By Faye Martins
How do you feel about contemporary Yoga training? Should it be adapted to meet special needs? Is it OK to use props? Does Yoga’s portrayal in media worsen current problems with body image and eating disorders? What about the search for self – the union of mind, body, and spirit?
In her book “Yoga in the 21st Century,” Carol Horton discusses Yoga’s evolution over the past 100 years. A political scientist and Yoga teacher, Horton uses her background in research and her experience in the studio to analyze changes in the 5,000-year-old healing art.
Yogic methodology is a relatively new phenomenon in western culture. In “A Brief History of 20th Century Yoga,” Swami Vivekananda, who came to the United States from India in 1893, said: “American is the place, the people, the opportunity for everything new.” According to “Yoga Journal,” Sri Ramakrishna – Vivekananda’s teacher in India – taught that Yogic methods shared common truths with all great teachings and could be incorporated into any society.
Paramahansa Yogananda, another revered teacher, came to the U. S. a few years later, but immigration quotas soon made it necessary for seekers to travel to India to learn about Yoga. When western students returned from their Eastern studies in the 50s and 60s, the new western counterculture embraced them. Influenced by icons like the Beatles and Ram Dass, Yogic philosophy was considered an exotic practice until 1980s, when it temporarily fell off the radar.
In the 1990s, a new interest swept the world when students of the 60s and 70s brought the practice into the mainstream, putting the commercial stamp on Yogic practices and began marketing it to the general population. Touting its holistic benefits, promoters found a ready market among aging baby boomers. Today, scientists confirm the benefits of Yogic practices, and medical professionals recommend the practice to their patients. With classes at community centers, hospitals, churches, and schools, Yogic techniques are part of the norm. There is, however, a more controversial side of this equation.
In the 21st century, Yogic methodology and philosophy have strayed far from the past, and purists argue the practice has become too user friendly over time. Critics also argue that the current emphasis on personal image and branding detracts from Yoga’s mission as a spiritual discipline. Is the “new” Yoga is a double-edged sword? Will the pendulum swing over the next few years, or will the present trend continue? So far, the verdict is still out.
© Copyright 2011 – Sangeetha Saran / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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