Modern yoga has become a staple of wellness and fitness. Millions of people around the world practice yoga and that number will likely increase. There are numerous mental and physical benefits of practicing yoga. But some may wonder who the father of this practice is.
Modern yoga is an offshoot that was developed by two key figures in the late 19th and early 20th century, Swami Vivekananda and Krishnamacharya. Their contributions to modern yoga differ but were equally significant.
Keep reading to learn all about modern yoga, including what it is, and how it differs from the traditional yoga practices.
What Is Modern Yoga?
Yoga is a practice that goes back to ancient India (as far back as 5,000 years) and is based on the teachings of the Hindu mystic, Patanjali. Patanjali’s teachings included spiritual, mental, and physical practices that aim to cultivate overall wellbeing.
The practice of modern yoga consists of eight aspects, which famously include:
- Asanas– seated posture for medication
- Pranayama– breathing practices
- Dharana– deep concentration
The eight aspects of modern yoga are intended to cultivate mindfulness, physical fitness, and self-control. In this way, it can contribute to mental and physical development with consistent practice. Over the last 20 years, it has become more focused on physical health and fitness.
But modern yoga is not one-size-fits-all. There are different methods and philosophies that fall under the umbrella of modern yoga that can be tailored to different ages and levels of fitness.
Karma yoga, for example, aims to cultivate inner peace by expelling negativity and selfishness. Raja yoga is focused on discipline and self-control. These are not mutually exclusive. Yoga practice can incorporate all or one more of the eight aspects.
Yoga, the style that is most widely practiced today, has only been around since the late 19th century. It differs from the traditional yoga that has been practiced in southeast Asia for thousands of years.
Modern postural yoga is one of the most popular forms of yoga today.
How Do Modern Yoga and Traditional Yoga Differ?
There are key differences between traditional yoga and modern yoga.
Both traditional and modern yoga can help achieve mental and physical well-being, but they have different focus and practice.
Modern yoga differs from traditional yoga in the following ways:
- Modern yoga is focused on physical fitness
- Modern yoga is often done in a group setting
- Modern yoga is often limited 1-3 sessions
As mentioned earlier, yoga is thousands of years old and was founded on ancient mystical teachings. It was intended to be a lifestyle mainly focused on spiritual discipline and growth – not just physical exercise.
The familiar image of a group of men and women doing yoga poses in sync is a practice of the modern variety. Traditional yoga was and is done on a one-on-one basis, between the guru and the disciple.
Another key difference is that traditional yoga is deeply rooted in south-east Asian culture. While modern yoga is based on traditional practice, it is mainly shaped by contemporary Western culture.
The Father of Modern Yoga
There is not a single founder of the modern yoga movement. But the contributions of two men stand out.
The 19th century Hindu monk, Swami Vivekananda, is one of the fathers of modern yoga. Through his speeches and lectures, he introduced Hindu philosophy and teachings to the rest of the world.
Vivekananda is famed for his speech to the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He called for religious tolerance, reviving Hinduism in India and championing numerous social causes – including women’s liberation and universal literacy.
Vivekananda forever changed yoga practice when he spoke about it as a philosophy and a path to self-improvement that anyone can embrace.
While Vivekananda is known for bringing yoga to the world, Krishnamacharya is credited for shaping the practice of yoga as we know it today. He was a healer, scholar, and teacher born in late 19th century southern India.
Both Vivekananda and Krishnamacharya emphasized spiritual enlightenment, but in different ways. In sum, Vivekananda brought the ideas and Krishnamacharya brought the practice.
Where Is Krishnamacharya From?
Krishnamacharya was born to a Tamil-speaking, Hindu Brahmin family and was slated to teach religious scripture, specifically the Vedas. From a young age, Krishnamacharya studied Sanskrit, rituals, and philosophy.
Although trained to be a scholar, Krishnamacharya decided to pursue life as a yogi, a yoga teacher. Instead of pouring over and teaching sacred texts, he devoted his life to physical and spiritual healing and wellness.
Unlike Vivekananda, Krishnamacharya never set foot outside of India. But his yoga methods spread across the world and influenced every aspect of its teaching to this very day. Krishnamacharya’s disciples, including his son, popularized yoga in the West.
Krishnamacharya’s methods would not have taken root if Vivekananda had not exposed the world to Hindu ideas and wisdom in the first place.
Which Style of Yoga Did He Create?
Now, which style of modern yoga did he create?
Krishnamacharya developed a yoga method that coordinates various poses with controlled breathing. The combination of poses and breathing is associated with a style known as vinyasa yoga, or “flow” yoga.
Each breath in vinyasa marks the beginning and end of a pose and the practitioner “flows” from one pose to the next. They are done in sequences that involve different poses.
There are a variety of poses that can be included in a session. Some vinyasa yoga poses include:
- Cat-cow pose
- Downward dog
- Plank pose
- Child’s pose
- Cobra pose
There are many other poses that are part of vinyasa yoga. But the ones listed above are some of the most well-known and beginner friendly.
Vinyasa yoga can improve flexibility, strength, and concentration. It is also great for stress and anxiety relief since the coordination of poses with breath control can create a sense of calm.
Yoga in its most popular form dates back to the late 19th century. It has evolved a great deal ever since, to suit the needs of modern practitioners. Even though physical wellness has increasingly moved to the center of modern yoga, it owes its existence to spiritual ideas and practices that go back thousands of years.