Monday, March 9, 2015

Yoga in India vs. Yoga in the West


One of the things that we did while we were in Bangalore was practice regular morning yoga for the duration of our time there. This was partly fueled by my mother, who was in Bangalore prior to us and stayed at a yoga retreat for several days, as she is committed to her health. By the time we joined her in Bangalore, she wanted to keep up her morning yoga routine and encouraged both myself and my MIL to join along, making it a morning girls' yoga routine, which was really fun!

In the West, I have struggled to find a good yoga teacher because yoga is so commercialized here, especially in Vancouver. Vancouver is a city that is quite obsessed with an active lifestyle, and the world-famous Lululemon was created here - making "yoga pants" a Western fashion sensation. In Vancouver, there is a yoga studio on every block, rivaling Starbucks coffee. 

However, it is a fast-food type of yoga for the masses, and sways far from real Indian yoga. The Western version of yoga - much like the "chai spice latte" you would get at Starbucks - has deviated very far from the authentic source Yes, yoga studios are everywhere, but few have teachers of quality. So, I was really excited to do yoga in India and see how different it was - basically being at ground zero in the Motherland.


Some differences I noted were:

- In India, nobody wears commercialized "yoga wear". Students are encouraged to wear loose, comfortable clothing like a pajama pant (instead of tight athletic wear).

- Indian yoga focuses much more on the mind/body connection, rather than being fit and toning the muscles.

- In Indian yoga, they concentrate more on breathing. For half the classes, we practiced breathing techniques that I never even knew before. To do the poses, one must be trained to breathe.

- Indian yoga takes its time - it is not about banging out the poses like a factory machine line. Time is fluid.

- Indian yoga is more about spirituality and spiritual discipline, whereas Western yoga is purely about fitness.

- Indian yoga teachers are more respected - they have an air of wisdom, and you instantly fall into a Master/Student type of relationship. In the West, yoga teachers are very friendly - kind of like a colleague you could have a beer with. Indian yoga teachers have a serious guru-like professionalism about their craft.


In the West, I feel fortunate of the availability of yoga is so plentiful that I could grab a class at any time of the day, however it was really interesting to experience yoga from the land it originated from. There is an authenticity about it. I learned some excellent breathing techniques and began to see yoga as more of a spiritual practice.

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Dear readers, do you practice yoga?
What are your observations about practicing it in the West or the East?

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22 comments

  1. West practices a very limited version of yoga. Yoga means union with the divine/god/whatever you call it.
    The whole purpose of yogic asanas is to create a distance between you and your body, you and your mind. When one stops associating oneself with their body, thoughts, emotions and impressions that they have accumulated, one feels an overwhelmingly ecstatic & unexplainable connection with everything around them. Fitness is just a side reward of the main goal which is enlightenment. Having said that, there is nothing wrong in western yoga after all something is better than nothing.

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  2. I'm glad you posted this! I've always been too scared to try yoga here myself, but my boyfriends parents love it. A few times a week a yoga instructor comes to their house to do yoga for an hour. His mother expressed how she'll want me to join them when I come, glad to know some of the things I can expect!

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    1. You should totally try it! It is so different and more casual/spiritual. Highly recommend it!

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  3. I have gone to a handful of yoga classes in the US and have been pretty turned off by them, from being the only lumpy, unflexible person in the room to the absolutely horrific pronunciation of Sanskrit. If this is supposed to be relaxation and stress relief, forget it! Multiple states, multiple gyms, multiple styles; every single experience was more awful than beneficial.

    I had friends in India whose yoga teachers would come to their house. They'd do it in their everyday clothes on the living room rug; no specialized merchandise was needed. And mostly it resembled the same exercises my mom's been doing daily for the last half century. It was just as low key as that; just something you *do* ... not a lifestyle in and of itself.

    I myself sometimes do surya namaskar upon waking... emphasis on the "sometimes" ... should do it more, or even just my mom's daily exercises. I don't really understand yoga as far as the spiritual practice; I guess it's for other people.

