In the 1920’s there was a movement of the Eastern body care principles of Yoga or “Yog” as it was called then. Surprisingly it was in the north east regions of the country (one might think that California was the early hub for Yoga). Retreat centers sprang up outside of New York City (imagine the Biltmore House as one) [that were frequented by the same people who came to places like the Biltmore House]. These were grassroots operations, with sometimes “primitive” practices where the upper echelons of society could drop pretense and focus on basic hygiene and holistic healing. With the likes of early Western yogis, such as Theos Barnard, the participants learned how to clean sinus passages, eat lighter foods to improve digestion, and exercised to improve flexibility. People began to feel better and sleep better as stress levels dropped. Inquiry began into the physical effects of mental stress, and more importantly the freedom gained from “letting it all go”.
The retreat style settings of the early 19th century gave birth to community places of practice which began to invite teachers from India and Eastern thought. The freedom movements of the 1960’s cast pods of seedling yoga centers throughout the US. Most of the initial teachers have either died, still teach well into age 80 or 90, or never left India at all.
So what yoga are we practicing today? Spa yoga, gym yoga, studio yoga, church yoga, conference yoga, personal yoga: all forms of the practice to fit the lifestyle needs and belief systems of the individual. Before, the ultimate healing of yoga came from discipline to the health-giving practices. Now, the Western schedule and marketing dictates the 1 hour “classroom” setting and format. Even though what we call Yoga may not be what was initially taught, the fractionated practice still offers some semblance of the traditional ways. Popular styles of yoga have organized around Western teachers and yoga is highly visible as a form of fitness. With 16 million practitioners in the US alone, the value of yoga, even in a 15 minute daily dose at home, can bring a substantial amount of well-being into a person’s life, health, and attitude.