs. asana dates to maybe 125 years ago” argument.

I happened upon a sort of (maybe?) new voice in the argument thanks to this newly uploaded video:

It leads you to this site: Yoga Transformed. (That begs the obvious question, right? Transformed from what?) Here’s the details:

Many of the poses popularly associated with yoga today have their origins in the early 1900s and were influenced by a hybrid of Indian physical culture and European gymnastics. Yet, the yoga tradition spans thousands of years and is rooted in spiritual pratices, ethics, philosophy and a distinct culture. Join Eric Shaw, MA.RS, MA.SE, MA.AS, in this fascinating 2-part online ecourse that explores some of the key people, places, events and ideas that shaped yoga into the global phenomenon that it is today.

The ecourse costs $39 to download and apparently counts as three credits toward Yoga Alliance training. Has anyone gone through it and have an opinion?

Posted by Steve

How long before you’re a seasoned Ashtanga practitoner?

This week, I was recounting our Yatra to some people I work with, and as often happens there was some surprise at everything involved.

Feel free to Google me and find out why — its not like I work at a organic farm or something. (Nor do I work at SUNY. But I’m not far down the list.)

Tim Miller doing his best to make Steve's down dog part of the canine species.
Tim Miller doing his best to make Steve’s down dog part of the canine species. About three years ago.

This time, the subject of yoga came up, along with a pretty basic question: “How long have you been doing yoga?”

I said six years, which (after trying to check and see on some calendars) may have been a year longer than is right (going back to when I dropped any other “workout” for just Ashtanga) and joked that it was three years more if you counted a temple ceremony I was at during our first Yatra. (Cue confused looks.)

Six years seemed like a long time to them.

But, of course, it isn’t. But also — it is. It’s not like I’m a newbie, although I usually feel like I am. But I figure I’m at the point where I’m probably sticking with it.

The exchange got me wondering if there are any unofficial — or perhaps purely personal — milestones along the Ashtanga practice path. And I mean time-wise, not pose-wise or Series-wise.

If someone has been practicing for five years, do you figure they know what they’re doing? Bobbie, I think, is getting close to 20 years of yoga practice, with some of those years more intense. But I’m sure it is 10 or 11 years of Ashtanga by now, maybe 12.

Once you get into double-digits, are you seasoned? The senior teachers/practitioners have been at it for 30 years and more. That’s a lot of vinyasas.

I know, of course, that this practice is very individualized. What I’m wondering about is, really, a gut feeling. If you meet an Ashtangi who says he/she has been practicing 20 years, do you do a double take? Is the reaction less for 15? Is there some bar that is just really long?

Posted by Steve

Ashtanga briefly in the news: A primer from Canada

A Tantric diagram of five-faced Hanuman. Via exoticindiaart.com

If this keeps up, I may have to take back my pronouncement that Ashtanga doesn’t get much news coverage.

Another — albiet brief — mention of our branch of the yoga line today in a quick, down-and-dirty “history of yoga” piece in the Vancouver Sun. The reason forthe story seems to be the Indian Summer festival, which just finished there. It looks like it still is offering yoga classes, though, so I think that’s the “hook.”

Ashtanga, and Guruji, get a mention as the story traces the “history” of yoga from those measureless moments in history to the present day:

Yoga returned to the classical philosophy with the father of modern yoga, Krishnamacharya who brought it back to the public in the early 20th century.

Krishnamacharya studied yoga from the monks living ascetic lives in caves in the Himalayas. When he returned to his home in Mysore, he started working for the royal family many of whom were ill. He taught them yoga and when they experienced the benefits, they decided to start a school and supported spreading the teachings.

“Most of the lineages of yoga today come from Krishnamacharya,” says Luce adding that Krishnamacharya had three disciples; B.K.S. Iyengar of Iyengar yoga, Pattabhi Jois, who developed Ashtanga yoga and Krishnamacharya’s son, Desikachar who developed a lineage called Viniyoga.

There’s not too much there, I’ll grant you. But the story does end on a teasing note; this is probably what the story should be, although I guess it is a better topic for a yoga-focused publication:

Luce says there is a debate raging in the yoga community now between classical thinking and tantric ideas. Most of Western yoga, like Hatha, Kundalini or Ashtang [sic], adheres to the classical approach in which the goal is to transcend the body.

But newer lineages have emerged in the last 20 years such as Anusara, which takes a tantric approach embracing the body as part of the sacred whole.

“It is coming to the surface, the texts are being understood and there is a new take on it now,” says Luce.

Ah, Anusara. When I was at Tim Miller’s Tulum retreat earlier this year, the resort was filled mostly with an Anusara training group. From what I heard, they thought all of us Ashtangis were up-tight and humorless. From my perspective, I thought their slow, precise meditative walking on the beach was a little silly. And their cheering and clapping from the bigger of the two yoga studios was in sharp contrast to the vibe with Timji.  (That’s just me, though, and I admit up front I don’t know much about Anusara.)

All that said, I’d love to see some of these newly translated Tantric books. Richard Freeman’s Mirror of Yoga does a great job of describing Tantra, and it certainly piqued my interest.