Yoga in Modern Times

By Puduvai Kalaimamani Yogacharini MEENAKSHI DEVI BHAVANANI

Director: International Centre For Yoga Education and Research (ICYER)

16-A, Mettu St, Chinnamudaliarchavady, Kottakuppam – 605 104. Ph: 2622902 and

Yoganjali Natyalayam, 25, 2nd Cross, Iyyanar Nagar, Pondicherry – 605 013. Ph: 2241561

“YOGA” is an ancient Sanskrit word which, in only two syllables, encompasses the entire body of spiritual experiences and experiments of tens of thousands of Realised Masters. These Masters have discovered the Ultimate Reality, Sat, and in their infinite Karuna, compassion, have carefully marked a path for others to follow. The Upanishads exclaim: “Lo! Ye who suffer know! A way has been found! A way out of all this darkness!” That way …. is Yoga!

Yoga is as old as the Universe, for it is both the Path and the Goal. The Goal is realisation of the Innate Nature of the Universe, the Highest Being: Atman, Purusha, Shiva, Devi, Sat… whatever word we wish to use to describe its essence. In Samkhya and Yoga, that Highest Being is called Purusha – and the manifestation of That Spirit in the world of matter and senses is called Prakriti. It is through experiences in the Prakriti, or manifested world, that the Jiva, individual soul, returns to the Paramatman, or Universal Soul. Hence, Purusha and Prakriti are one and the same: Purusha is the Goal and Prakriti, the path to that Goal.

The word “Yoga” is often described as “union”. It implies that the individual is united with the Universe, the personality with the Universality. The root of the word “Yoga” is the Sanskrit Bija “Yuj” which means, “to join together.” The English word ‘yoke” is directly derived from the Sanskrit “Yuj”. In fact, the English word “Union” has a sound similar to “Yuj”. Perhaps one could more correctly say, Yoga is “re-union”. The Upanishad says, “That which was One became the many.” Purusha unfolded into the multi-splendorous material creation through Prakriti. The science of Yoga accelerates the “return of the many to the One”, the re-union of Purusha and Prakriti, Shiva and Shakti, Ram and Sita. Thus, Yoga is both the Goal (Purusha) and the path to that Goal (Prakriti).

In this Cosmic Drama, Play, Leela, the sense of Dwaitam, the sense of separateness rose. From this Dwaitam (duality, two-ness) rose Bhayam, fear. The Upanishad says, “Where there are two, there is fear.” This primordial fear rising from the sense of separateness is the root cause of all man’s sufferings. That primordial fear can be destroyed when the Highest Sense of Oneness is once more achieved. The sages call this “reunion”, Moksha , Samadhi, Kaivalya, Jivana Mukta. This is the true goal of Yoga.

Spurred by this miserable sense of separateness and its concomitant fear, the ancient Rishis delved deeply into the nature of the Universe and the cause of all suffering. They discovered Essential Truths which enabled the embodied soul to enjoy again the Blissful Union or Re-union with that Highest Self. All these experiences and experiments of the Rishis through thousands of years are collectively referred to under the term “Yoga”.


For the purpose of understanding the development of this great Yogic spiritual tradition, one may divide its unfoldment into three time frames:

I    :PRE-HISTORIC: Teachings transmitted orally from Guru to disciple in forest hermitages. Before the written word.

II:THE HISTORIC: Teachings transmitted from Guru to disciple in forest hermitages, using both oral and written traditions.

III:MODERN: Spiritual teachings gleaned from many sources, indiscriminately, often only through the written word and without the guidance of Guru.

Very briefly speaking The Pre-Historic Period of Yoga was the time in which the sages organised their spiritual realisations into teachings, which could be transmitted to their disciples orally, in the Guru-Chela tradition, in an intimate, one-to-one personal manner of transmission. The aim of Yoga was Moksha, freedom. The teachings were given only to those who were considered pure and fit, Adhikarin. The relationship was life-long, sacred as the marriage vow. This was a purely oral tradition, which may stretch back as far as ten thousand years. The Ashram – hermitages were in forests and other inaccessible places. Very few could even find such places, let alone study there. The structure was known as “Guru Kula” as the student lived in the Guru’s home and served him lovingly as part of his family. This selfless service, Seva, was considered essential to higher spiritual development.

In The Historical Period, which is the era in which the teachings were written down, the purpose of Yoga remained the high desire for Moksha, Realisation, and Enlightenment. The Guru-Chela, Guru-Kula structure remained. The teachings were written down, but in a highly secretive, coded form. Only those initiated to the teachings would be able to understand them. This period would be from 7000 years ago to about 1500 A.D. The Vedas, Upanishads, Mahabharatha, Ramayana etc. recorded these teachings in written form. The transmission was still in Guru Kula setting, in remote Ashrams, in forests, on mountaintops. The Guru-Chela relationship was a life-long, one to one relationship. The aim of the teaching was spiritual and moral upliftment, with emphasis on following and fulfilling one’s Dharma, while living a pure, disciplined, simple natural life.

Within in this time frame, from 500 A.D. to 1500 A.D. many teachers rose, who were stimulated by the need to combat the growing influence of Buddhism and Jainism, who were mostly masters of Jnana Yoga (Vedanta), Bhakti Yoga (Devotion) and Karma Yoga (skilled worldly service to society). Such a one was Adhi Shankar. The Yogic teachers, started to concern themselves more with social needs and organisation of large groups of seekers into Sanghas, to build powerful institutions. These institutions came to be concerned with social reforms. The individualistic highly spiritual aims of Yoga metamorphosed into mass, collective movements, which, while retaining the high and noble aims of Union with Atman, also sought to improve society.

The period of 1500 A.D. to 1893 could be considered a slowly declining period in Yoga’s history, as the lofty spiritual aims of Yoga started to become more and more mundane. Even esoteric knowledge was written down, and Hatha Yoga practices began to rise in popularity. An interest in developing a strong, flexible, durable body became one of the aims of Yoga. A preoccupation with one’s own “spiritual elevation”, fascination with Siddhis, powers, miracles and magic grew. Physical feats and prowess were valued. During this period, several texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita, Goraksha Sataka, Yoga Upanishads etc. were written, making more concrete and organised the physical practices associated with Yoga.

