Yoga in India: A Brief History, Traditions and Retreats



अथ योगानुशासनम् ॥१.१॥

– Chapter 1: Samadhi Pada; Yog Sutra by Sage Patanjali

This line in Sanskrit translates into ‘let’s now begin the discipline of yoga’.

Yoga indeed is a discipline – a way of life. But in its contemporary form, it is also a holistic fitness modality. However, there is more to this ancient healing practice than the superficial portrayal of it in the world simply as a way to stay fit.

Yoga in India developed thousands of years ago. Over millennia; it got shrouded into oblivion; reappeared, only to vanish again under a façade of varied cultural traditions – a result of foreign invasions in India as well as reign of several dynasties. In the current era; even with all the chaos of the digital world, yoga resurrected in the country; albeit with many new avatars. However, the importance of yoga in Indian culture cannot be denied. But in all honesty, it found its rightful place in the world due to the efforts of several teachers and yogis who steadfastly promoted it across the world.

A History of Yoga Traditions

There is no way to specify an era or a time period for the advent of yoga. In the Yogic Lore, Shiva is the first yogi (the Adiyogi) and also the first yoga guru (Adiguru). He transferred his knowledge to seven sages (the Saptarishis) who in turn travelled far and wide and further spread this knowledge. But it was in India where due to the efforts of Saptarishi Agastya, yoga found its full expression and bloomed. In the pre-Vedic period (2700 B.C.), one can see yoga’s historical evidence in holy texts such as the four Vedas, 18 Puranas, 108 Upanishads, Smritis and other epics and teachings from Jainism and Buddhism.

Yog Sutra by Patanjali consists of texts about yoga’s various forms and aspects but also espouses the ‘eight-fold path of yoga’. The Classical Period (500 BC-800 A.D.), considered as the most significant era for the development of yoga traditions, is well-known for commentaries on yogic texts by Vyasa. During this era, Mahavir and Buddha, taught yoga sadhana. It was by way of sadhana that the connection between the mind and body was understood and it found greater expression in the Post Classical Period (800 A.D.-1700 A.D). The Modern Period (1700-1900 A.D.) is the era when many forms of yoga including Hatha Yoga developed and many seers and teachers such as Ramana Maharshi, Paramhansa Yogananda, Vivekananda, and Ramakrishna Paramhansa contributed to the development of Raja Yoga.

Teachers such as Sri Aurobindo, BKS Iyengar, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, Swami Kuvalayananda, T. Krishnamacharya, and others helped develop contemporary yogic practices. In the current period (and has been so since the past few decades); it is considered more of a practice for health and fitness. But, in essence, it is a practice to harmonize the mind and the body with the soul and the cosmos itself. It is a tradition that has no end as one can continue to reach greater heights of learning and harmony with each passing day.

If you practice yoga in its modern avatar or desire to then there are various yoga retreats in India you can visit. You can partake in beginners’ yoga sessions, gain mastery over your existing practice, or train as a yoga teacher.

There are many affordable yoga retreats India as well as luxury ones; you can choose one as per your budget and requirements. Here are some of the best yoga retreats in India to visit.

Arogya Yoga School – an excellent yoga retreat and wellness center in Rishikesh

Yoga retreats in Rishikesh (the town is popularly referred to as the ‘yoga capital of the world’) can be pure expressions of traditional practices molded into modern requirements but enveloped in a cosmic world where a holy river blesses the land and ancient mountains sing songs of the bygone era. The stillness you find here can be replicated; perhaps a tenth of it, when you partake in a 2-week yoga practice at this retreat. This place is very popular for yoga teacher training courses. Rishikesh is one of the most famous places in India and the world for spiritual sojourns. Practicing yoga here can be one of the best experiences in life.

Accommodations here include all amenities for a comfortable stay. You can learn Hatha and Ashtanga forms of yoga in this center. The unique offering here are lessons from the Upanishads and the Vedas for anyone interested in learning yogic traditions from the purest of the pure sources.

Location: Arogya Vatika, Nirmal Bag B, Lane 10, Visthapit Colony, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India 24920

Contact: (+91) 8630677119

Kaivalyadhama Ashram – one of the oldest yoga and wellness centers in India

Founded in 1924, Kaivalyadhama is one of the best yoga retreats for those interested in learning the traditional form of this ancient practice. It is best known for its Ashtanga Yoga classes and for conducting in-house scientific research on the benefits of yoga. It doubles up as one of the best wellness retreats in the country. You can attend programs for weight management, pain management, auto immune conditions, relaxation, naturopathy, ayurveda, and sadhana. Located in Lonavala near Mumbai, it is easy to reach the retreat from the city. The pristine hills of the Western Ghats will offer additional solace when you visit this yoga and wellness retreat in India.

Location: Swami Kuvalayananda Marg, Lonavala, Maharashtra, India 410403

Contact: (+91) 7262026878

Sivananda Meenakshi Ashram, Madurai – one of the finest yoga retreats in India

If you are looking for a place to rejuvenate your weary mind, body, and soul then head to the quiet environs of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Meenakshi Ashram, an hour’s drive from the pious town of Madurai. Founded in 2002, its quaint setting acts as balm for the soul – akin to sublime and nurturing hands – healing you to the very core. Indulge in meditation and yoga sessions here with views of the hills of the Western Ghats. This center has a dedicated Yoga Vacation Program that offers daily yoga classes, vegetarian meals, and sessions on spiritual teachings.

Location: Near Pavanna Vilakku Junction, New Natham Road, Saramthangi village, Vellayampatti PO. Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India 625503

Contact: (+91) 4448137067

Purple Valley – an eco-friendly yoga retreat in Goa

For those looking for yoga retreats in Goa or in modern settings; head to Purple Valley to immerse your very being in the teachings of Ashtanga Yoga. You can choose from yoga for beginners or courses for the more experienced practitioners. Rooms here are cozy and comfortable; simple yet offering all amenities required for a comfortable stay. Vegetarian meals here are from Indian and international cuisines to satisfy all palates. Soak in the sun, revel on your beach walks, and revitalize yourself with daily yoga sessions.

Location: 142 Bairo Alto, Assagao, Bardez, Goa, India 403507

Contact: (+91) 0832 2268363

Sharanagati Yogahaus – a serene yoga retreat amidst the beauty of Kerala

Combine a holiday with a wellness retreat by visiting Sharanagati Yogahaus in Varkala, Kerela. With the beautiful Varkala Beach as the setting of this yoga retreat and wellness center; expect bliss to seep through your very being when you spend time here. Receive coaching in various yoga poses, breathing exercises (pranayama), and meditation techniques. Be prepared to detach from the world as use of cell phones and other digital distractions is not part of traditions here.

Location: Thiruvambadi Road, Varkala, Kerala, India 695141

Contact: (+91) 90486 94762

As the World Yoga Day, 2022 (June 21) inches closer, you can plan a yoga holiday in India. Or visit the country any time of the year to experience a transcendence of mind, body, and spirit via ancient texts and yogic practices. Yoga in India is constantly transforming. So, immerse yourself in this vast knowledge traversing eras.

Book flights to India from USA or any part of the world and visit these yoga retreats at your leisure.

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