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    1. You should try it on your next trip to India! It is totally different there...
      I have also had bad luck with yoga in the West...it is really commercialized.

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  4. All that you said, I agree wholeheartedly with. I ended up going for Pilates classes instead of Yoga because that way I wouldn't cringe about how they were taking the wrong attitude to the practice.
    Incidentally, there is a reason yoga classes are not available round the clock in India. It is most beneficial practiced in the morning and maybe somewhat at the end of the day. Running into a studio at 3 pm before picking up my baby at 4 pm is not conducive to meditation, relaxation and yoga. It might be more conducive to an energetic spinning class instead.

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    1. Totally agree. I think yoga is best first thing in the morning before food, and last thing before bed. It is also hard to do with a full tummy.

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  5. Yoga arrived in America almost 200 years ago along with the Transcendentalism movement of New England popularized by Emerson and Thoreau (read his book Walden).
    Yoga is supposed to help transcend one from the physical level to a super consciousness state - yes, I am over simplifying it - but there are various forms of yoga, the most popular one in the West is Hatha Yoga, a branch that focuses on asanas and breathing.
    In 1893, Swami Vivekanada also talked about yoga and Hinduism when he came to Chicago for the World Conference on Religions.
    Of course, the 1960s did a lot to popularize yoga along with various swamis setting up ashrams in North America.

    Well, with the mainstreaming of yoga making it a multi-billion dollar industry, it does seem that it is now a Capitalist society's version of beauty/fitness regime, health remedy, relaxation technique, etc. It has adapted to the local needs. (Bikram Yoga is now a complete money making business)

    Many teachers are afraid of the spiritual aspect, they do not want to scare off people who think saying Namaste and Om means you are dabbling in foreign voodoo.

    But there are many yoga schools and ashrams here in the West that do offer different types and deeper level of yoga, you may not find it the local gym or mall, just have to search for the right school. I found quite a few in Southern California.

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    1. So interesting....I have noticed that there are a lot of "hatha" yoga classes offered, as well as this "hot yoga" which is virtually unheard of in India (although I guess any yoga is "hot yoga" due to the hot weather...haha!!)

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    2. Hatha yoga is same as 'hot yoga' - the moniker was popularized by Bikram Choudhary - a yoga teacher in Los Angeles - who then trademarked his style as Bikram yoga - where the room temp is at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and specific humidity...to help muscles relax I guess.
      If other yoga studios used his name, Bikram would immediately file a lawsuit. That is why the label - hot yoga came about - to avoid trademark infringement lawsuits. I used to live in LA in the 90s and know the ruckus caused by this yoga name problem.
      The reason people in India have never heard of hot yoga is precisely the reason you stated - most states in the South are hot all year around.

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    3. Yeah, I tried Bikram yoga and almost had an orgasm... decided it as not for me ;) (Padparadscha)

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  6. In Switzerland yoga is seen more as a body and mind wellness practice, very close to the yoga practiced in India. My teacher was trained in India and reached us Hatha yoga, which focus a lot on breathing and fluidity of movement rather than rigid academic poses, and it certainly wasn't to get fit. My yoga teacher told us she was surprised herself at the American approach to yoga which was seen as kind of exotic fitness thing. At the time I didn't really understood what she meant, the idea that yoga being a fitness, athletic thing didn't compute in my mind. And it seems nobody in the class got it either, because most classes in Switzerland aren't like that. Then, I moved to India, and got exposed to all these Lifestyle show imported from the US and magazines, where I got to see that indeed it is considered as a body sculpting tool...so unlike true yoga

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    1. I think being trained in India makes a huge difference. Many of the teachers in North America have never even been, and the few who have makes a huge difference in the deeper understanding of the practice. My mum's yoga teacher is Australian and was trained in India and she is incredible, but the class timings are difficult for me to make it to :(

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  7. Western yoga all the way!!! It emphasizes more on the body exercise. Which is something everyone should always take care of. It just can't be neglected at any cost. Breathing techniques all those wierd poses have done more harm than good to so many people I know. Flexibility and activeness of the body and mind achieved by the regular western exercises have proven to be far more beneficial. People who are still gung-ho about flexibility can go for ballet classes. They're so much better and correct the toes the right way. Though the Indian outfit such as loose pants makes more sense than our fitted ones. Even I felt a lot more comfy when I switched outfits. It makes it a lot easier. Also I wouldn't call western yoga, yoga at all. It is technically so different.

