From the UK to Canada, China to India, all over the world, yoga is big business. In 2016, only Americans spent 16 billion US dollars about yoga classes and products. To put that figure into perspective – it’s the same amount allocated by the World Bank to help the entire African continent fight against the urgent challenges of climate change.
But for many people, even if they religiously attend their weekly yoga classes and like to share snaps of themselves mastering their latest yoga pose on instagramthey might have less idea about the origin of yoga itself (and the movements they do).
So while most people know that yoga is firmly rooted in Indian tradition, what they may not know is the modern history – of how yoga left the shores of India and traveled the world being influenced by gymnastics, bodybuilding and other non-yogic practices to evolve into what it has become today.
Take the postures, the most visible and popular component of yoga – known as asanas in Sanskrit. These include downward dog, triangle pose, and tree pose – plus a whole other number of stretching and balancing positions. Well, it turns out that similar postures can also be seen in calisthenics and danish gymnastics. drills.
There is a good reason for this, because at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, a exercise culture swept the globe. These exercises were considered very important, as it was a time when a strong body meant a strong country.
This concern for national fitness also came at a time when the invention of photography was taking off. This meant that the yoga postures, or āsanas, that were practiced in India – which were notoriously difficult to describe effectively in words – could now be conveyed immediately and accurately thanks to the new invention of photography. And cheap reproductive technologies brought yoga poses to the world’s attention for the first time.
Both inside and outside India, books, manuals and magazines started introducing the āsanas. In Europe and America, people initially looked at and ridiculed these poses as exotic or retrograde. But the postures later gained popularity as reshaped Indian health and fitness regimens.
This inevitably meant that European notions of gymnastics and bodybuilding became intertwined with Indian postures and poses along the way. And what many of us know today as yoga is partly the result of this mixture.
This was particularly the case with European and American women’s “spiritual gymnastics”. Often born on the fringes of “churchless” Protestantism, these various methods involved various positions and movements of the body, as well as rhythmic breathing, to access the “divine” – much like yoga does.
And this modern entanglement of yoga with women’s spirituality-focused exercise may help explain why yoga is so popular around the world among women today – with women representing more than 80% of practitioners in the USA.
The new age
But of course, it doesn’t stop there: breathing, relaxation, and various varieties of meditation have all helped make yoga what it is today.
And as with postural yoga — the usual yoga class you’d take at a gym or yoga studio that focuses on stretching and strength-building poses — these techniques have often been synthesized with non-traditional elements – such as psychotherapy, Western occultism, chiropractic, hypnosis, and New Age forms of religion. And it has also helped take yoga in a totally different direction from its original roots.
This has also happened with yoga in modern urban India, where the movement has undergone what one researcher calls “the pizza effect”. Much like the modern journey of pizza from Naples to New York and back, yoga has traveled far beyond its homeland and assimilated various influences – returning to India with new flavors and ingredients.