Yoga is about freeing the mind and body from the restraints of everyday life. This can be achieved in a local studio or by going to a yoga retreat. A day at a yoga retreat, like this one held a year ago in Cornwall, or our retreat in Costa Rica last March, affords ample opportunities for rest, relaxation, and fun. For those who practice yoga, understanding its history is also a key part of being able to fully reap the benefits. While it is possible (and recommended) to read about yoga’s rich history, the best way to learn about the practice is to visit the country where it originated.
India is where the foundations of yoga were created and developed. The Ministry of External Affairs recounts yoga’s heritage in India, noting how it is here that “the yogic system found its fullest expression.” According to historians, the origin of yoga is said to predate even the earliest civilisations on record. Shiva, according to yogic lore, is the first yogi or Adiyogi (the first Guru or Adi Guru). The Adiyogi then shared his life-changing knowledge of the seven sages (the legendary Saptarishis), who in turn brought these same teachings all around the world. Yet it was in India where yoga truly blossomed as a way of life, with a Saptarishi named Agastya carrying across the country the tenets taught by the first Guru.
For yoga practitioners the most important place to learn about the history of yoga is in Rishikesh. The holy city in the Himalayas has one of the world’s largest clusters of ashrams (Hindu monastery). One of the most important ashrams in Rishikesh is the Parmarth Niketan. This ashram, the largest in the area, is located on the bank of the Ganges River. Visitors can stay up to 15 days to practice and learn about the history of yoga. The site also offers teacher-training courses.
Another essential site is the city of Mysore (or Mysuru) in India. The city has been the home of Ashtanga yoga since the 1930s when the Maharaja of Mysuru started reviving ancient traditions, including yoga. The Maharaja-appointed Krishnamacharya (later dubbed “Father of Modern Yoga”) to cultivate yoga in the city. It is for this reason that yoga classes in the city are very popular and often sold out. If travelling to the region, make sure you book two months in advance and be prepared to practice with over 100 other students. While Ashtanga yoga is the most sought after in Mysore, there are many other yoga classes to attend in the city.
The final place to learn about yoga is in the city of Prune. This is where Iyengar yoga was developed. The yogi who established the practice was B.K.S. Iyengar. To bring his teachings under one roof, he established the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute. Although the great yogi died in 2014, his legacy lives on, and practitioners can visit the institute and learn about this type of yoga.
One of the great parts of travelling and practicing yoga is that it is truly a break from the world. Travellers should use the trip as an opportunity to discover new experiences. For example, one aspect of yoga that is often introduced is Mouna which translates as silence. Silence and self-mediation is a principle part of yoga, and is the perfect gateway to self-reflection. In modern society the ability to communicate without words has been lost. Foxy Bingo discussed how using body language can test your communication skills. While this may seem like a counterproductive way to interact while travelling, they state, “it might actually be quite calming to unplug and escape the noise”. Through Mouna, you can fully detach yourself from the world and observe it without partaking in its activities. This period of quiet reflection is not only good for communication, but also key for learning about the founding principles of yoga.
We hope this article has inspired you to travel to India to learn about the history of yoga.