Although yoga originated in India, today it's practiced worldwide. The physical and spiritual benefits this ancient science brings forth have made it a sought-after skill in the health and wellness world. Also, modern medicine is sometimes unable to treat and heal diseases that remain undiagnosed and untreated. Yoga has evolved through several millennia and is a time-tested panacea to treat and heal myriad ailments displaying vague symptoms.
However, although yoga has managed to transcend the physical boundaries via a vis different regions and geographies across the world, there are still some subtle differences between the yoga practiced in India and the yoga performed abroad. These seemingly small differences can be attributed to a communication gap as well as the way yoga proliferated and adapted to the needs of people across the globe. The yogic evolution just like human evolution also underwent changes and you will find that Western yoga is the more adaptable form of Indian yoga. Nevertheless, it all boils down to availability, personal preferences and also a matter of choice.
This blog will delve into the many key differences between Indian yoga and its Western counterpart.
The proliferation of yoga in the Western world
As you might know, yoga has evolved, changed and adapted from ancient periods to contemporary times. Yoga travelled the world and has been enriched by different cultures that allowed it to take varied forms.
This ancient philosophy was introduced to the Western world majorly by Swami Vivekananda, an Indian monk who is credited with organising several world conferences pertaining to yogic sciences. The Swami translated many Sanskrit-based yoga texts and scriptures into the English language. However, a major turning point came in 1893, when Swami Vivekananda visited the United States and demonstrated yogic postures at a Chicago World Fair. It's at this juncture, that the world took notice of yoga as a form of healing exercise.
Paramahansa Yogananda travelled to Boston in 1920 to attend a conference of religious liberals with the intention to spread the message of Kriya yoga to the masses in the Western world.
In 1924, Theos Bernard travelled to India to learn yoga and returned to the United States in 1947. He later published the book “Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience” which became the most-read book on yoga in the 1950s. It was during this period that many federations and associations dedicated to yoga began to spread all around the world. Similarly, Richard Hittleman, an American yoga instructor travelled to India to learn yoga. He returned in 1951 to teach yoga in the US. He wrote many best-selling books on yoga and introduced yoga on television in 1961. Also, it was Richard Hittleman who introduced yoga sans its religious elements into the mainstream Western world and emphasised the physical benefits of practicing yoga. It was probably from this point that the physical aspects of yoga began to gain more importance in Western societies as a means of instant and quick-fix solution to the physical maladies plaguing a typical Westerner.
It was B.K.S Iyengar, a disciple of T.Krishnamacharya who was instrumental in spreading the Eastern world philosophy of yoga all across the world. His televised yogic demonstrations became incredibly popular in the United States and the UK. A turning point came in 1963 when the yoga guru appeared alongside violinist Yehudi Menuhin and David Attenborough on the BBC. Plus, Time magazine in the year 2004 named B.K.S Iyengar as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
In 1965, the US law was revised to remove the 1924 Indian immigration quota. With this relaxation, now many yoga gurus from India could teach yogic sciences in the United States.
However, the impetus for yoga in the Western world was given by Indra Devi who founded her yoga studio in 1947 in Hollywood.
Today, Hatha yoga is practiced in different styles and variations all across the globe.
By the time it was the 1970s, one could find many yoga studios teaching yoga and spiritual teachings in the United States. The 1970s also saw the rise of Bikram Chowdhary and his global brand of Bikram yoga or hot yoga. However, the controversial waxed-chested, pony-tailed guru became embroiled in many controversies and was hounded by several lawsuits claiming sexual misconduct.
Today, many yogic styles and meditative methods are practiced that although digressing from the traditional forms of yoga, elucidate similar feelings of liberation and inner peace of mind. Such styles have had a major bearing in the Western world and have led to the spread of novel yoga forms like Forrest yoga, Restorative yoga, Yin yoga and other yoga styles.
Key differences between Indian yoga and Western yoga
From the above account related to the spread of yoga in Western societies, we can easily gauge that yoga evolved and transformed through various generations, teachings and yogic inclinations of yoga masters besides other discernments. All these factors have had an impact on the yoga that is taught today in modern Western societies. This has led to some key differences between Indian yoga and the yoga practiced in the West today.
Emphasis on physical asana practice
The 1960s saw the proliferation of the yogic teachings of Richard Hittleman in the United States who emphasized the physical benefits of yoga. This aspect is reflective today through greater emphasis on the physical asanas and their benefits for the mind and the body. However, yoga in its essence is a holistic form of exercise that takes into account its philosophical knowledge upsurged from the philosophical teachings of Patanjali Sutras, the Vedas and the sacred Bhagavad Gita. This ancient wisdom when combined with the physiological and anatomical body elucidates the equilibrium of the mind, body and soul. This aspect of yoga practiced in India is subdued in the Western world.
The accommodations in India especially for the yoga TTC India programs are simplistic and designed in a way to nurture the mind and bodies of future yogis. In India, greater emphasis is laid on the natural environment so that the aspiring yogi connects organically with the natural surroundings. Hence, the Ashrams and yoga shalas in India bring forth sustainable resources for functioning more organically. However, on contrary, most city-bred yoga studios are found in suburbs and downtown areas, which are most-often built as part of a franchisee model.
