The practice of Yoga is ancient, dating as back as far as 3,000 B.C. and originating in India. A hundred years ago, few people had gymnastic exercises that promoted the connection between body and mind, but today yoga is one of the fastest growing physical practices in the Netherlands, and the rest of the world. It took a long time before Yoga made it to the "West". Yoga began infiltrating Western culture around the 1890s, thanks to the efforts of a few great teachers who were determined to spread this wisdom beyond the illusory confinements of the East. Who were these great masters, and how did Yoga come to spread worldwide?
THE COMING OF YOGA TO THE WEST
Henry Thomas Colebrooke brought the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to the West in 1837, but it was when Swami Vivekananda (disciple of his guru Sri Ramakrishna) demonstrated yoga at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1890 that yoga began receiving more public attention. In the 1920s, Yogananda Paramahansa (1893-1952) arrived in the west, determined to fulfill the task he had received a task from his guru Babaji to spread the teachings of Yoga in the west. In 1946, his now classic must read for all yoga practitioners, Autobiography of a Yogi was published, in which he introduced Kriya Yoga as a means of self-realization. Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) is also considered to be the grandfather of Yoga, being a great inspiration to many up until this day. He was the teacher of other great yogis who continued spreading the wisdom and practice of yoga in the west, such as B.K.S. Iyengar (1918-2014, founder of Iyengar Yoga and author of Light on Yoga, and Light on Pranayama and Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali) , Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009, founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga) and T.K.V. Desikachar (1918-2016, passed on the style of Viniyoga developed by Krishnamacharya).
A few Westerners who had spent time in India immersing themselves on the study and practice of Yoga, returned to the West to share their experiences and what they learned. Such as for example Theos Bernard, who published Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience in 1947, and Ram Dass publishing Be Here Now in the 1970's, spreading the concept of spiritual quest as a lifestyle.
Yoga's arrival in the West thus began in the U.S.A., and quickly gained popularity - being shown on the television, studios started popping up, and an increasing number of books continued to be published on the topic. As globalization and the technological developments that come with it continued to grow, Yoga began to spread worldwide. Today, it has become a huge trend and even a massive industry that has deeply infiltrated pretty much every modern-day country, including the fashion scene and the media. Yoga was initially spiritually oriented. With the coming of Yoga to the West and the progression of time, Yoga has been adapted to fit modern lifestyles. Many people who are less interested in spirituality practice it for the physical benefits...and often in time, as they advance in their practice, through their own experience begin to discover and connect with the deeper, spiritual aspects of yoga.
YOGA & WOMEN
As you may have noticed, Yoga was mainly brought to the west by a male teachers. Today, the majority of yoga teachers are female. Traditionally (in the very beginning), Yoga was actually mostly directed towards male practitioners. Women were, at the time, generally considered a distraction from the practice (except among those practising Tantra). Modern times are different. Especially after the women's emancipation movements, yoga has transformed the lives of so many over-stimulated, overscheduled, and multitasking modern women. In 2011, a documentary was dedicated to this phenomenon, called Yogawoman, in case you're interested to learn more about that.
HOW DID YOGA COME TO THE NETHERLANDS?
The first yoga studio, "Hatha Yoga Self-healing facility" (‘Hatha Yoga Zelf-Geneesinrichting’), was opened on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam in 1922. The yoga school advertised by saying that everyone, including serious and incurable patients, could be cured with yoga, adding that the duration of the education and practice required depended on the nature of the disease in question. The focus was more on the healing that could be achieved through yoga than on inner peace or any other spiritual meaning.
Yoga was closely linked to theosophical movement in the Netherlands until the 1950s. Following the explosive growth in prosperity and the improvement of social conditions in the 1950s, towards the end of the 1960s (in the midst of the hippie era), yoga popularized and yoga schools started popping up rapidly. Until then, it had been mainly travelers who had learned the principles in India who practiced yoga. As its popularity increased, the demand for Dutch yoga teachers grew. In 1957 Jan Rijks (aka Saswitha), founded the first yoga teacher training. He called his school, National Institute of Yoga - Rijks Instituut voor Yoga in Dutch, because it was his last name. In Dutch, the word "Rijks" usually denotes something which is government-led. So as you can imagine, the government was not happy about that and the name had to be changed quickly.
While the church and the old system were becoming less attuned with modern times, in which the sexual revolution, pop music, and hippies reigned supreme and the emancipation of women was imminent, some "non-believers" still yearned for deeper meaning. Although the new modern times were liberating, they were also unstable and confusing. Yoga seemed to offer a potential solution to this.
Moreover, because of the growing prosperity, people also ate more fats and sugars and started getting fatter in the second half of the 20th century. Simultaneously, the ideal of a slim body emerged as a new beauty ideal. This drove women in particular to begin dieting and exercising to stay fit. Yoga exercises, some of which require a fair amount of physical strength, then began to become connected to the ideal life pattern of these times. It appears that the inner peace and "Eastern happiness" yoga was bringing to people was quite welcomed by the otherwise typically sober Dutch. This continued to grow, almost exponentially. Today, you will find yoga studios all over the country.
YOGA ALL OVER THE WORLD
Today, Yoga is spread all over the world. In 2015, even an International Day of Yoga (21 June) was established and declared official by the United Nations. Almost anywhere you go you will find studios, retreats and workshops, including the Internet with all its available online courses and home yoga videos. People practice yoga for a multitude of reasons, ranging from physical health, mental relaxation to spiritual liberation (with these not being mutually exclusive but rather mutually complementary). Generally, yoga is widely practiced for overall balance, happiness, health and wellbeing. Why it proves to be so successful? Yoga purifies the system and cleanses our being. It boosts our physical, emotional and mental health, thereby liberating us from stresses of life, fears, and other various forms of suffering. The path of Yoga is a path of evolution, individually and collectively. While the path of Yoga can at times be solitary, it is unifying, peacing it all together, and connecting us to each other, and something greater. There are so many different types of Yoga, which is why I believe Yoga is for everyone - the key lies in finding the path that suits you best. The blessings Yoga brings us are almost infinite, and is making health, joy and happiness available to everyone. Viva la Yoga!
Thank you for tuning in with my love and enthousiasm for Yoga, which I trust we share just because you are here reading this!
With love from saktiisha yoga centre,