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Yoga in Society: A Full Circle of Healing

Yoga originated in India many millennia ago. India then shared this secret of health and well being with the west, and we now see instances of how the west is thanking India for this tremendous knowledge in tangible ways. The term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoga (to yoke) or yuj samādhau (to concentrate). The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali defines yoga as “the stilling of the changing states of the mind.” Yoga has also been popularly defined as “union with the divine” in other contexts and traditions.


Although yoga is said to be as old as civilization, there is no physical evidence to support this claim. Earliest archaeological evidence of yoga’s existence could be found in stone seals which depict figures of Yoga Poses. The stone seals place Yoga’s existence around 3000 B.C.

Scholars, however, have a reason to believe that Yoga existed long before that and traced its beginnings to Stone Age Shamanism. Both Shamanism and Yoga have similar characteristics particularly in their efforts to improve the human condition at that time. Both practices aim to heal community members, and the practitioners act as religious mediators. Today, we know yoga as focusing more on the self, but it started out as community-oriented, before it turned into a personal activity.

Yoga is mentioned in almost all of the ancient Indian scriptures – The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Bhagwat Gita and many others.

Patanjali’s Eightfold path of Yoga (also called Eight Limbs of Classical Yoga) is:

  1. Yama, which means social restraints or ethical values
  2. Niyama, which is personal observance of purity, tolerance, and study
  3. Asanas or physical exercises
  4. Pranayama, which means breath control or regulation
  5. Pratyahara or sense withdrawal in preparation for meditation
  6. Dharana, which is about concentration
  7. Dhyana, which means meditation
  8. Samadhi, which means ecstasy

Revenue Generator

Since its inception, yoga has been a part of India’s ethos and daily practice. It is only recently that the mind-, body-, and soul-enhancing benefits of yoga have made it a global phenomenon.  Yoga’s popularity has been a factor in increasing tourism and thus revenue in India.

The 2012 study, “Yoga in America,” shows that 20.4 million Americans practice yoga, an increase of 29 percent from 2008. In addition, practitioners spend $10.3 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations, and media.

As yoga’s popularity rises in the U.S. and other Western countries, travelers increasingly are making their way to the land of its birth. In India, yoga has grown in sophistication, and yoga retreats have mushroomed across the country. These range from top-end luxury spas to small hotels in religious centers such as Uttarkashi in the north and Thiruvananthapuram in the south.

Yoga tourists in India can also choose to study with neighborhood housewives who teach yoga in their living rooms or at trendy studios. Fortunately for the purists, there are several yoga schools run by grand masters who still teach the practice in the time-tested way, steeped in ancient traditions and philosophy. For them, yoga isn’t instant nirvana; indeed, it is mastered only after years of rigorous practice.  There are many Yoga Institutes across the country, some of the more popular ones include:

  • Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, Pune
  • Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute, Mysore
  • Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai
  • Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Trivandrum
  • Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

Women Helping Women

Yoga in America is growing exponentially and it’s apparent that women have all but dominated the practice. According to recent statistics, 72 percent of people who practice yoga in the United States are women. With millions of women practicing yoga, it is no surprise that billions of dollars are spent on yoga products every year.

In conjunction with all of the money spent on yoga, yoga has afforded many women in this country a new lease on life. From gaining physical strength to increasing self-confidence, yoga serves the modern Western woman very well.

Yoga’s Influence

Organizations such as Yoga Gives Back have created coalitions with several yoga-related businesses. Their effort is to help fund micro-financing programs that provide loans to poverty-stricken women of India who are otherwise unable to receive monetary assistance.

Yoga Gives Back has created the “Sister Aid” direct funding program, which provides educational opportunities, vocational training, and microcredit programs for mothers, young girls, and orphans.

Partnering with local Non Governmental Organizations in India, “Sister Aid” offers a very innovative program. It charges no interest on micro loans, but, instead requires each loan recipient to save at least 50 rupees a month for their daughter’s higher education, while Yoga Gives Back funds education costs for one daughter per family.

Impoverished mothers are empowered to earn their own money with the prospect of giving their daughters much better lives with an education that they themselves could never receive. This program also prevents many young daughters from being forced to marry at very young age, especially in rural areas of India.

This age old Indian tradition has lived up to its name sand continues to improve the lives of everyone it touches in a multitude of ways.

[Image Attribute: PDPics]

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