Home > Viewer Speaks > “Why Yoga has become so popular in America? Why India is still not there?”

“Why Yoga has become so popular in America? Why India is still not there?”

All of us know that Yoga originated in India and the history of yoga can be traced back to Indus Valley civilization. Maharshi Patanjali is regarded as the founder of yoga and “Yoga Sutras” written by him are considered by many as the foundational text of Yoga. The Sanskrit word yoga has many meanings and is derived from the Sanskrit root “yuj,” meaning “to control,” “to yoke” or “to unite. The word is basically associated with spiritual and meditative practices in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. In the late 1800s, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a Bhakti Yogi, brought about a rebirth of yoga in India. The noted Indian author Sri Aurobindo translated and interpreted Yogic scriptures, such as the Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita. Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna’s disciple, is well known for introducing Yoga philosophy to many in the west. In the last few decades, yogis like BKS Iyenger, T.K.V. Desikachar and Parmahansa Yogananda have spread greater awareness of hath yoga to the west. Indra Devi, a Russian by birth, was yoga’s most prominent female force who spread yoga throughout the west.

Do you know that according to Yoga journal, there are 18 million yoga practioners in North America? Yoga has already become a gigantic industry in America if you include yoga studios, yoga retreats, and products like mats, clothing, shoes, and games like Wii fits, conferences, books and videos! Besides, media’s fascination with the fact that celebrities like Madonna and Sting are yoga practitioners glamorizes the image of yoga and leads to more Americans joining this bandwagon. So what is it about it about this 5000-year-old practice, originated in India, to resonate with Americans? All of us know that it can’t be that Americans are running out of options in the market of “keeping fit” as there are just plethora of exercise equipment, gyms, books, videos and exercise programs out there.

It is no secret that Americans always had fascination for anything mystique, eastern or oriental with a spiritual flavor. On top of that they have an insatiable need to try anything which can keep them fit. The martial art studios, teaching arts like kung-fu, taekwondo, karate and judo did address both aspects to some extent, but remained confined to teenagers or people who were relatively younger. Somehow, most people could not integrate martial arts as a part of their life style as strenuous routines were hard for people as they got older. Whereas, Yoga’s adoption by all age groups grew in leaps and bounds and you couldn’t surpass a busy street without seeing anyone carrying a yoga mat. There are various flavors of yoga which is common in America like Vinyasa, Iyenger, Kundalini,Kriya, Bikram, power, mild, hath and many others – each is designed to meet you where you are and based on your needs. Yoga practitioners in America actually believe that they can find a yoga pose for every ailment in your body! Finally, Yoga is turning out to be much more than various “stretching” routines and is making them understand difference between “health” and “fitness”.

Perhaps the best way to understand yoga’s popularity in America is to go right to the people who practice it. If you ask them why the practice, some of the more common replies you might hear are flexibility, increased energy, improved focus, reduction of the symptoms associated with stress and an overall good feeling. The fact is that yoga can have a rejuvenating effect on all systems of the body including the circulatory, glandular system, digestive, nervous, musculoskeletal, and reproductive and respiratory systems.

According to the U.S. Department on Aging, there are four components to good physical health: strength, flexibility, balance and aerobic capacity. It is interesting to note that yoga can help you accomplish all these things, and no fancy piece of equipment is needed other than your own body and a yoga mat.

Yoga brands and accessories are becoming a giant business model. Yogis are using the “Starbucks” business model to expand the traditionalist practice into a highly-demanded commodity. Yoga is here to stay and it is becoming a lifestyle statement for Americans. It has survived the hype and skepticism. Today, even doctors in US are recommending yoga to their patients.
Let’s talk about Indian now! What is the state of Yoga in India? According to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a world-renowned spiritual leader, “If an individual can be credited with reviving yoga in India, it is solely Swami Ramdev. Unperturbed by issues and controversies generated, he has done a phenomenal job in re-introducing Yoga at a national level. But Indians still have a long way to go as far as adaption of yoga at grassroots level is concerned. The percentage of population practicing it daily is very low if you compare it with America. Yoga is free and practice of yoga doesn’t require any investment other than time. Every Indian needs a wakeup call to rethink about their health and should try to practice yoga. There is just no excuse to not practice this ancient tradition when the rest of the world is embracing it in their life style. Indians should be leading rest of the world again as far as yoga is concerned because it has always been a part of India’s tradition.

The supporters of India re-defined movement have to understand that re-defining India doesn’t just mean to address social issues like environment, poverty, unemployment etc.. It also means to go back to our ancient history and great culture and learn great practices like yoga. They have to encourage yoga practice at a grassroots level! Yoga will help them to maintain a perfect balance between mind, body and soul! A healthy India will have a better foundation to re-define India for all other social issues.

— Priyank Mohan, New Jersey, US

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