Yoga is a form of health related exercise that has become more and more popular in recent years. There is no doubting the physical benefits of the exercise as is it produces a more flexible body by the controlled stretches it encourages. It also has great cardiovascular benefits as it trains the participators breathing patterns. It has been estimated that in 2011 there were more than 20 million people in the United States who practiced some form of the art. Barack Obama, the then President, stated in 2011 that Yoga had crossed religious and cultural divides in promoting spiritual exercise throughout the country.
The words of Obama were wise in that they emphasized the spiritual importance of the exercise. There is no doubts that Yoga’s low impact regime have huge physical benefits but the importance of the exercise on the mind cannot be understated. This is seen as one of the most major benefits resulting in reducing people’s stress levels. The popularity of Yoga in the West may have been fairly recent but it has been practiced in various parts of Asia for thousands of years. It has been claimed that Yoga has been fully practiced from the 5th century from where it was first founded, India. The form of Yoga was different than what is practiced in the West today. There was more emphasis on the meditative and spiritual core although the physical side was also important. The early yoga was mainly practiced by those in either, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Jainism.
Within these beliefs the yoga varied in their forms. The yoga practiced in Buddhism and Jainism concentrated more on the mental and spiritual side. This would often result in chanting in order to purify concentration and also clear the mind. Within Hinduism there were also different types of Yoga. The Ashtanga Yoga really concentrated on the mind but the Yoga that was going to later be so successfully popularized around the world was Hatha Yoga. The Hatha Yoga is focused on primarily physical and mental strength building processes.
As Yoga first achieved popularity in the West in the 1960’s one of the most influential teachers of the art was Swami Satchidananda who manage to promote the physical benefits of yoga to health in general. This theme continued as the health industry grew during the latter half of the 20th century, and certain followers of Satchidananda, such as Dean Ormish, were able to legitimize yoga as a purely physical exercise, distancing it away from any religious beliefs.
This has been shown with the controversy of Muslims practicing yoga. As early as the 11th century certain Muslims have been practicing yoga. In 2008 Malaysia’s top Islamic body issued a fatwa prohibiting Muslims from practicing Yoga. This drew a response from the group Sisters in Islam who expressed their disappointment as they saw their yoga as a simple physical exercise. The popularity of Yoga in the Western World today is at an all-time high and is growing. However, it has clearly evolved from what had first been followed for centuries on the Indian sub-continent. Most health clubs incorporate yoga classes into their timetables as properly taught it offers great physical well-being with little chance of injury.