In India, reverence for the guru is more than respect for an individual; it is devotion to the knowledge honed by a lineage of masters stretching back to ancient times. Dance and music are the main classical Indian traditions. They are the arts, but they carry the weight of centuries of precision and discipline. Each student learns from her guru; each guru is one link of a timeless lineage; the art is the living language between the ancient ones and us today.
Yoga is said to be one of these ancient, living, Indian arts, and yet the physical practice we know is fairly new. For most of modern history, the practice of yoga was an esoteric search for enlightenment, often carried out in mountain caves and forests. The Bhagavad Gita, one of the most ancient texts of yoga, teaches that yoga is perfect evenness of mind, equanimity in success and defeat, and non-attachment to fruits of labor. And yet, those who live by these yogic teachings are not typically practicing gymnastic-like physical fitness routines. So who is truly practicing yoga?
For all artists, there is a dynamic conversation between tradition and innovation. This dance between discipline and creativity is especially complex for yoga, because the ancient texts seem to describe something orthogonal to today’s fitness phenomenon. Traditionally, in the East, yogis were gurus and their disciples, wizened ascetics full of mystical knowledge. Today, in the West, yoga evokes images of lithe young women in leggings. To find the true art of yoga, we must first find the lineage of yoga gurus.