Can you believe there is evidence of Yoga dating back to over 5000 years ago in India! Did you ever wonder how it spread to our neighborhoods here in the West? It was in the last few hundred years and I am going to share with you the significant teachers that made it happen. They had immersed themselves in the Yogic way of life, exploring it, adapting it and then dedicating their life’s to teaching and spreading the light of Yoga to humanity.
Many had attempted to spread teachings to the West but failed. Swami Viviekananda, born in 1863 was a disciple of the Great Ramakrishna. He successfully made a huge impact in the USA at the parliaments of world religions in 1893. He carried with him in his powerful speeches inspiring ideas of universal consciousness, expressing his belief that the surest way to peace in the world is through the path of Yoga. Swami Vivekananda was the Key figure to introducing Eastern philosophies to the West; He was a great man and left his body in 1902.
“The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature. Have faith in yourselves.” Swami Vivekananda
During his time sadly towards the end of the 18th Century the British and Muslims had invaded India and had terribly sabotaged the Indian heritage, the practise of any form of Yoga was almost driven to extinction. Luckily when India’s Independence a few strong Yogis started to spread the Light and Wisdom again; Swami Sivananda, Sri Aurobindo and Paramhansa Yogananda. They were hugely influential teachers that became world known and had a great impact on Yoga today, through these great men many ashrams and centers for spiritual practices were opened, many books published that are read all over the world in many languages. Infact it was Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a yogi” that changed George Harrisons life, and as a member of the most popular pop music band in history George helped to propel an entire generation of the western world into awareness of Eastern spirituality.
“I keep stacks of Autobiography of a Yogi around the house, and I give it out constantly to people. When people need regrooving, I say read this, because it cuts to the heart of every religion.” – George Harrison
One of the biggest influences in the development of Yoga especially in the West was Krishnamacharya, also know as “The Father of Modern Yoga” Even though he never came to the West, it was 4 of his disciples that played a large part in spreading Yoga here. Krishnamcharya was a genius in all fields; He would take asana’s to explore and refine, he mastered advanced Pranayama and he invented “Vinyasa” which is a sequence of asanas moving seamlessly with the breath. And if that wasn’t enough he spent many years in caves in the Himalayas where nature inspired the grammar that would help the Western minds understand what is Yoga.
“Rid your body of its impurities, let your speech be true and sweet, feel friendship for the world, and with humility seek wealth and knowledge” Krishnamacharya
Back then in Eastern culture it was not seen that women practise yoga, it was an all male practice. What complete irony of our female dominated yoga world now! The great Krishnamacharya was the first to break these rules and move with the times, it transformed him, not to mention transforming the practice of Yoga. He came to believe that “women were the future” and beautifully empowered woman. His first female student of Yoga was indeed foreign and stubborn, she had to be to tough it out with the boys. Her name was Indra Devi, She was an incredible woman that spoke many languages fluently which helped her to spread the message of Yoga across the globe. She opened LA’s first yoga studio in the 1930s, an ashram in Mexico in the 80s and by 1985 She had 6 centres open in Argentina. The Yoginis were born…
“We women must listen to our inner voice. It is easier for women to do this as they are not afraid to say what they feel.” Indra Devi
Another disciple, a man whom had unyielding devotion to the practice of Yoga and to teaching others how to make use of Yoga in their lives was B.K.S Iyengar. It was actually Krishnamacharya’s brother in-law. Attempting to rid himself of ill-health he took to the practice, within 6 years of dedication he returned back to Health. He took the wisdom from his experience of his transformation to invent a therapeutic way of teaching postures using props and alignment of body to treat and prevent ill health. Iyengar said "my body is my temple and asanas are my prayers" and he really did live by these words.
“Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.” B.K.S. Iyengar
The third disciple of Krishmacharya’s was Pattabhi Jois. He was the creator of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. The practise is hot and energetic; it has different sequencing of asanas linked flawlessly by the breath. The style of yoga is very vigorous and helps to purify the body through the heat created during the practise; this style attracted many body focused students and had great impact in the West.
“Yoga is for internal cleansing, not external exercising. Yoga means true self-knowledge” Pattabhi Jois
Lastly T.K.V Desikachar was the beloved son of Krishnamacharya, He didn’t start yoga until later on in his life but became utterly devoted abandoning his career as a engineer and went on to teach, a great thing for the world as he inspired many people. He individualised his teachings from his father and in 1976 founded the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram Centre, respectfully in the name of his father. The centre played a significant role in popularising Yoga as a holistic science rather than mere physical exercises for physical fitness.
"The success of Yoga must not be measured by how flexible your body becomes, but rather by how much it opens your heart." T. K. V. Desikachar
Every body has a different need and is on a different path and thankfully to all the great sages, seers and teachers Yoga has grown, developed and spread to be able to offer something to all people I believe willing to explore. To all of us practicing Yoga in studios and communities here in the West we can be thankful to the efforts of these teachers for their dedication, courage and vision.