The Modern Yoga Period which coincides with the movement of Yogic concepts to the West in a powerful wave, is usually traced back to Sept 11, 1893 when Swami Vivekananda made his historic address to the World Parliament of Religious in Chicago, U.S.A. In a very brief overview of the history of Yoga in modern times, one may divide the period into three cycles and name several prominent World Teachers who actively taught in each period.

The cyclical nature of history has been acknowledged, both in the East and the West. The concept of Yugas is well established in Hinduism, but even Western Philosophers recognize these “waves of events and personalities” which seem to crest at certain moments and break upon the shores of time, then disperse, only to crest again. In tracing the history of modern Yoga, we may recognize major “waves” which have risen since the appearance of Swami Vivekananda on the world stage.

Cycles of Time and Yoga Masters

1.THE PERIOD OF 1893 to 1920

Sri Ramakrishna, Dakshineshwar, Bengal

Sri Ramana Maharishi, Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu

Swami Vivekananda, Calcutta, Bengal

Lahiri Mahasaya, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Sri Kanakananda, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal

2.THE PERIOD OF 1920 to 1960

Swami Yogananda, Bengal (Later California, U.S.A)

J. Krishnamurthy, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, later California, USA)

Sri Swami Sivananda, Rishikesh, Uttar Pradesh

Sri Krishnamacharya, Madras, India

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Pondicherry, India

Sri Kuvalayananda, Kaivalyadhama, Pune, Maharashtra

Dr. Ananda Bhavanani, Vancouver, Canada (Later known as Dr. Swami Gitananda)

Sri Yogendra, Bombay, Maharashtra

Smt Indra Devi, Russia (Later Argentina, South America)


Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri, Pondicherry, India

Yogacharya BKS Iyengar, Pune, Maharashtra

Sri Pattabhi Jois, Mysore City, Karnataka State

Swami Paramahansa Swami Satyananda, Monghyr, Bihar

Swami Vishnu Devananda, Valmorin, Canada

Swami Satchitananda, Yogaville, VA, U.S.A.

Sri Amrit Desai, U.S.A.

Sri T.K.V. Desikachar, Chennai, India

Sri Jayadeva Yogendra, Bombay

Swami Rama, Honesdale, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

Shri Direndra Brahmachari, New Delhi, India

Mahesh Yogi, Rishikesh (Now head quartered in Holland)

One of the peculiarities of this movement of Yoga science from East to West is that many of the early adherents were products of Lord McCauley’s “British system of education” in India. They were well versed not only in English, but also in the British cultural life style. This “British veneer” made the Yogic messengers eminently attractive to the Western public.

The Masters of the first period of Modern Yoga, Sri Ramakrishna, and his disciple Swami Vivekananda, and others like Ramana Maharishi were very much in the Vedantic, Advaitic tradition of Adi Shankara. They did not put much emphasis on Asana, Pranayama or other Yogic practices. Vichara or inquiry, especially using the Upanishadic device, “Koham” – “Who Am I?” was heavily favored by Ramana Maharishi, the Sage of Arunachala. Ramakrishna was a Bhakti – drenched devotee of Devi, an eclectic who claimed to have practised the “methods of all religions”. Swami Vivekananda was a powerful intellectual, unlike his nearly illiterate Guru. Vivekananda was a writer, orator and charismatic leader, who advocated Karma Yoga, selfless service, along with Manasa, Vichara, and Dhyana. Out of the combination of these two great souls, has risen the powerful social force of the Ramakrishna Mission. Lahiri Mahasaya was a Bengali mystic, who was the Guru of Yukteshwar, the Guru of Swami Yogananda. Lahiri Mahasaya was the brother disciple of Ram Gopal Mujumdhar, who later became known as Swami Kanakananda.

In this Bengali Tantric tradition, followed by Lahiri Mahasaya, Swami Yukteshwar, Swami Kanakananda and later, Swami Yogananda and Swami Gitananda, certain esoteric practices of Kundalini arousal were emphasized, which also included certain Asanas and Pranayama. Swami Yogananda went to the U.S.A. and founded the Self Realisation Society. He was one of the major forces bringing Yogic awareness to a widely popular level. His classic book the Autobiography of a Yogi has arguably introduced more English speaking people to the concepts of Yoga than any other book in the 20th Century, so wide was its appeal. Swami Yukteshwar was not so well known, and his fame is due primarily as that of the Guru of Swami Yogananda. Swami Kanakananda was custodian of a great body of Bengali Tantric teachings. His encounter with Swami Yogananda is described in the book “Autobiography of a Yogi”. Though widely known for his Siddhis (Vak Siddhi) and the ability to go without sleep, which earned him the epithet of the “Sleepless Saint”. Swami Kanakananda, like Swami Yukteshwar, later become known world wide as the Guru of his famous disciple Dr. Swami Gitananda.  Swami Kanakananda was also a master of an intricate system of Hatha Yoga Asanas, Kriyas, Mudras, Pranayamas and an elaborate system of Chakric concentration – meditation formulas. He was also an expert in Yantra, the Science of Number, Name and Form.

