Between Ashram and Bodyshape: Yoga in India today

Half-naked gurus in lotus position, ashrams as far as the eye can see, and the opportunity to get closer to their own enlightenment on every corner. That’s how I imagined India.

A country that is bursting with spirituality. But my first visit to the country of origin of yoga quickly showed me that the spiritual practice here is just as diverse as the land itself.  In the meantime, I live here and teach yoga myself – and my students are all Indians.

Yoga is in , no question.

The magical four letters have taken the “Western World” by storm. A trend that makes it hard to guess that it was a long way to go. In India, for example, it has not always been easy to assert oneself against social conventions.

During India’s colonial period (1858-1947), yoga was anything but popular due to British domination. Indian traditions were simply obsolete and Hinduism itself long rejected the teachings as too body-oriented. In short: Yoga was out in their own country .

Yoga is in , no question.

The magical four letters have taken the “Western World” by storm. A trend that makes it hard to guess that it was a long way to go. In India, for example, it has not always been easy to assert oneself against social conventions.

During India’s colonial period (1858-1947), yoga was anything but popular due to British domination. Indian traditions were simply obsolete and Hinduism itself long rejected the teachings as too body-oriented. In short: Yoga was out in their own country .

We owe it to the Indian scholar T. Krishnamacharya, who is also called the father of modern yoga, that the practice was revived. In the first half of the twentieth century, he summoned up the courage to rebel against the odds of his time and thus brought the dormant tradition back to life.

His modern approach, for the first time to introduce women and people from the “West” into the sacred teachings, laid the foundation for our current practice. Krishnamacharya’s best-known students include Sri K. Pattabhi Jois , BKS Iyengar and BNS Iyengar. All well-known teachers, whose authentic teachings we still practice today.

Authenticity – that’s  what you expect from yoga in India.

It is the reason why masses of travelers make their pilgrimage to the colorful country each year. The subcontinent is undergoing change like no other country on earth, which does not miss the old traditions.

But yoga in India is not the same as yoga in India.

I would describe the different tendencies as follows:

1. Down-to-earth practice far from the hype of the West

Yoga is as much part of everyday life for most Indians as brushing up after getting up. From a young age, children come into contact with the practice of asanas and breathing techniques , because they are on the fixed agenda of most schools. A simple routine that many retain until adulthood.

Especially in rural areas, one usually practices in one’s own four walls, with the simple aim of purifying one’s own body, but also the home environment. The practice of this category is characterized by simple sequences paired with the recitation of Sanskrit verses. A ritual that is practiced daily but often does not change much over the years.

2. Urban Yoga: Modern practice in the megacities

Opposite stands the modern yoga studio culture of the metropolises of the country. The target group consists mainly of youngsters who can be attracted to hip promises such as yoga for weight-loss or body-forming .

The number of studios offering traditional lessons such as Hatha or Sivananda Yoga  is declining. And that, although the offer of young and old is equally well visited. The reason: increased studio rents, which are difficult to bridge with a simple yoga business in India.

The largest fitness chain in India has made its own virtue of this need and set itself the goal of buying up a large part of all studios in the country. Yoga now joins in many places in a training offer from Zumba, MMA and endurance sports.

No question: Especially in the Indian cities, yoga gives way to the machinery of modernity. So, if you really yearn for spiritual growth, you are looking for alternatives outside of the big city bustle.

 3.  Ashrams: With the guru under one roof

A popular alternative are stays in ashrams , also called places of exertion . Spirituality is taught and learned here, side by side with a guru, the spiritual leader of this monastery-like institution.

Typically, everyday life in an ashram is clocked through from early morning to late at night: all activities and spiritual practices, including all meals, follow a strict plan. This results in a strict routine, which usually requires familiarization. For this reason Indians spend here once or twice a year several weeks at a time, because only then unfolds the life in an Ashram its full potential.

In the past, ashrams were often the only way to learn from a spiritual teacher, which is no longer the case today: those who find the ashram life too extreme are charging their spiritual battery in one of the country’s yoga hotspots:

4. Mysore & Co .: East meets West

Even the hearts of Indian yogis beat higher when talking about places like Mysore, Goa or Rishikesh . They are among the country’s best-known yoga hotspots and offer a perfect blend of modernity and Indian tradition: vegan-vegetarian restaurants with fancy menus rank alongside the shala of well-known teachers. A station wagon that not only attracts tourists en masse.

For three years now I am teaching yoga in India as a white woman.

I stand out with it because I do not correspond to the Indian stereotype of a yoga teacher, who is actually almost exclusively male here. But a fact that does not bother my pupils: I always encounter openness and respect in my classes.

In particular, if I let new yoga directions like Yin Yoga flow into my lessons, which are not very well known in this country.

I am curious what other facets of practice I will meet here in the future, because one thing is clear:

Yoga in India with its many faces does not fit into any drawer of this world.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *