This is undoubtedly a huge question, but as I meet more and more people who are turning to yoga, I have been asking this question and have begun to notice some common themes.
As a yoga teacher, I am clearly an avid believer in the power of yoga. It is a discipline which allows me to improve not only my physical body and my mental wellbeing, but also to develop my spiritual side, all of which impact on every aspect of my life. As just one example; my focus, my concentration and my ability to be in the present are key skills which I am using daily, not only in my teaching, but in my personal yoga practice, in my relationships and in my business life.
Our world is undergoing a period of accelerated change; politically, economically and technologically and with that comes a feeling of uncertainty, a questioning of our place, our role and, ultimately, our sense of self. Yoga allows us to reconnect with our selves, to consciously slow down, focus inwards and inject a sense of calm amongst the chaos and hectic nature of the world around us. It enables us to think clearer by emptying our minds of distractions, to be kind to ourselves and to try and simplify our lives.
Connection and reconnection is a recurring theme when considering why yoga is so relevant in modern society and I come back to this sense that we are losing something of ourselves. I was lucky enough to have been taught by Ganga White, the founder of the White Lotus Foundation, in Santa Barbara, USA. He is widely recognized as an outstanding teacher and has been called a “pioneer of yoga” by the Yoga Journal. Through his teachings and in his book “Yoga Beyond Belief”, he reminds us that “Part of yoga practice is to connect. To connect flexibility and strength, balance, concentration, sexuality, consciousness and spirituality, so that what may have begun solely as a physical practice can evolve into an integrated and holistic approach to all aspects of one’s life”.
I firmly believe this to be the case and I believe that this integrated and holistic approach to life is what people are looking for. Yoga is more than escaping the many demands placed upon us as individuals, it is about us celebrating our individuality. Yoga is not about competition and comparing ourselves to others, it’s about listening to our bodies and working to build core strength, both mentally and physically at a pace and time of life suitable for us.
Across the world, the popularity of yoga has increased phenomenally in recent decades. In the USA, the number of people practicing yoga has exploded from 4 million in 2001 to over 20 million in 2011. In that same year, former US President Barack Obama, when promoting his Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, stated: “Yoga has become a universal language of spiritual exercise in the United States, crossing many lines of religion and culture. Every day, millions of people practise yoga to improve their health and overall well-being.”
Yoga is so much more accessible nowadays. There are specialisms growing, with various yoga disciplines now being tailored to suit differing lifestyles and life stages, from yoga for children, to yoga with an emphasis on mindfulness for teens, particularly those going through exams. From specialist sessions designed to help achieve optimal performance for sportsmen and women, to supporting the recovery and healing process for physical and mental illnesses, not to forget the growing number of elderly who are turning increasingly to yoga.
As the number of people practicing yoga increases, the more it has become accepted, mainstream and taken seriously. Year on year more clinical studies are released evidencing the physical and mental health benefits. Personally, I have seen a growing awareness and appreciation that yoga is not an easy option, neither is it a quick fix. I have also witnessed a growing sense of respect for yoga teachers.
Yoga is a discipline that we can incorporate into our daily lives. We can practice at home, in the park, in the garden, with our family. More and more teachers, including myself, are using social media as a platform to demonstrate and showcase examples of their work and provide videos in support of home practice. Alongside this, there has been a huge growth in the popularity of yoga retreats offering an immersive experience, often in stunning surroundings.
So, what does yoga mean in the modern world? Yoga provides many benefits to our health and well-being. It encourages a feeling of connection to the natural world around us and a sense of groundedness and stability which can be drawn upon to help us navigate our way through the busyness of our lives as we live them today.
Image taken at White Lotus Foundation 2015