[“What is Yoga?” is an ongoing series looking at the elements that make up the yoga that we know today, painting a picture of the culture of yoga and the different schools and styles that make up the modern yoga community.]
Soft lighting, soothing music, perhaps the gentle fragrance of incense or lavender oil in the air. A few inspiring words from an attractive and well-toned instructor. Easy stretches and calisthenics that build up in intensity until you are drenched in sweat. Increasingly difficult contortions and inversions around which to wrap your limbs and mind. Then a few minutes of complete rest, perhaps a short meditation and back to daily life. This is, for many, the definition of yoga. For others, yoga is a flaky new-age philosophy, or even a dangerous eastern religion. The clustering of images and associations surrounding yoga have become a cultural force used to promote health and fitness, spiritual well-being, lifestyle products, or even just notions of a better, simpler life. And somewhere in there, we are told that this yoga is 5000 years old. It sounds good. It feels right, giving weight and importance to what can be, undoubtably, an enriching and uplifting experience.
5000 years is a very, very long time for something to remain completely unchanged. Can we really make this claim? Were men and women of the Indian subcontinent 3000 years before the Christian Era gathering together to be led through the rituals of mental and physical conditioning that we put ourselves through today? (more…)