“Yoga is not a religion. It is a science, science of wellbeing, science of youthfulness, science of integrating mind, body and soul.”
– Amit Ray
Yoga is a collection of physical, mental and spiritual practices. But there has been a massive evolution from its original transmission of sacred texts and teachings of a somewhat secretive nature to the much more open and widespread practice that it is now, with influences coming from a variety of teachers and forms. Because Yoga was originally transcribed on fragile palm leaves and the like, its early teachings were very easily damaged, destroyed or lost. One thing it has always meant to be is a safe environment where you can learn to connect with yourself on a deeper spiritual level. Although the development of Yoga can be traced back over five thousand years, some researchers think it may be up to ten thousand years old. Over this quantity of time, one can only imagine the number of innovations that have been applied to the practice and the changes that have developed as a result. So with the start of a new year and a new decade, we thought we’d share a little of the history of this practice that we love – along with a little bit of our personal backstory.
The beginnings of Yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization of Northern India. This is known as the pre-classical period and happened over five thousand years ago. Yoga was first mentioned in the Rig Veda, one of India’s oldest sacred texts. The Vedas were essentially a collection of songs, mantras and rituals that were used by the Vedic priests. These Yogic practices and texts were gradually refined by these priests and mystic seers to form a collection of scriptures known as the Upanishads. The Upanishads internalised the idea of ritual sacrifice through self-knowledge, action and wisdom. At around 500 B.C.E. the Bhagavad-Gita, the most renowned of the Yogic scriptures was composed. The primary purpose of the Bhagavad-Gita was to illuminate for the whole of humanity the realization of the true nature of divinity: attainment of oneness with God!
Yoga grew from this pre-classical period and a variety of methods were practised that spread across India. Practices including Jnana Yoga (Yoga of knowledge), Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of devotion), Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action), Kundalini Yoga (merging with supreme consciousness) and Hatha Yoga (balancing polar energies) came about. For most people today, the origin of their practice is Hatha Yoga, which was the Yoga that focused on physical and mental strength-building exercises and postures. It is widely considered that the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written in the 15th century, was the text responsible for making Hatha Yoga accessible. It includes a series of asanas (postures) and pranayamas (breathing techniques) that have developed into the Yoga practices that we know today.
Yoga came to the West in the 1800s and grew in popularity in the early 1900s. In 1919, Swami Kuvalayananda began to promote a new perspective on Yoga from a scientific point of view. The following year Paramahamsa Yogananda made a great impact with the World Parliament of Religions in his efforts to bring Yoga to the West. Celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo began attending seminars on Yoga, bringing it to another level of popularity. Once America started to put a limit on the number of Indians allowed to migrate, many Americans began to head Eastward in order to pursue their studies of Yoga. Theos Bernard was one of those who travelled to India to seek knowledge, and upon his return wrote and published Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience. In the same year, 1947, Indra Devi launched one of the first Yoga studios in Hollywood. Three years later, Richard Hittleman increased the spread of Yoga’s reach through the West by presenting a more secular Yoga for the mainstream culture which was eventually popularised on television.
The practise of Yoga in those early days was, in many ways, associated with Indian nationalism. The British were still governing India and despite being considered by the British as a ‘weaker’ race, Yoga was making the Indian army stronger and so for a time the practice became part of European militant resistance training. Contrary to this was the rise in the West of a more fluid style of Yoga that scholar, Mark Singleton, termed “harmonial gymnastics”. This is when Yoga was first seen as a movement practice that had a direct link to spiritual wellbeing as well as physical health. However it wasn’t actually known as Yoga back then as Yoga was still very much associated with the more body-conditioning techniques popular at the time. So with the beginnings of globalisation there was this inevitable exchange, and a blending if-you-like, of East-West ideas. It was also during this period that Westerners were able to become ‘apprentice’ teachers without having to travel to India.
Teaching Yoga nowadays usually comes with a sense of humour and the practice is gradually letting go of it’s recent, (and quite misguided), ‘hippie’ image. Fewer people come to class expecting to sit in lotus pose for half an hour and most modern yogis wouldn’t want to sit in it for half a second! In fact, most of the ascetic teachings of the previous century have given way to supporting somatic awareness through movement. There are many different styles of Yoga available with people inventing new ones all the time. And as is often the case in the era of celebrity culture and social media, we now have Yoga personalities appearing on YouTube and similar platforms earning quite a revenue through building their Yoga brand image. It is undeniable that Yoga is a booming industry, influencing markets such as clothing, food and travel. A cynic might say that it’s not so much about attainment of oneness with God, but attainment of self-gratification!
So Yoga adapts to time, place and context. On the one hand it can be used in conjunction with military training, or on the other it can be used as a therapy for people experiencing physical or mental suffering. What is generally true is that Yoga can change a person’s state of being. A modern take on Yoga sees it as a merging of mind and body for a holistic approach to disease prevention and promotion of health.
Ok – now a little about us!
The name One for All came about because when the business was just a twinkle in Jesse’s eye, he envisaged a pretty small studio in an attic somewhere on the coast with just himself teaching Barkan method inspired Yoga and “One for All” made sense. Jesse grew up in Rutland, a tiny county in the midlands, and I grew up in East Finchley, North London. We have both traveled quite a bit and spent time in India. We met in 2014 when we were teaching at a hot Yoga studio in Melbourne. The business idea came about as a change in life direction when we both felt the calling to return home to the UK. Three massive things happened in our lives all at once: we moved countries, started a business, and had a baby – (we also moved cities after moving countries, bought a house and got married that year too!) Our aim for the studio is to create a space where our students can progress in their Yoga practice and cultivate self awareness within a warm and friendly environment. The essence of the practice for us is to recognise yourself as you are with the intention of being the happiest, healthiest version of yourself at any given moment.