33 years ago, B.K.S. Iyengar predicted Western influence on Yoga in India
In a July/1977 article for the Yoga Journal, Iyengar asks “Why is the West Interested in Yoga?” Some passages reminded me of the “Take Yoga Back” campaign . As far as Iyengar’s prediction that the West would one day influence Yoga in South Asia, I’m reminded of a 2004 interview of Kausthub Desikachar, where he relates the following story:
… I met an Indian lady on the plane from San Francisco to Madras, who has been living in America for about 40 years. She asked me what I was doing and I said, “I am a yoga teacher.” She said, “Oh, you came to study in California?” I replied, “Why do you ask that?” And she said, “Isn’t California the Mecca of yoga for the world?” That is the perception.
Here are excerpts from Iyengar’s essay from the Jul/Aug 1977 issue of the Yoga Journal:
… Now Westerners are realizing that yoga can keep their minds out of bondage. Though physically able to sustain the pace ot modern life, they are often not able to bear its mental pressures. The artificiality has hurt the core of their consciousness. A lopsided and pampered existence has not protected them from enormous mental tensions generated by so many hectic claims on their lives. Though Western society recognizes and permits divorce, remarriage, free sex, independent living even for adolescents, still the people have not been able to bring peace to their inner selves. On the contrary, this so-called liberty has produced innummerable mental and psychological worries and problems. Westemers are intellectua ly developed but emotionally starved, as they are cut off from the fountain of inner life. They talk a lot from the brain, but their hearts are empty and sterile. This has separated them from spirituality, and because of all this they are drawn to yoga, to regain some inner balance.
While explaining why the West has taken to yoga, I cannot refrain from saying that we Indians have neglected yoga, this rich legacy which has come to us from our ancient sages. While the West wants to adopt the Indian way of life, which is known for its simplicity and straight-forwardness, we Indians are trying to imitate their way of life. Not only have we neglected our own art, yoga, but we are forgetting it. We talk a great deal about our philosophy, but we do not convert it into action. We are merely glorifying the past. We do not live according to what is morally important; we live on ideals. We are humble and simple; belief has a very strong hold on us. But we are very slow and even slovenly in action.
… When I came in contact with Westerners, the first thing they told me was that they are tired of lectures on Indian philosotpihy and weary of so much endless eoretical knowledge; they wanted something practical and tangible, of which they were ignorant. We do not distinguish between body and the mind. There must be an integrated approach. I then had to teach the asanas and pranayama with this wholesome approach. At every step I had to insist and make them understand how the body and the mind work in coordination, how each asana and each breath is treated with a kindred spirit. Their bodies, being very supple and elastic, could perform movement, but I had to make them aware that the mind has also to be kept alert, living all the time in the present, and how the current of spiritual awareness has to flow in _each movement, each action.
… Westemers are enthusiastic, courageous, sincere, and hard working. They are always awaiting with humility guidance from the East. I think that their scientific and technical knowledge, coupled with our spiritual understancing and maturity, could perhaps work hand in hand together to bring human beings once again to the religion meant for univeral peace which was founded by our ancient masters.
Perhaps one day it will be they who bring yoga back to India. But the East was the original source of yoga, and I pray that it will always be the main source – that it will continue to be the preserver of this great art.