Yoga is practiced all around the world, and it differs from place to place. We took a deep dive into the most popular yoga destinations, and are laying out the modern basics and the history of yoga in each area. Today, we are focusing on India, the birthplace of yoga.
Yoga origin in IndiaIndia is considered the “Yoga Capital of The World”, specifically Rishikesh, Uttarakhand. In fact, the entire town of Rishikesh is considered to be sacred.
There are plenty of mythical stories that credited yoga to being created in Rishikesh, the most prominent one being that yoga was used to describe a warrior dying and transcending into the heavens while looking to the gods and the higher powers of being (*1). The practice of yoga itself was started over 5,000 years ago in India. Yoga originally was meant for meditation purposes and religious use, not as a form of workout as it is used now.
The earliest recorded mention of yoga is in the ancient Indian text, the Rig Veda (*2). The Rig has been used to learn about the history of ancient Hindus and has no author, it is simply a “language of the gods” written in a way that humans can understand it (*3). The Rig Veda brought about the first mentionings of the practice of yoga and how it can impact one's life positively.
General practice of yoga in IndiaIn India, yoga is practiced in the home and in Ashrams. An Ashram is a home of a spiritual master (teacher) and their family. An ashram can be looked at basically as a spiritual home, wherein one joins the teachers family and help with chores and things while pursuing their individual spiritual goals (*6).
The focus of yoga in India is spiritual attainment, not physical performance (*7). This means that in India, the main focus is not how good your form is, how long you can hold a pose, or if you’re better at yoga than the person in class next to you. The focus is simply your spiritual growth through yoga and meditation. Basically, yoga in India is more centered around mental health than physical health.
Yoga and food in IndiaIn India, food goes hand in hand with yoga. And it’s not just the food you eat, there is an art form to how you eat as well. Yogi diets are mostly based on Ayurvedic principles, and a vegetarian/vegan diet. Ayurvedic principles are focused around the body, mind, and consciousness working together to maintain balance. Ayurvedic philosophy ties in that the five elements, and combines them into vata, pitta, and kapha (the energy associated with movement, the body’s metabolic system, and energy that forms the body’s structure, respectfully) (*4).
These foods are created to accompany these philosophies by not having too much spice, not having too much air, not having too much earth, etc. to keep from a feeling of sluggishness or cloudiness in the mind (*5).
Dress for yoga in IndiaA dhoti is a traditional outfit used to practice yoga in India. This is a loose piece of clothing worn around your legs. Men often leave their chests exposed, while women wear something less revealing to practice in. Mostly people wear something loose fitted and made out of natural materials (*9).
Gender and yoga in IndiaMost Spiritual Masters are men, but women spiritual masters have been growing in popularity. Although India as a country doesn’t treat women as respectfully as other countries do, women have been allowed to practice yoga for ages. It is said that about 10% of sadhus in India (sacred or holy men) are women, which makes them Sadhvis(*8).
Events relating to yoga in IndiaOne of the coolest things that I have found when researching yoga in India, is the week long yoga festival done every year in Rishikesh. The International Yoga Festival is held in the birthplace of yoga once a year, and is used as a way to introduce yogis to not only each other but also every type/style of yoga practice possible. This year because of the pandemic, the IYF is being held online. Head to https://internationalyogafestival.org/about/ for more details, and to sign up!