The changing face of yoga

roots-yogaThe practice of yoga has changed considerably over the years so that often the yoga of today with its music, and fashion and Instagram images is unrecognisable compared to how it originated.

Historically yoga was meant for men: men in mountainous regions of India who would go off in search of a teacher. And it was free: theirs would a be a guru/disciple relationship that would endure for years and these men would learn about yoga in its entirety – Ayuveda; Sanskrit; Meditation. Then having been taught all of this the disciple would be obliged to follow his master’s instruction about how he should live the rest of his life. Very different to working your way though a series of standing poses in a lunchtime yoga class.

In fact, in the beginning there were no standing postures.  Yoga was about sitting, being still. Yes yogis could assume rather extreme positions – the legs round the neck and so on – but there was none of this constant movement from one position into another, into another. It wasn’t dynamic. And definitely no music!

Krishnamacharya, who could really be seen as the Godfather of modern yoga described it in his wonderful book: Yoga and the living tradition of Krishnamacharya, as: “the ability to direct the mind exclusively towards an object and sustain that direction without any distractions.”

Now the emphasis these days seems to have shifted more towards having a yoga body, with students using yoga for exercise and the feel-good factor. There is less emphasis on the breathing, contemplative side.

The first shift, from sitting to standing, came about because of the gymnastic background and influences of European women who were expats living in India. And it was thanks really to Yehudi Menuhin that we have yoga in this country because he brought his teacher BKS Iyengar here. After that you had this branching out into different approaches – like the most popular Vinyasa, and Ashtanga. Sadly though there is now an emergence of alternative types of yoga, like Bikram; hot-yoga and yoga hybrids, for example ‘yoga-lates’ which is diluting 2 very good systems.

At PYM we practice and teach Hatha yoga, which is interpreted to indicate the union of the sun and the moon, for within that there is a system of balancing – moon left/sun right – and balance is something we very much seek to achieve. We adhere more to the origins of yoga, whilst at the same time adapting the practice to suit our fast paced western lives: it seems there is constant movement these days, and advances in technology mean we are literally ‘switched on’ and distracted 24/7. It’s not surprising that we see a lot more anxiety and depression. At PYM every yoga class has its emphasis on the breath in each movement, so that the mind becomes more focused and therefore the movement is more intuitive, and there comes with that an awareness of ones limitations so that the body is never pushed into any of the poses.

Mindfulness has always been integral to yoga – yoga means bringing together the body, the mind and the spirit – but now it’s been pulled out of context and become a practice in its own right. It’s great that people are aware of it but really it should be part of an everyday yoga class so that you’re mindful not just in sitting, but in what you’re doing, in how you’re moving. In everything.


‘Yoga Body’  – Mark Singleton: Good account on the history and development of Yoga
‘Health, Healing & Beyond’ – T.K.V Desikachar
Awakening of the Spine’ – Vanda Scaravelli