Behind every well-known form of art is an artist who spends sleepless nights and restless days to ensure the ultimate state of perfection. The world sees the art, and the artist is often conveniently forgotten. Yoga is also a kind of art that has changed lives for centuries.
Yoga did not evolve on its own to enlighten every corner of the world. Several learned Yogis strived hard to spread their popularity far and wide. This article sheds light on the life and work of some well-known Yogis.
Yoga is as ancient as the dawn of civilization. Centuries have passed since its inception, giving rise to several legends and myths. One such legend is that Lord Shiva, the great Hindu God of destruction, himself was the Adiyogi (First Yogi).
Lord Shiva assumed the form of Adiyogi and descended from heaven to the Earth. Here, He imparted the teachings and knowledge on Yoga to the Saptarishi (seven great sages of the ancient era). The Saptarishi traveled the world to spread the greatness of this discipline of life to the masses.
Legend has it that Adiyogi imparted only one-seventh of the knowledge of Yoga to each of the Saptarishi. This implies that each Saptarishi had detailed knowledge about an aspect of Yoga of which the other Saptarishi remained unaware.
Adiyogi and the Saptarishi are always honored to be pioneers in the development and spread.
Over the years, many learned scholars have worked hard to ensure that the benefits reach more people. This article sheds light on the notable works of some Yogis who made it their mission to spread the goodness of Yoga far and wide.
Who Is A Yogi?
In the Classic Sanskrit language, the word Yogi refers to a person who has studied and developed an expertise in the practices of Yoga, meditation, and spiritual activities. Yogis devoted their entire lives to understanding Yoga and spreading its teachings to those who sought them.
While there were no rules that governed the lives of Yogis, they were expected to lead a life of pure intentions, high morals, and great virtues. Yogis did not expect any material gain in return for their good deeds and teachings. They strove for the benefit and upliftment of society with their instructions. The Yogis acted like guardians of the community, teaching the importance of good behavior, healthy diet, bodily hygiene, and non-violence also along with Yoga.
The teachings of Yogis were not restricted simply to explaining the importance of Yoga postures as a form of exercise. Yogis also delved into its subtle effects on the human soul and made people aware of them. They believed that every person could embrace an elevated state of spiritual well-being with proper dedication. Most of the well-known Yogis had mastered meditation techniques and led a spiritually enhanced life.
Yogis often chose the path of Brahmacharya (celibacy) to avoid the temptation of worldly pleasures. However, studies have concluded that not all Yogis practiced strict celibacy. Some led married lives and preached the importance of remaining loyal to one’s partner.
The term Yogi was used to refer to males, while females were addressed as Yoginis. However, modern-day research and documentation find the use of the word Yogi for both men and women.
Though there was no official position that the Yogis held in the day-to-day functioning of the society, they were highly respected and revered in ancient times. A person could not simply become a Yogi by practicing an hour of Yoga randomly at their own will. Patience, dedication, detailed knowledge, sacrificial nature, calmness of the body and mind, and good virtues were some of the qualities one needed to possess to ascend to the position of a Yogi.
Notable Yogis and Their Works
Adi Shankaracharya was an influential figure among followers of Hinduism during the eighth century. Adi Shankaracharya was a great Yogi who had studied the positive influences of Yoga on one’s spiritual development. The teachings of Adi Shankaracharya focused on achieving Moksha (ultimate salvation) and freedom of mind.
Also known as Adi Shankara, the great Adi Shankaracharya had a deep knowledge of ancient Hindu scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita, Yogasutra, and the Vedas. He preached that those who wish to liberate their souls from the cycle of reincarnation and death must devote their time to the practices of meditation. (know more on the concept of reincarnation as described by Hindu scriptures)
He upheld the concept of Ashtanga Yoga as described by Maharishi Patanjali. Adi Shankaracharya opined that it was a way of liberating one’s mind and thoughts and paved the way for spiritual enlightenment. He opposed all methods that encouraged the suppression of ideas to elevate one’s soul.
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya was one of the most outstanding Yoga teachers as we know it today. He is often dubbed as the ‘Father of Modern Yoga .’ Tirumalai Krishnamacharya focused on teaching postures of Yoga and their benefits on one’s physical and mental health. He was one of the pioneer Yogis who revived Hatha Yoga (Modern-day practices).
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya worked very hard in his youth to master the various techniques of Yoga and even lived in a cave by the foot of the mountains for a few years. He studied the therapeutic efficacy of different Yoga postures and combined them with his knowledge of Ayurveda. Tirumalai Krishnamacharya used all the knowledge he had gained over the years while training his students. The revered Yogi is the author of four respected books on Yoga describing its effects on restoring balance to human life.