The second wave of Modern Yoga Masters was also heavily dominated by English speaking, Western educated Indians who were predominately Vedantic, Advaitic, in the tradition of Adi Shankara. Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh was the dynamic force, which unleashed scores of young Sanyasins around the world, who set up Yoga Vedanta Centres in nearly every country. Swami Sivananda, a Medical doctor, was primarily a Vedantist in the tradition of Adi Shankara. A genial, loving man, he advocated a simple life style, pure living, Bhakti and Karma Yoga, Japa and scriptural study. When Hatha Yoga adepts came to his Divine Life Society headquarters in Rishikesh, he had them teach his young disciples the art of Asanas and Pranayama, but he himself practised very little of those techniques. The intellectual path of Vichara and Jnana Yoga was very much the essence of the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and Jiddhu Krishnamurthy. Sri Aurobindo was a great scholar, and his analysis and commentaries, on the ancient Sanskrit texts contain invaluable insights. He was a visionary who carved his own path called Integral Yoga, in which he tried to “spiritualize the material”. He himself remained a recluse for the last 25 years of his life, but his vision was made manifest through the work of Mira Alfanso, later simply called “The Mother”. She was a French woman who was his Shakti in Pondicherry. The classical Hindu approach to Yoga, including Asanas, Pranayama, Mantra and traditional spiritual practices were not important in their worldview. Work was worship and Karma Yoga was to bring consciousness into the material world. J. Krishnamurthy carved a lonely path to the Divine, insisting that man must discard all traditions, all practices, and delve deep within himself to find that Ultimate Truth. Swami Kuvalayananda of Lonavla and Sri Yogendra of Bombay, through Swami Madhava Das of Malsar carved quite different trajectories in the field of Yoga. The world famous Kaivalyadhama at Lonavla, founded by Kuvalayananda, emphasized modern scientific validation for the ancient Yogic practices of Asanas, Pranayama, Kriyas and Shat Karmas. Scholarly academic analysis of ancient Sanskrit literature was also Swami Kuvalayananda’s contribution. Practical Yogic techniques, presented in a medically oriented, scientific fashion together with scholarly study of ancient texts were the Sadhana at Kaivalyadhama, which took on the atmosphere of a college. Sri Yogendra was known as the “Householder Yogi” as he married a student Sita Devi and raised a family. His aim was to make the concepts, practices and techniques of Yoga available to all, especially to ordinary family people. He felt Yoga could be used to create a better life style. Yogic attitudes, simple Asanas, Pranayama, relaxation and health oriented techniques, were systematically devised to help people solve the problems of daily living. From the 1930’s  Dr. Ananda Bhavanani who had gone to England to study medicine at the age of 16, also spread the teachings of his Guru Swami Kanakananda as a complete system of physical, mental, and emotional practices leading to spiritual realization. With his scientific medical background and multi-cultural experience, Dr. Bhavanani (who later became known as Swami Gitananda) did much to put the ancient concept of Yoga into a modern language easily acceptable to the Western mind. Indra Devi, a Russian born woman, studied in India with Pattabhi Jois, later became a devotee of Sai Baba and set up many Yoga centres in U.S.A, Mexico and South America. As a charismatic personality, she attracted many to the basic concepts and practice of Yoga.

Krishnamacharya was a Sanskrit scholar and Yoga tutor in the palace of the Maharaj of Mysore. He developed a unique approach to Yoga Asana, which was probably a synthesis of his Yogic knowledge and the Indian wrestling exercises patronized by the Maharaj as well as the exercises introduced by English acrobats who were invited by the Maharaj to his palace. His very vigorous, athletic, acrobatic approach to Yoga Asanas was attractive, especially to Westerners and those who enjoyed physical challenges. His fame came only after B.K.S. Iyengar, his student, achieved world reknown.

The recent Masters of Yoga have put more emphasis on the practices of Asana and Pranayama, sometimes even neglecting the higher spiritual and morally based aims of the ancient science. Of course, the most famous Yoga Master in the world is B.K.S. Iyengar whose “Light on Yoga” remains the classic definition and categorization of Yoga Asanas. Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois, (who in the last decade has begun to equal Iyengar in global popularity,) were both disciples of Krishnamacharya. They both follow a vigorous, rigorous system of strong body discipline. The disciples of Swami Sivananda have fanned out across the world, building huge Ashrams and global Yoga networks, teaching a mixture of Vedanta and Yogic Asanas and Pranayama. Most famous amongst them have been Swami Vishnudevananda (Canada); Swami Satchitananda and Swami Jyothirmayananda (U.S.A) and      Swami Satyananda (India).

Krishnamacharya’s son Desikachar has also become a global Guru in his own right. His style of teaching is quite different from his father’s two other famous disciples, B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois. Swami Rama, who claimed a Himalayan Master as his Guru, set up the Himalayan Institute in the USA and taught basic Yoga Asanas, Pranayama and Vedanta. Yogi Amrit Desai, disciple of Swami Kripalananda, formulated a modern “Yoga Mixture” of New Age Therapies and Yogic concepts, which has come to be known as Kripalu Yoga. Swami Gitananda, formerly known as Dr. Ananda Bhavanani, propagated his Guru’s system of Bengali Tantra with an elaborate system of Asanas, Kriyas, Mudras, Pranayama and concentration and meditation techniques. This system was set within the structure of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga concepts. As well Swami Gitananda insisted that his students understand the ethos of the culture of the Vedic Rishis. He taught only in the traditional Guru-Kula structure. He also insister that his students live a Yogic life style, based on Yama-Niyama, the restraints and observances which are part of a cultural spiritual life. Hence, the Paramparai he represented was termed. “Rishiculture Ashtanga Yoga”.

Many other charismatic, energetic personalities have emerged in the last several decades, propagating different forms of “Yoga”. What their contribution to the great stream of Yogic consciousness will be, will be ascertained only in the years to come. Time is the final test of the value of the teachings. Those which withstand this “test of time” will surely also enter the portals of “The History of Yoga”.

Modern Trends in Yoga in the West

Since Vivekananda’s advent on the world stage in 1893 at the World Parliament of Religion in Chicago, the trickle of Indian Godmen flowing from East and West became, by the end of the 20th century, a virtual flood, a deluge. In an amazing historical quirk, a “reverse missionarization” occurred in which Indian saints and sages captured the minds, hearts, bodies, souls (and pocket books) of the disillusioned descendants of the Christian missionary nations. Though the message of these tens of thousands of Gurus ranged from the simple to the complex and their presentations varied wildly from crude personal propaganda to the most subtle psychological manipulations, the flood of teachings loosely gathered themselves under the term “Yoga”. The word “Yoga” has cast a magic spell over the consciousness of the 21st century mankind. It conjures up a mystic, miracle world in which men can fly, read thoughts, materialize objects. A modern fairy tale which always has a happy ending. It contains heroic princes or princesses who through their goodness and supernatural power create a paradise on earth in which everyone can live happily ever after. In recent times the materialistic, consumerist ethos has enveloped the ancient spiritual science of Yoga and has altered it to an almost unrecognizable extent. The science of Yoga, which was designed to free man of his body consciousness and enable him to rise above it, has now become a vehicle of enhancing body consciousness. The “Cult of Flexibility” has emerged which uses Asanas as a means to produce “the body beautiful.” Emphasis on hard physical use of the body, achievement, strength, enhanced efficiency, and sexuality, have become the goals of practice. Adrenalin surges stimulated by this hard physical work, become addictive. Yoga now has become “utilitarian.” It must have a “practical material use” and benefit to prove its worth. Thus, “Yoga” (Asanas, Pranayama etc) are “used” to release stress, cure diseases, produce health, peace of mind etc. They have also become the basis of a lucrative career for some lucky few who have garnered name and fame as Yoga teachers. Yoga has become a physical, materialistic science, in keeping with the ethos of the times. The complex reasons which created the circumstances, in which these diverse interpretations of ancient Hindu concepts occur, are so vast they cannot be elaborated here. Let it just be said – the time was ripe and those who were fortunate and clever enough to sense that “high tide’, rode it skillfully to fame and fortune. Now in USA, Europe and Australia there is literally “a Yoga Shop on every corner”.

