The History, Development and Popularization of Yoga in America
By Maryam Sheikh
Yoga has become popular in today’s world to help attain peace and mindfulness. It has been around for thousands of years. However, this spiritual, physical, and mental practice was not always around in North America. In fact, yoga originates from India and was introduced to America in the 1800’s.
The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit root “yuj” and essentially means “to unite”. Yoga, therefore, is the practice that aims to unite and connect the mind and body to achieve harmony.
A Hindu monk by the name of Swami Vivekananda is believed to have been the first person to speak about yoga in America. In 1893, he attended the World’s Parliament of Religions conference in Chicago and addressed the audience. Swami spoke about yoga as a philosophy and means of self- improvement. Later, he formed groups and taught people about the practices, later becoming known as an individual who inspired others to come from India to the States and do the same.
Yoga then gained popularity from the 1920’s through to the late 1900’s. There were schools that opened up in New York as well research centers that were created, dedicated to yoga. It was taught to the royal family, introduced to Hollywood, and had hundreds of books written about it. Some of these books include “Hatha Yoga” by Theos Bernard and “The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali”. Television series were produced, and yoga was later explored for its medicinal and therapeutic value.
As it evolved, less focus was put on the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga. In fact, yoga in America, began to focus more on physical exercises and became part of a billion- dollar industry. Currently, there are over 16 million yoga practitioners in the United States. It is interesting to think about how it developed and changed since being introduced to North America.
Over 36. 7 million Americans practice yoga, which leads to an important question- why has yoga become so popular in America? Firstly, the fast pace at which the world operates today has resulted in an increase in stress and tension in people. Therefore, more and more people are searching for ways to relieve that pressure and feel inner peace. Yoga has provided a way for people to achieve balance in their lives. It provides an excellent opportunity for people to unwind and reflect. Furthermore, it is a great form of exercise as it helps improve energy levels, promotes cardio and circulatory health, and increases flexibility in joints. As mentioned previously, there is also a spiritual aspect to yoga that is beneficial; yoga encourages compassion, respect, and kindness and can help build character. The early forms of yoga sought to incorporate breath work and other behaviour principles.
While we appreciate yoga, we must remember that it is important to respect the roots that it originated from and acknowledge its rich history. Though it has become more commercialized today, yoga has deep spiritual significance. It is a truly reflective practice that has reached many corners of the globe.