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Western Yoga Vs. Eastern Yoga Culture

Satyajeet Vispute Mar 17, 2020
If you think that performing all those asanas in a local studio is all there is to yoga, think again! Here, we highlight some of the ways in which modern yoga culture in America differs from the traditional type in India.
"There are as many types of yoga as there are people."
Bhagavad Gita
According to legends, it was the Hindu God Shiva who first taught yoga to humankind. This ancient art has been practiced in the East literally for thousands of years, and is revered as being the true path towards the attainment of bodily as well as spiritual enlightenment.
Since the first time that the Western world came into contact with the Eastern yogis, there has been immense curiosity among them regarding the practice of yoga. Some are enticed by its spiritual gains, while many others by the physical fitness and health benefits that it has to offer.
This great public interest in yoga has allowed this art to travel and spread far and wide in the West. However, the Western yoga that one sees being practiced today is significantly different from its Eastern counterpart. Particularly, there is a major difference in the yoga culture of the East and that of the West.
Here, we shall take a look at some of cultural difference in the yoga of the East and the West.

Western Yoga Vs. Eastern Yoga

Yoga is More Popular in the West

India might be the birthplace of yoga, but this ancient art is much more popular in the West, where a lot more people practice it.
In India, yoga is viewed as a means of spiritual growth. It focuses more on meditation, and as such, is practiced mostly by those in their middle or older ages. On the other hand, yoga in the West is practiced by people of all ages. It is viewed as a means of improving one's beauty and fitness.

Eastern Yoga is Practiced According to Tradition

The yoga of the East has a standard format, and is practiced without much variation to it. More importance is given to the adherence of the traditional aspects of yoga, than towards publicizing it.
Contrary to this, there is a huge variety in yoga in the West. In order to appeal to more and more people, several creative types of yoga have been developed here. These include the likes of chocolate yoga, music yoga, rock-and-roll yoga, naked yoga, love yoga, broga, etc.

Yoga is More than Just an Exercise in the East

Yoga, in the East, is a way of life. Along with the physical exercises for maintaining fitness, it also teaches you to respect yourself and the world around you, and takes you on the path of spiritual enlightenment.
The Western world has seemingly only borrowed the physical fitness part of the yoga lifestyle. It is mostly performed as a form of bodily exercise, and nothing more.

Eastern Yoga Culture Advocates Minimalism

In the East, yoga practitioners are taught to live a minimalistic lifestyle.
They are encouraged to detach themselves from worldly possessions and attractions, and pursue the path of spirituality. They are asked to follow a plain, strictly vegan diet, with minimum spices, based on the philosophy of Ayurveda.
Western yoga, typically doesn't impose restrictions. They usually continue with their normal lifestyle and present living standards, and use yoga simply for maintaining their health.

Teacher-student Dynamics in Western Yoga is More Casual

In India, yoga is taught in accordance with the Guru-shishya (teacher-student) tradition. The guru is considered the enlightener, who leads the student from ignorance to knowledge. He is greatly revered, and his teachings are strictly adhered to.
The shishya maintains respect for his guru. He behaves in a certain manner in the presence of his guru, and is always keen on serving him and expressing his gratitude for the knowledge that he is gaining.
In the West, a much more casual dynamics exists between the yoga teacher and student. The teacher is considered to be friend, and the way of interaction between him and his students is very informal, both ways.
In some large yoga classes in the West, you will find that the students hardly know or acknowledge their teacher. Some continue their own independent sequence of exercises in groups, and don't think twice before arguing with the teacher about his teachings.

Eastern and Western Yoga Teaching Styles are Different

In India, yoga gurus focus their instructions mainly towards perfecting poses, meditation, breathing exercises, and the benefits of performing each one of these.
They typically use very plain language, and restrict their teachings to the correct performance of yoga techniques.
In the West, yoga sessions are much more interactive. The language used by the instructors is dynamic, and the topics discussed include healing, relationships, joy, sorrow, love, trauma, etc., all of which are considered distractions in the practice of yoga in the East.

Yoga is a Fashion in the West

Originally, yoga philosophy was based on detachment from the materialistic world.
In the East, yoga clothing means wearing anything that is loose and comfortable enough for you to perform the various asanas. The outfit that is typically worn is plain, inexpensive, and very modest.
Western yoga is commercialized. There is a multi-billion dollar industry that looks forward to provide you with fashionable clothing, to ensure that you look good while performing yoga asanas in the studio.

Yoga Gurus of the West Differ from Those of the East

In the East, you will frequently find yoga gurus who have spent many years practicing this art, until they finally decided to teach others. Learning yoga is considered as a never-ending process here, so many Eastern gurus view themselves as students, and continue learning throughout their lives.
Conversely, in the West, there are very few gurus who can claim such an extensive and dedicated practice of yoga. Many teachers here simply participate in a yoga teacher certification course, which allows them to become a yoga instructor within a couple of months.
Ironically, some of these courses are offered by Eastern yoga practitioners who have migrated to the West and stared their yoga training institutions here.

Bikram's Hot Yoga

The instructor Bikram Choudhury's Hot yoga refers to a sequence of yoga exercises that are performed under artificially created hot and humid conditions in the studios.
Founder Bikram Choudhury claims that these conditions improve flexibility in the various asanas. Hot yoga was a hit back in the 1970s, and still remains popular in the West today.
Bikram's Hot yoga, however, never became popular in India, with many teachers of traditional yoga even questioning whether it is an actual form of yoga at all.
Thus, while Eastern yoga culture still maintains its traditional aspects, its Western counterpart leans more towards modernization and commercialization - which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Modern yoga, as practiced in the West, may be different from the traditional yoga, but it is still effective in enhancing physical fitness. This is the main reason why it has become as popular as it is today. Commercialization of yoga too has played an important part in familiarizing the public to this useful art from the East.
Both, Eastern and Western yoga have their own unique place in modern times. For those wishing to explore and obtain the spiritual benefits from it, Eastern yoga would be the preferred choice. On the other hand, for those who simply want to keep fit, Western yoga can be one of the most beneficial of exercises.