On another, more sophisticated level The most ordinary concepts of the Hindu way of life, familiar to even the dullest, uneducated Indian villager, startled the minds of the educated, sophisticated, wealthy aristocratic Americans. The movement of Yoga to the West had its launching pad in England and the U.S.A. Karma, reincarnation, the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, the necessity of stillness and silence for spiritual achievements, the home-spun, common sense morality and ethics of the Pancha Tantra, the intellectualism of Vedantic scriptures were elixir to minds dulled by materialism. The esoteric exoticism of the Hindu manifestation of universal truths – all part and parcel of the Hindu life style – were a breath of fresh air to the materially – stagnant, ego – imprisoned, socially and psychologically imbalanced populace. Tens of thousands of Gurus rode this wave, and this wave was given the magic term “Yoga”. Science the Saviour of Mankind, failed miserably to answer the questions of spirit. The East appeared to have those answers for the twentieth century man seeking the meaning of human life.

The handsome, charming Krishna was an attractive alternative to the pathetic icon of a sad Christ dying on the cross. Bhakti Vedanta, with his “Krishna Consciousness.” (ISKON) rode that wave to a huge financial and commercial empire in the 1960’s. Social structures grew up based on Hindu life styles which offered an exotic escape from the dull, dreary, urbanized, industrialized fragmented life style. Colorful Indian costumes became part and  parcel of the movements and the beautiful, joyous Hindu Bhajana singing and Vedic chanting thrilled an aesthetically deprived populace. Alienated souls found new anchor of belonging in the cults, or sects and Ashrams which mushroomed everywhere. The more intelligent Gurus followed the path blazed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the early 1960’s. Highly media savvy and image conscious, they projected their carefully sculptured messages into the Western mind-set through creative advertising and promotional tricks. The pattern was quite consistent: a charismatic leader with ambition to “serve humanity or save humanity” rose from the sub-continent. His Guru instructed him to “go to the West and spread the message”. The USA was the favored destination, though some started in Europe. Establish an Ashram / Centre. Collect disciples. Present the “package” remembering Marshall McCluan’s Mantra – “The medium is the message.” Engage public relations experts. Package and organize in a professional manner. Attract students – disciples. Build numbers, buildings, and institutions. Expand projects. Distance the Guru from the common disciples. Create hierarchies, inner Circles, levels of attainment. Attract rich and famous personalities. Receive their endorsements. Publicize the connection. Print glossy books, produce slick videos, and cultivate good media relations. Create a luxurious life style, for even in spirituality, money means success. The final, finishing touch – call it “Yoga” – Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Tantra Yoga, Laya Yoga, Siddha Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Power Yoga,… “Yoga” is and was the “magic Mantra” which attracted devotees like honey.

No doubt, most of the Gurus who appeared on the Western horizon began with a sincere desire to share their knowledge and wisdom, to make the world a better place, to establish peace on earth to cure the sick, to bring solace to the unhappy. But very often along the way, the immense compromises which mass popularity demands put the Gurus into the same position as the Hindu Goddess Durga. Riding a tiger! But unlike Durga, they lacked the ability to get off! A large number of the Gurus fell into the same old traps which have ensnared mankind’s charismatic kings, politicians, saints and sinners: gold, land and women. Some artfully managed to “climb out” unscathed from these scandals, and some were pulled under, never to be heard of again. The “holy men” had to face accusations, court cases, deportation, imprisonment, confiscation of properties. Some scandals assumed such massive proportions that extensive formal investigations, were undertaken by the courts, reported in magazines and newspapers. Books were written by disillusioned devotees, accusing their former Masters of various misdeeds. Political schisms emerged in groups and each faction tried to destroy the other to seize positions of power. Some Gurus were “kicked out of their own Ashrams” by their disciples. Some fled back to India. Some died of shock and of heart attacks.

In short, the Yoga scene looked suspiciously like the “ordinary world” which it had promised to transcend! Nevertheless, out of all this, much good came. The last century of Yogic history in the West and in the East, as well, for that matter, resembled the fabled churning of the ocean of Hindu mythology. It is said that both the Gods (the Devas) and the Asuras (the demons) sought Amritham (the nectar of bliss and immortality). They had to undertake the churning of the ocean. Using Kurma, the tortoise, they poised Mount Mehru on its back. The vast serpent Vasuki was used as the rope. Thus equipped, they churned the great ocean of consciousness, to produce the Amritham. Out of that churning came many terrible things like the Halahala poison which could destroy the world, as well as many great things, like the wish fulfilling cow Kamadhenu. When the Amritham was finally produced the gods and demons fought each other for its possession. By a trick Lord Vishnu appeared as an enchanting heavenly damsel Mohini, and offered to distribute the Amritham. He / She gave it to mostly to the Devas and prevented the evil ones from achieving immortality. Lord Shiva swallowed the deadly poison Halahala and saved the world.

Out of the vast churning of human consciousness which has occurred in the last two century, in the name of “Yoga” and “spirituality”, much good has come submerging the great evil. It appears the challenge of the age for the enlightened, wise individual is to “swallow and digest” the poisons which have been created in this “Great Churning.” The Amritham which has unquestionably been produced by the efforts of so many generations of Gurus and seekers may then be safely “drunk” and enjoyed. The discerning seeker of Yoga, however, should be aware of how far the modern ideas of Yoga have moved away from their origin in the Pre-Historic and even Historic Age.

