Yoga in the West

The general image of Yoga is based on very common clichés. Relaxation, the singing of Ohm, meditation and enlightenment while sitting in the lotus position with soft sounds and the smell of incense in the background are the first images that come up in most people when asked about Yoga. When it comes to physical exercises the head balance and lotus as well as the idea of tying your body into knots rounds out the picture. Yoga was introduced to the West from India only about 100 years ago. At that time there were only single Yogis who travelled about and passed on their knowledge to a selected audience. They often astonished spectators with somewhat extreme physical ‘contortions’ and their abilities to control organic body functions which normally do not submit to our manipulations. Yoga became more established in the West after WWII . During the 1970’s many ‘hippies’ travelled to India and returned inspired by Yoga. This specific fascination was surely based on the combination of a physically oriented discipline as part of an Eastern spiritual way of thinking, which in the west seemed ever more distant in its focus on materialism. Soon different Yogis, whose focus and teaching methods often differed greatly, had established themselves in the West. These differences reflected the large range of Yoga, a system which includes exercises with the body and breath as well as concentration and meditation. Sometimes even the ethical and spiritual ways of thinking and living were included as the main aspects of the teachings. Today in the west it is the discipline of Hatha-Yoga which has primarily established itself in the West with its focus on physical exercise and breathing exercises. These exercises are meant to keep the whole body – including the organs and the various systems – in good order to enable spirit and psyche to become part of balanced and creative activity. B.K.S.Iyengar who, at died on August 20, 2014 at the of 95, lived in Pune, India and has been a representative of Hatha Yoga over the past 67 years. During this time he has worked out precise details of Yoga positions and established new ones. For him the body was a never ending source of potential experiences of awareness and thus a never ending provider of realisations about himself. He insisted on intensive effort from his students and it is probably this characteristic of his style which appeals to many achievement oriented people from the West. Today his style of instruction ranks among those taught most.