Traditionally, yoga was practiced in the ashrams and hermitages of India - away from the roles and responsibilities of everyday life. The aspiring yogis and ascetics would immerse themselves in the teachings and practices under the guidance of their guru until they had absorbed and assimilated the wisdom of the masters who came before them, and were ready themselves to impart the knowledge gained to the next generation of students.
It was only 100 years ago that Hatha Yoga was simplified, popularised and practiced by 'householders' for leisure and wellbeing purposes. The great yogis of the time including Vivekananda, Yogendra, Sivananda, Krishnamacharya and their disciples, brought yoga to a wider audience in India and around the world. Since this time yoga has proliferated and expanded in its mission and reach - becoming a multi billion dollar wellness and physical fitness industry comprised mainly of variations of hatha yoga classes conducted in a variety of studios, gyms, community centres and lounge rooms.
The emphasis of yoga in modern times is de-centred and diffused - with an intense focus on postures and their effect on the anatomy and physiology of the human body. Secondary to this is the practical application of yoga asanas, pranayama and 'mindfulness' meditation techniques for therapeutic aims - often to manage stress and life's pressures.
The more austere, and perhaps unpleasant, practices and disciplines of yoga are understandably not popular. It has become a pleasure-seeking cult with teachers and studios promising a feel-good practice with therapuetic and aesthetic benefits.
Yet at its heart, yoga is a spiritual practice leading the sincere practitioner through a series of realisations about the true nature of the human mind, condition and soul towards the experience of permanent peace and liberation of the soul.
It takes discipline, discernment and commitment and this not necessarily conveyed in the modern yoga class. Now, more than ever, there is a need to rediscover the true essence and purpose of these teachings.