The entire concept, structure and basis of Yoga has undergone tremendous change in modern times. Many factors affected the Yoga movement. Travel had become easy. The Westerners appetite for the “Exotic East” had been whetted; “hippy movements” in the 1960’s rebelled against the traditional religious and social values; Rising modern problems in dealing with physical, emotional and mental health; and the vastly increased leisure time and global communication network cultivated a fertile garden for the thousands of “New Age Gurus”, eager to take the “Spiritual Message of the East” to the “decadent” West. It is not in the scope of this essay to chronicle the immense number of Indian Gurus, Yogic and otherwise, who made the pilgrimage to the “Mecca of Materialism on Western Shores”, during this time. Thousands of charlatans took advantage of the gullibility of the disillusioned youth. Hundreds more succeeded in making “Big Names” for themselves, building gigantic organizations which resembled big business corporations; amassing fortunes and collecting hundreds of thousands of “followers” in the name of Eastern mysticism or Yoga. The new “Jet Age Guru” came into being. Gone was the ascetic ethos. Gone was the simple living and the humble manner. Gone was the mastery of desires and the discipline of body, mind and emotions. Gone were the moral and ethical restraints. “Peace at any price” was the modern Mantra. A great appeal was made to the “emotional vacuum” the “angst” which is so prevalent in the industrial, urbanized society. Huge fortunes and spiritual empires were built in the West”. The new Gurus lived in five star hotels, owned private jets, occupied castles and mansions, rode in Rolls Royce’s. They hired advertising agencies to present a “marketable image” and used all the promotional gimmicks of the commercially minded West to lure disciples and followers. Inevitable problems and scandals also rose, and many of the major “Indian Gurus” were involved in huge sexual and financial scandals, accused by their women disciples of sexual seduction. Many other Gurus were embroiled in financial scams. Some organizations even broke into schisms using violent methods against each other. “Yoga” became a commodity to be “sold” and the fees for “Yoga instruction” were high. Mantras were sold by Mahesh Yogi’s TM for as much as US dollars 300 “per mantra” in the 1970’s. Communes were set up in which educated, intelligent followers gave their professional services freely to the institutions, allowing their Gurus and leaders to live in unparalled luxury. Courses in Yoga and other “New Age Therapies” were structured and packaged attractively and weekends such as “Finding Your True Self” could cost as much as 1000 dollars (with attached bath). The Gurus carefully cultivated their images, and kept themselves secluded and isolated from their followers, allowing only a chosen few into the inner circle. Yoga and Hindu spirituality took on the aura of a “cult”. The old Western Christian prejudice against things of the East, made it easy for the modern mind to “accept emotionalism” and “permissiveness” in lieu of the true rigour and restraint of the Yogic science, which is extremely disciplined, rational and value-based. In an effort to woo followers, most Gurus did not interfere at all in the personal lives of their students. The students were “customers” and the “customers are always right”. The “blind” led the “blind”, all the way to the bank.

Some of the Indian Gurus did not originally realize the decadence of the Western Culture and life style and taught Yoga practices to people who were not ready for them. The Christian attitude towards spirituality contains a dichotomy between body and mind. Therefore, one can smoke, drink alcohol, even be sexually promiscuous and still “be a good Christian”, especially if one expresses contrition for one’s “sins”. Values such as a regulated life style, Karma, Moksha, reincarnation, devotion to Guru, allegiance to one path of spiritual endeavour which are the spiritual bedrock of Hindu culture were foreign to the Western mind. Indian Gurus, eager to create large followings, encouraged an eclectic approach to aspects of Hinduism. Many Ashrams became known as “churches” and the teachers called “Rev. Fathers”. Even the structure of many ceremonies took on a Christian flavour. On the one hand, other Swamijis gave “Diksha” to all and sundry, and the title “Swami” to anyone ready to pay a hefty Dakshina. Thus one could see a man and woman, wearing the orange Gurva, walking down the street, holding hands and smoking cigarettes. Drugs also became entwined with Yoga in the Western mind. The hippies justified their use of hashish with the idea that “Shiva smoked a chillum”. Mind – expanding drug experiences, chemical highs, were confused with Samadhi. The shallow materialistic mind jumped here and there, always seeking “new highs” and “new experiences” operating out of the Judeo Christian conditioning. They sought a “new saviour” to replace Jesus Christ whom they had crucified on the cross, a “Yoga guru” to “Save them”, to “give them enlightenment” with the glance of an eye, the touch of a peacock feather.

Another development was the primary association of Yoga with Asanas. Earlier it was shown that Asanas as such have never been too important a part of classical Yoga. In modern times the role of Asana took predominance in the body conscious, materialistic minded West. The new Gurus had “movie star” appeal and flashed their credentials in spectacular advertisements in glossy magazines. Keeping fit with Asanas and curing body problems with Asanas became the main motivation. Though Sage Patanjali lists “Asana” only four significant times in his 196 Sutras, the modern Yoga scene has made the “Asana” the end-all and be-all of Yoga. The “Cult of Flexibility” has risen. One’s value is rated according to one’s physical flexibility. The terrific clash of the Judeo-Christian materialistic and intellectual tradition with the ascetic, intuitive Yoga of the East, produced the most immense amount of misinformation, confusion, distortion imaginable. Truly, the ancient Rishis would turn over in their graves if they could see the advertisements in modern Yoga journals, promising “power over others”, “magnetic personalities”, “enhanced sexuality” etc. through “Yoga” in exchange for a few dollars. The modern Guru has no compunction about self promotion and the serene usually bearded faces, of hundreds of “Gurus” of all varieties can be seen smiling from paid-advertisements everywhere.

Modern Trends In Yoga In India

In the last century, Yoga has developed in various directions and dimensions under the guidance of many eminent Masters. These Masters have codified their own Bani (styles) of Yoga that are often at variance with one another. Yet, many still maintain the traditional lineage to Yoga Vidya or the Science of Yoga. The term “Unity in Diversity” is apt for these developments as though on the surface, the different “traditions” or “Banis” may appear to be even contradictory, they all ultimately lead to the same goal of “spiritual union”, through diverse paths. Major developments in recent times have been the extensive scientific and academic research done in the field of Yoga, as well as the “transference” of Yoga education from the Gurukula and Ashram settings to the college and university oriented Yoga.

Yoga schools have mushroomed, operated by people who have undertaken courses in Universities and Colleges. Some courses are a few months duration, some for one year. Some have the equivalent training of a B.A. or M.A. These are all characterized by an academic structure, where each student has “several teaches”. The Guru-Chela relationship is missing as well as the long term intimate structure of the Guru Kula. As a result, the student’s knowledge of Yoga is often more academic than personal. “Yoga” has become a “subject to be studied” like any other – History,  Chemistry, Mathematics – as a preparation for a career. It is no longer the science of self-knowledge and self-transformation. Great emphasis is placed on the therapeutic aspects of Yoga and treatment of various ailment through Yoga techniques. In some case Yoga is totally identified with Asanas, and is looked upon as a type of physical education.