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya restored the rightful position of Hatha Yoga and is credited with giving it its due popularity. When he lived, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya personally tutored and groomed some of the well-known Yogis of the modern era like B.K.S. Iyengar, Indra Devi, and K. Pattabhi Jois.
There are very few people associated with Yoga who do not know that B.K.S. Iyengar is one of the most respected Yogis. Yogacharya Iyengar was one of the star pupils of Tirumali Krishmacharya himself, another great teacher of modern Yoga.
B.K.S. Iyengar began his association with Yoga to improve his poor physical health, and his efforts paid off miraculously. After years of practice and expertise, B.K.S Iyengar developed a new school of thought that is famous today as Iyengar Yoga. This school of study focuses on the body’s alignment and adequate stretching of all the muscles involved while performing the Yoga posture. Precision is given due importance while performing each pose in Iyengar Yoga. While B.K.S Iyengar developed his style, he never deviated from the original teachings and philosophy of this holistic discipline of living.
K. Pattabhi Jois
Alongside B.K.S Iyengar, another star pupil that Tirumalai Krishnamacharya groomed was K. Pattabhi Jois. K. Pattabhi Jois learned every technique of perfecting various Yoga postures, breathing exercises, bandhas, and visual focal points under the tutelage of his Guru. During his journey as a Yoga student, Pattabhi Jois studied various notable scriptures written on Yoga. He developed his method of Asthanga Yoga and popularized it among his students.
- Pattabhi Jois deserves due credit for spreading the knowledge of Yoga in the western world. He visited the U.S.A. several times, returning home with an increased number of students every single time. There is a Yoga institute in the name of K. Pattabhi Jois in the present day, where his family carries forward his legacy by teaching authentic Ashtanga Yoga to students.
Maharishi Patanjali was one of the most learned sages to live sometime around 200 B.C. He was among the noted scholars of his time who had studied and laid down various new concepts on Yoga. Maharishi Patanjali introduced the world to the idea of Ashtanga Yoga. (know more on Ashtanga Yoga)
He has penned the Yoga Sutras, one of the most well-known compilations on Yoga globally. The book consists of 195 or 196 aphorisms on the righteous practice of Yoga.
The contributions of Maharishi Patanjali to the field of Yoga are unparalleled, for which the world is forever indebted to him. His understanding of Yoga was not merely restricted to its benefits on physical health. Maharishi Patanjali also attained spiritual enlightenment through meditation. Legend has it that disciplined meditation practices helped him earn a state of Samadhi (oneness with the cosmic Universe) during his stay in Tamil Nadu, India.
Swami Shri Yukteshwar Giri
Swami Shri Yukteshwar Giri was an influential figure who shaped the future of Kriya Yoga and increased its popularity. It goes beyond the tangible, physical benefits and focuses on the utility of Yoga in developing an elevated state of mind and spirit. Swami Shri Yukteshwar Giri studied the Bhagavad Gita intensely and expounded the concept of reincarnation that the ancient scripture explains. He was an academician and explored the idea of Yugas with his knowledge of astronomy and physics. Swami Shri Yukteshwar Giri established two ashrams where he taught his disciples meditation, spiritual practices, and other means to achieve spiritual enlightenment.
Swami Vivekananda was a well-respected social reformer, an influential spiritual Guru, and a great Yogi of his time. His teachings would easily appeal to the masses and follow in day-to-day life. He would encourage youngsters to take the spiritual path to achieve greatness in life. Swami Vivekananda was a devout Yogi who practiced meditation to improve spiritual and physical health.
He firmly believed and preached that Yogic practices could help to strengthen one’s mind and give it the required discipline.
Swami Vivekanand had deep knowledge about Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and shared the book’s philosophies with his Western disciples. He had garnered love, respect, and admiration among the global masses of all age groups. Swami Vivekanand helped popularize the concept of Yoga in the Western world in an era when the knowledge of Indians was not as respected as it is today. The world owes an outstanding debt to Swami Vivekanand for his works on every aspect of Yoga.
Swami Sivananda Saraswati
Swami Sivananda Saraswati was a qualified doctor who had served as a physician for several years before becoming a monk and taking up the path of spirituality. He truly believed that it was the ultimate solution to end all human suffering. Swami Sivananda authored over 200 books on various sub-topics related to Yoga when he lived. He founded his academy, where his students learned the techniques in performing meditation.
Swami Sivananda combined his knowledge of medicine and explained to his followers the importance of good health. He also taught his students the correct Pranayama techniques and explained their importance to his followers. Sivanand Yoga is a branch of Yoga that advocates its importance in shaping people’s spiritual and physical health and has many disciples and followers all over the world.
Several other famous and lesser-known Yogis strived hard to study Yoga and spread its knowledge to the commoners. Yoga has reached the pinnacle of fame and enjoys global recognition through the dedication and efforts of many such known and great unknown people.