Minimalistic living Vs Materialistic world
The West is looked upon by many Indian and Eastern nation people as a land of opportunities and materialistic aspirations. The same notion trickles through its yoga practices as well. So, Western yoga is more inclined towards offering comfort and amenities to an aspiring yogi. Whereas, in India, there is a greater emphasis on appreciating minimalism for enhancing the spiritual experience. Hence, India offers simple yogic living that mimics the way yogis lived in ancient times in India. In India, importance is given to shunning and cutting from the outside materialistic world in order to flower and garden the world that resides inside each one of us.
Differences in diet plans
Following a sattvic and pure diet plays an important role in following a yogic lifestyle. Moreover, Kerala in India has a rich Ayurvedic legacy that emphasises the healing of body and mind by using Ayurvedic herbs, spices and other components as part of diet interventions. Purely vegetarian food is served and eaten at yoga schools and yoga retreats across India, a major aspect missing in yoga schools of the West. The food served at such Western yoga institutions is not completely as per yogic standards and requirements. It's not purely organic and is adapted to the preferences and demands of its yoga clientele. This actually is self-defeating as a yogic diet plan that includes herbal green teas, fresh veggies and organic produce has healing potential for the body and the mind.
Differences in the teaching styles of yoga teachers
Indian yoga masters and yoga teachers form an organic relationship with their students by connecting at a deeper level with them. This they achieve by moulding their students through the teachings of self-awareness, spirituality and conscious living. Even when the students are performing yoga postures, the philosophy and true value behind each pose are deliberated upon by the yoga teacher in India. They employ ancient Indian philosophical aspects to help students better understand the nuance and intricacies around each posture. On the contrary, yoga masters in the West lay greater emphasis on simply perfecting the physical movements and exercises more than emotional and mental flexibility.
Picked-out yoga forms
In the West, instead of honing and modifying age-old yoga forms, many yoga teachers introduced new-age styles like Yin yoga, Hot yoga, Acro yoga, Aerial yoga, Aqua yoga and other yoga styles. These yoga styles lay greater emphasis on physical fitness rather than propagating the holistic and spiritual aspects of yoga. These innovations are a complete digression from the original form of yoga that evolved through several millennia in India. Also, for materialistic purposes or simply for self-serving motives of growing their own brand of yoga, there was a rise in a breed of self-styled yoga masters like Bikram Chowdhary in the United States. This negated the very essence of yoga that preaches leading a minimalistic yogic lifestyle.
On the contrary, India has still managed to preserve the philosophy and the teachings of its erstwhile yoga masters who conceived yoga forms like Hatha yoga, Vinyasa yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Iyengar yoga or Kundalini yoga. So, if you are looking to ace age-old yoga forms like Mysore Ashtanga yoga, then besides the alma-mater Mysore, an Ashtanga yoga teacher training in Kerala or an Ashtanga yoga teacher training in Rishikesh can be your preferred choices for undergoing a yoga TTC in India.
Differences in complementary interventions
India is a land of Ayurveda and prides itself in its many rejuvenating and healing Ayurvedic therapies, massages and other herbal medicines that can be effectively complemented as part of a yogic routine. Such knowledge and deep understanding can be gained only if you as a yoga practitioner decide to head to India and particularly Kerala for learning niche yoga styles like the Ashtanga yoga teacher training in Kerala. On the contrary, the yoga schools in the West are not adept in such complementary sciences which if adopted can bring about healing and an all-around improvement in health and vitality.
Yoga is a way of life versus a form of alternate exercise
In India, yoga is looked upon as a way of life and probably every person in India is aware of the practice of yoga in some form or other. Yoga in India draws from the rich culture and heritage of the country and hence unlike its Western presence gets respect and pride in India. The many religious texts and holy places in India like Rishikesh have a rich legacy of yoga intertwined with its cultural and religious significance. Leading a yogic way of life is what yoga students are taught in yoga schools in India. However, the Western world looks at yoga as an alternate form of exercise and intervention from a scientific perspective. It lays emphasis on milking the physical benefits of yoga through logical scientific research on yogic aspects of breath work, meditation as well as complementary Ayurvedic herbal applications.
Short-duration Western programs Vs Long haul Indian courses
The West is fixated on short-term results and quick fixes. Although there are a plethora of yoga courses and programs that you can choose from in Western nations, there are comparatively fewer courses which are exhaustive, long-duration courses. Unlike the West, India offers more long-haul yoga programs especially the yoga TTC India programs which are usually residential, intensive and comprehensive yoga courses.
The rhythm of yoga today is adapted and altered to suit the needs of modern disciples both in India and abroad. However, from the above account, one can surmise that yoga is still revered and practiced in its original avatar in yoga institutions like Yoga Vidya School in Rishikesh and Kerala. Such yoga schools have preserved the true essence of this ancient art. So, if you are looking for learning authentic and traditional yoga, then travel to India and experience yoga in all its splendor.