There is much Central and State Governmental activity in the field of Yoga in modern India. The most important is the emerging power of the Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy (CCRYN) under the Ministry of Health in New Delhi. The present Director of CCRYN is                    Dr. B.T. Chidanada Murthy.

The Governmental Role in Propagating Yoga Education in India

Keeping in mind the need for systematic research for development of Indian systems of medicine, under which category Yoga is classified by Central Government, the Central Council for Research in Indian Medicine and Homeopathy was established in 1969, as an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Health. In March 1978, this composite Council was dissolved to pave way for four independent Research Council i.e., one each for Ayurveda and Siddha, Unani, Homeopathy and Yoga and Naturopathy. The CCRYN had seven broad aims at its inception: 1. Set up norms for Scientific Research in Yoga and Naturopathy. 2. Education and training programmes in Yoga. 3. Promote and assist institutions engaged in Yoga Research Training. 4. Initiate, aid, develop and coordinate scientific research in applied aspects of Yoga and Naturopathy 5. To finance such research 6. To publish books, etc to propagate Yoga, and Naturopathy 7. To offer prizes, and grant scholarships.

The CCRYN has two executive arms, the Scientific Advisory Council and the Governing Council. The compositions of CCRYN Scientific Advisory Council is Joint Secretary, (ISM) Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; Joint Secretary (FA), Ministry of H. and F.W; Director CCRYN; Officer nominated by Director as Member Secretary; two experts on Yoga; one expect on Naturopathy; one expert of Modern Medicine. The Governing Body composition is (Official) President, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare; Joint Secretary H&F.W., Director; (Non-Official) four experts of Yoga; four of Naturopathy, one representative of Ministry of Education, two experts of Modern Medicine, Director, National Institute of Naturopathy, Pune; and one member Lok Sabha / Rajya Sabha

The CCRYN has become increasingly more active, especially in recent years. Its scope has expanded to organizing Yoga Training programmes, extensive publications, collection of data, subsidizing conferences and seminars. As an example of its work, according to its annual report 1999-2000, one can see its various projects. CCRYN aided eight Clinical Research Projects to the tune of Rs. 35,06,250 lakhs; it granted financial assistance to seventeen institutions conducting one-year diploma courses in Yoga and Naturopathy in amount of Rs. 33,73,109.00. It aided twenty patient care centres in the amount of Rs. 16,53,313.00 (10 bedded). It aided thirty three Patient Care Centres (5 bedded) in amount Rs. 13,23,120.00. It granted aid to five institutions Centres were aided by 4,25,000.00 lakhs. The Budget has since been increased. More institutions are benefiting with large grants. The CCRYN has in 2002 been granted increased powers and plans are underway to make it the accreditation and registration authority for all Yoga teachers, Yoga Training Institutes, Yoga Hospitals and Yoga Centres in India.

The first Director of the CCRYN was Swami Direndra Brahmacharya. He was succeeded by       Dr. Naresh Kumar Brahmachari (now Swami Pranavananda). Dr. Ganesh Shankar also served as Director for sometime. He was followed in the position of Director by Dr. K.D. Sharma. The present Director of CCRYN is Dr. B.T. Chidananda Murthy.

As an example of the yeoman service in collection of data on Yoga and Naturopathy Clinics, Hospitals and Training Centres, on January 4, 1998, the CCRYN published a comprehensive list of Centres teaching Yoga in India. The Diploma / Degree Courses (of one year or more) in Yoga conducted by institutions affiliated to Universities were recorded at that time as fourteen. It also published a comprehensive list of Yoga Training Courses being conducted by Institutions affiliated to Universities / or other organisations. At that time (January 4, 1998) it listed eighty centres of Yoga Training throughout India. These were the established Yoga Centres which had reported their significant information to the Council. As an example of its attempt to systematize research in Yoga, CCRYN had early in 2002 organised a “National Symposium on Research Trends in Yoga and Naturopathy” in New Delhi. More than forty eminent scientists, Yoga researchers and heads of various University Yoga Departments from around the country gathered to share their research findings. It was noted that more than 80,000 research papers have been published in indexed journals on Yoga, Ayurveda and Naturopathy. The researches discussed, 1. Physiological Research Findings and Methods 2. Psychological Research Methods 3. Therapeutic Research Methods and 4. Literary Research Techniques.

In addition to the work of the CCRYN, the Central Government has under its authority. The National Institute of Naturopathy, Bapu Bhavan, Tadiwal, Pune 411 001. Maharashtra which is very active under its present Director Prof. Dr. B.T. Chidananda Murthy. The Institute offers Yoga classes, lectures in Yoga, as well as Yoga and Naturopathy Therapy. It publishes a monthly magazine, holds training camps nation-wide and is generally very active. The Sri Morarji Desai Institute of Yoga, in Central New Delhi, is also under the Health Ministry.

The University Grants Commission of the Ministry of Education, New Delhi, has evolved a scheme whereby it offers grants-in-aid to recognized Universities to conduct One-Year Post Graduate Diploma Courses and Certificate Courses in Yoga. Several Universities in India now offer such Yoga Training Courses under UGC funding.

The National Council for Education Research Training (NCERT) under the Ministry of Education (GOI) is in the process of implementing Yoga training in the nation’s government schools. August 19th to 21st, 2002, at Jamat Hamdard University, a National Consultation on Implementing Value Education was held in New Delhi attended by nearly 100 leading educationalists to discuss “Value Education in Indian Schools”. At that time Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani of ICYER, Kottakuppam, Tamil Nadu, presented a detailed proposed Syllabus on Yoga Education from sixth to twelfth standard. Same is under consideration. She also presented the proposal to implement Yoga as part of curriculum at a Regional Meeting on Value Education of NCERT in Mysore City, Karnataka State, February 19th to 22, 2003.

The Indian Council of Philosophical Research under the Human Resource Ministry (GOI) on March 18 to 20th 2002, held an important National Consultation Meeting of about 50 leading authorities in New Delhi on the subject “Yoga in Indian Culture”. The meeting was to receive inputs from experts for the gigantic “Value Project on Consciousness, Science, Society, Value and Yoga” which is part of a large project of 50 volumes on the “History of Indian Science, Philosophy and Culture”. This consultation was presided over by Dr. Kireet Joshi who is the Chairman of the Indian Council of Philosophic/Research. Dr. Joshi, a devotee of Sir Aurobindo, was at that time also the Chairman of the Auroville Foundation.