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    1. Vinyasa (flow) yoga is what is practiced in most yoga classes - just the one thread that the most of the West is emphasizing in classes and studios....it is still yoga - one sided & not holistic.
      So be it,
      that is what happens when it needs to become accessible to the masses. The choice is theirs, perhaps a curious person may progress from the basic physical movements to the more complex yoga practices.
      Perhaps it reflects the general mores of a society - outward beauty and speed. It is not harming anyone but they are not getting the full spectrum of benefits yoga has to offer.

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  8. My first yoga teacher, in a small western suburbian town, was great and I never found another teacher whose style suited me. She taught me a mantra which I used extensively, not knowing what a mantra is. Then the only time I took a yoga class in India, the teacher asked me time and again who was my teacher, as if she was very famous. The Indian teacher was a small pot bellied guy who couldn't do all the postures, but he was adamant that I should do the Sun salutations and special breathing everyday. He was upset to learn that I stopped yoga after having children... To this day I think of him, the strange little guy in the jungle with his 9 year old daughter/assistant so eager to become a teacher herself. It's one of the weird episodes of my funny life. But I haven''t practiced physical yoga regularly for years.

    It is therefore quite strange to see baby T practice breathing and yoga/bharata natyam postures as a game. And she laughs each times she hears "Om". Maybe the diet, meditation and chanting during pregnancy had some effect, who knows.

    I don't discuss yoga with my husband because his views are so different than what I learnt in various lessons, books and workshops in the west. Like he annoys me because he likes to eat in front of TV at late hours and I tell him he has to eat in silence at specific times lol. (Padparadscha)

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    1. Hahaha I can just imagine.....French are very specific about sitting down at the table for dinner ;)
      You should try again! I really believe in those mantras, what we say becomes what we think and what we think becomes our actions.
      My hubby is very flexible but the only pose he does is "shavasana"....LOL. I have been wanting him to come with me for my fave Sunday class but he is like "hells no"...

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    2. You know I have ben practising yoga/mantras since I was around 16. I was really surprised by the reaction of my Indian yoga teacher in the jungle, and puzzled by my husband's views about yoga...I think people are generally too serious about yoga/spiritual stuff. In my case, I know the next step is "going to God" in the Indian way, which is not possible as a mother and wife... unless I turn my path of mother/wife/daughter into yoga, and this nobody can teach you ;) (Padapradscha)

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  9. Very Nicely Written :)

    http://zigzacmania.blogspot.in/

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  10. Very interesting observation. Recently I came to know there are different kinds of Yoga and different gurus as well. And I am an Indian !

    Wait for my pictorial post on Yoga in desert. :) Coming very soon. You can show your readers how different it is from Indian Yoga.

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  11. How do you practice mantras? I am really interested to know it?
    i am Indian and we see yoga is connection of mind,body and soul but in America they see it physical activity to get fit. I couldn't find a good yoga class wherever I lived in America. In America they practice Yoga any time afternoon evening and night with full stomach. I went to lot of different classes here but people are busy showing fashionable yoga clothes and they spend lot of money buying them. Have seen they practice yoga on mats which has Indian god printed on it. It's such a big disrespect of Indian god because in India we worship god and do not sit on them. I am not sure how good classes are in banglore because it's another commercial city of india. But if you want to learn yoga in deeepr sense you should visit to rishikesh and should attend baba ramdev classes. Thanks

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