Several State Governments have also taken steps to initiate Yoga Teaching in Government Schools. For example, in the Union Territory of Pondicherry Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani of ICYER, Kottakuppam, Tamil Nadu trained 100 teachers of Physical Education in August 1998 and again in a refresher courses in August 2002 in one-month full time intensive Yoga Courses. As a result of that, the Physical Education teachers are teaching Yoga in Government Schools in Pondicherry.

In 1993, Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj inspired the Pondicherry Government to conduct the International Yoga Festival with lectures and demonstrations by eminent Yogis both from India and abroad. Yoga based cultural programmes, workshops, Bhajana sessions and Yoga Asana Competitions are also part of this now world-famous Yoga Festival. This Festival has been held annually every year since 1993, from January 4th to 7th. At the Eleventh Annual Yoga Festival in 2003, more than 700 persons from India and five foreign countries participated in the Yoga Asana competition and 23 eminent Yoga personalities participated in the lecture sessions. More than 1000 persons participated in the Eleventh Yoga Festival held in a huge pandal in Central Pondicherry, on the shores of the Bay of Bengal.

Yoga Education As Part of Medical Training

Another important development in the field of Yoga in modern India has been the rise in the last decade of solid medical and academic training in Yoga techniques, as a part of modern medical treatment for disease. Seven colleges which offer a Bachelor of Naturopathy and Yogic Sciences (BNYS) have been established, producing professionals capable of offering alternative approaches in the Indian System of Medicine to suffer of various diseases. The seven established colleges as of December 2002, include : 1. Gandhi Cure College, Hyderabad – 500 016, Andhra Pradesh; 2. JSS College of Naturopathy and Yoga, Longwood, Ooty – 643 001, Tamil Nadu; 3. TN College of Naturopathy and Yoga, Yercaud, Salem – 636 601, Tamil Nadu; 4. Govt. Naturopathy and Yoga College, Govt. Siddha Hospital, Anna Nagar, Chennai; 5. S.R.K. College of Naturopathy and Yoga Science, Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu; 6. S.D.M. College of Naturopathy of Yogic Science, Ujire – 574 240 (D.K.) Karnataka; 7. Shri Mahavir College of Naturopathy and Yoga, Nagpura, Dist. Chattisgarh. The first five colleges offer a 41/2 year course plus one year internship. The last two offer four year course with one year internship. These colleges are all recognised by the Governments of their respective states, and graduates of these colleges affix the title “Dr.” before their names, with the initials BNYS (Bachelor of Naturopathy and Yogic Science), to indicate their degree.

There will be many more Government projects than those detailed above but the purpose of this report is to show that the Indian Government, at the Central, State and local levels, is increasingly recognizing the importance of Yoga as the science of health and striving to propagate its message in an organised fashion amongst the people. Of course, the Government, as is to be expected of a secular nation, avoids the religious and spiritual connotations of the ancient Yoga science. It avoids mental, emotional and spiritual aspects and instead focuses attention on the health benefits. The potential of “Yoga Tourism” is also being recognised and many Government run hotels now have in-resident Yoga Teachers. Some hospitals, both in government and private sectors, do have a “natural health wing” where simple therapeutic Yoga practices are taught.

Western Yoga Students in India

An interesting report on the status of modern Yoga, in particular the kind of “Yoga” which is practiced by Westerners coming to India, appeared in Yoga Life magazine, published from Pondicherry in the July 2004 issue Pg. 23 to 32. The article is written by a Fulbright Scholar Dr. Ken Liberman, Professor of Sociology, University of Oregon. Dr. Liberman has been coming to India for more than 30 years. He spends much time in Mysore City, Karnataka State in connection with his research into Tibetan Culture and Tibetan Buddhism. He is a student of Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda for 30 years and for several decades has also been a student of Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, who is the exponent of what has come to be called “Ashtanga Yoga”. Pattabhi Jois is based in Mysore City, Karnataka. Hundreds of Westerners flock to his classes in Yoga each year. Dr. Liberman has entitled his article “Yoga Tourism”. He deals with the strange twists” in Yoga which have occurred in the last few decades as East has met West.

Like most modern teachers of Hatha Yoga, who work from a class structure of a few hours daily or weekly, neither B.K.S. Iyengar nor Pattabhi Jois deal extensively with life style modifications as part of Yoga Sadhana, apart from making general comments in class occasionally. Their students attend classes for a few hours a day, and then return to their homes or hotels for the rest of the day. Some of the anomalies which rise as a result of this have been dealt with in this article by Dr. Ken Liberman. Excerpts from his article are given below. Dr. Ken Liberman writes:

What is it to “do” Yoga? This question has been contemplated by tens of thousands of Americans who now gaze upon Yoga magazines on the supermarket counters. For the vast majority of Americans, “Yoga” is a not-too-strenuous way to lose fat effectively and to reduce the stress of a busy life, in that order. For Americans who are not overweight, “doing” Yoga involves more strenuous postures that permit one to achieve some slender muscularity, become more flexible, firm up the abdomen, and above all, retain a tight butt. Others find their way to “Yoga” in order to delay or reverse the onset of arthritis in their joints. Those who keep up a practice of Asana for as long as six months express satisfaction with the firmness of their calves and abdomens, and sense of well-being. The fact that the buttocks really do become tight motivates additional dedication (i.e., if there was doubt about the spiritual benefits of “Yoga”, the cultivation of a “tight butt” overcomes such hesitation). In short, “Yoga” is viewed as a way to become more beautiful.

What these motives share in common is that they are all directed to a notion of Yoga in which the most vital aspects are entirely missing. Swami Vivekananda would not even have recognized “Yoga” as it is spoken about and practised in America today. Nevertheless, quite a few of those Americans who have cultivated a “practice” – usually referred to possessively as “my practice” – find their way to India to secure further instruction at dozens, if not hundreds, of Centres for teaching “Yoga”. Few of these centers offer much more than Asanas and a web-site, although some elementary pranayama may be included. At a number of these establishments, the “commodification of Yoga” has taken hold, and ad hoc Yoga-Tourism Industries, actively promoted by the Government of India, have bloomed wherever American Yoga students gather. (I speak of “Americans”, since I know them best, but much of what I describe may be applied to European and Latin American nationalities.) Yoga is for sale, almost exclusively asana, and there are a great many purchasers who come for periods of a few weeks to a few months and even years, if they can secure the visas.

He notes the absence of any realisation of the cultural basis of Yoga.

American Yoga aspirants remain very much inside their own cultural universe and have minimal contact with Indian society, except for the “Commodified Yoga” they desire and receive. They cannot read any signs in the regional language, learn little about the politics or culture (“We’re only here for a few months”), and keep their focus upon their “own practice of Asana”. The most appalling part of it is that many of them suffer from a smugness that is derived from having completed such a fine, advanced practice of Asana early in the morning, entitling them to spend the rest of the day in idleness, while enjoying a delicious feeling of superiority toward almost any other person they meet during the day.

Following the breakfast, many Yoga students head off into “town” or “city” for shopping and generally end up at a four or five-star hotel’s swimming pool where they rendezvous with their fellow Yoga practitioners and encounter only the few, smiling but sycophantic, Indians who work on the hotel’s staff. The pool-sides are not all that different from the pool-sides in their own back yards in America, and one wonders what kind of seekers would try to duplicate the identical milieu they already know. By their own repots, many of them did come on a quest of sorts, but they are misguided by the American Yoga Tourists who have preceded them and who quickly school them in the routes for deriving amusement from the Indian locality. Insulated by a critical mass of like-minded pleasure-seekers, they are socialized quickly to a mild hedonism, and they unnecessarily limit their opportunities for discovering India; instead, they invest a good deal of their energies shopping, a task at which they are masters.

Dr. Liberman discusses the manner in which the “Yoga aspirants” spend their time outside of the class

After the shopping comes the pool-side activities – swimming, sun-tanning, and reading (which mostly consists of gossiping with friends while holding a book in one’s hand). A few Yoga centers offer some afternoon classes or ”Satsangh”, but only a minority of America Yoga students choose to attend them, preferring to attend the “anti-Satsangh” of their pool-side banter, or perhaps, preferring the suntan itself. Asked about the wisdom of their selection, they typically mutter something about being “so tired” from waking up at such an early hour. While some impromptu classes are offered by an ad hoc Yoga Tourism Industry (including Indian cooking, Ayurvedic massage, Sanskrit, etc.), the Indian teachers of these classes, mostly ordinary householders, nearly always report surprise and dismay over the lack of responsibility many Yoga students display by not showing up at classes for which they have registered, skipping classes (for the pool or party), or leaving town inadvertently forgetting to pay balances (insignificant to them but significant to most Indians) owed on services rendered. “One expects more from Yoga students!”

Dr. Liberman says in his wide experience he has found few students interested in the wholistic concepts of Yoga

Phrased differently, Hatha Yoga attracts participants in the tens (now possibly hundreds) of thousands, whereas Raja Yoga attracts hardly dozens. One time during a visit to a Sanskrit University in Tamil Nadu, a curious stranger asked me “What kind of Yoga” Swami Gitananda taught his students. I replied, “Hatha Yoga.” Unfortunately for me, Swamiji overheard me, and it was the only time that Swamiji ever became furious with me. He would not speak to me for the remainder of that day, commenting only that he “never” teaches Hatha Yoga. (Actually, he only rarely taught it – and those were the days when the earth would sing!) The next day I asked Swamiji what my answer should have been, and he replied ”Ashtanga Yoga”.

By “Ashtanga” Swamiji meant all eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga. How emblematic it is of the problem facing Americana Yoga that in America “Ashtanga Yoga”, is known widely as a highly athletic form of Asana practice involving Vinyasa and regulated breathing. It is a brilliant method of Asana, but most Americans are unaware of the correct meaning of “Ashtanga”. America has reinvented Yoga in ways that are more compatible with its commodified, pleasure-seeking culture.

Dr. Liberman also describes the life styles followed by many of the Yoga students.

While at the five-star hotel in the afternoon, American Yoga students find beer and wine, and other alcoholic drinks – one sign at a Yoga Center advertised “Alcoholics Anonymous for Yogis”. It was not a joke. And non-vegetarian meals are the rule rather than the exception. The sterility of the social ambience of a hotel is compensated somewhat by the relief of its air conditioning. The real India may be waiting for the students a block a way, but for the afternoon it can remain out-of-mind.

He descries the tendency for the “Yoga aspirants” to engage in “romantic liaisons” while in India to study Yoga”

However, the average American residence in India of three months’ duration is marked most prominently by the high of a new love affair and the pain of its demise, often as the fallout of the entry of a third party and yet an additional affair. That would be alright if such experience would teach a lesson in false expectations and the projection of fantasies, but the disappointment more commonly is solved by cultivating a subsequent affair, until the day for leaving India finally arrives.

He summarizes his first hand observations over decades.

So that is the Yogi’s typical day in India. But it is the morning “practice” that ennobles it, and it is by that practice by which a Yoga Sadak may be judged. Of what precisely does the practice – on which Yoga tourists are focused – consist? Young people seeking fitness, older people wanting to regain youth, most of them self-absorbed with a focused effort to become or remain attractive, focus their energies intently upon what each of them term “my practice”. For one or two hours they direct their energies (and in many cases this energy is abundant and highly directed) upon themselves. Only themselves. Each breath is a celebration of one’s body electric. It may be beautiful, but the danger is that it easily reinforces egotism and self-centeredness at the very time that one’s practice of Yoga should be eradicating the self, egoistically conceived. In all fairness, it may be said that a Yoga practitioner will inevitably meet other practitioners who are more adept at Asana or run up against the limits of his or her body. But a sense of inadequacy is not actually the opposite of egoism, since it is just another form of self-absorption. If Patanjali is to be believed, spiritual lessons are indeed to be gained from a correct practice of Asana, but when the practice is distorted by what is already most abundant in the culture – vanity, pleasure-seeking egoism, and self-absorption – is there even a fair chance for its cultivation? The metaphor of the camel that is able pass through the eye of the needle seems appropriate here.

Thus, one can see that in the 20th century the ancient word “Yoga” has taken on thousands of new associations, some of them enlightened and some of them, self-seeking and even, hedonistic!. The meeting of the materialistic West with spiritual East has created a huge number of cross currents in regard to this ancient science, a shaking up and a mixing up of concepts, life styles and practices. One thing is for certain. “Yoga” is a household word internationally in this, the close of the 20th century. But what that word means for those who utter it, is a matter for intense and thoughtful speculation and introspection.