Yoga in Russia

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A yoga studio in Tyumen, 2019

Yoga in Russia is the practice of yoga, including modern yoga as exercise, in Russia. The actor Constantin Stanislavski made extensive use of Hatha Yoga in his system for training actors in the 1910s.

Yoga was banned in the Soviet Union, but grew rapidly after glasnost in the 1990s. B. K. S. Iyengar visited Russia and helped to create a network of 50 yoga studios. Since then, yoga has diversified, with many forms of yoga available across the country.

Early history[edit]

The first Russian translation of the Bhagavad Gita was published in 1788 on the orders of the empress Catherine the Great.[1]

Agni Yoga, said to mean "Mergence with Divine Fire", was created in exile in 1920 by the Russians Nicholas Roerich and Helena Roerich, influenced by the theosophist Helena Blavatsky.[2]

A shadowier figure, Ramachakra, perhaps a Russian or an American, translated yoga texts into Russian, but they were all burnt during the Russian Revolution of 1917, and yoga, especially yoga teaching, was forbidden in the USSR.[3]

Stanislavski's system[edit]

The Russian actor and trainer Constantin Stanislavski developed a system for training actors significantly influenced by yoga and Indian philosophy. He saw how beneficial yoga was for his students and used it extensively in the Second Studio (founded 1916), in the Opera Studio (1918-1922), and in the Moscow Arts Theatre, where his 1919-1920 notebooks describe the use of Hatha Yoga alongside Swedish gymnastics, rhythm exercises, and voice training. In the Opera Studio he spoke of "the laws of correct breathing, the correct position of the body, concentration and watchful discrimination"; the scholar William H. Wegner glosses these as pranayama, asana, and dharana respectively.[a][7][4][8] Stanislavski was thus, note the scholars Dorinda Hulton and Maria Kapsali, making use of traditional yoga, not its modern posture-based form, which had not yet been created.[9]

Indra Devi[edit]

The yoga pioneer Indra Devi, born in the Russian Empire, escaped to the West during the Russian Revolution and studied yoga under Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. She helped to make yoga popular as exercise in America, especially amongst women, and in 1960 visited the USSR, seeing St Petersburg (then Leningrad) for the first time in 40 years, and meeting the government ministers Andrei Gromyko and Alexei Kosygin at the Indian ambassador's reception at the Sovetskaya Hotel.[10][11]

Yoga as exercise[edit]

A woman practising Janusirsasana in a Moscow park, 2010

Yoga has become increasingly popular in Russia since the 1980s, particularly in major cities, mainly due to its reputation for health benefits. B. K. S. Iyengar twice visited the country, leading to the establishment of some fifty Iyengar Yoga studios, the best-known of them in the Old Arbat district of Moscow.[1][12][13]

In 1991, the managing editor of Yoga Journal, Linda Cogozzo, noted that Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost had allowed yoga to be practised openly. She recorded that in 1986 Arkadiy Greenblatt had been put in prison for three years for teaching yoga, but in 1990 an American delegation, including such luminaries as Judith Lasater, Amrit Desai and Lilias Folan, had been allowed to visit Russia and share knowledge of yoga. It also mentioned two men, Yuri Nicolaiovich Polkovnikov and Genadiy Gregorievich Stasenko, who "took the risk" of teaching yoga in Russian gymnasiums in the 1960s, describing it as "gymnastics or health therapy".[3] Russia's first school of yoga was founded in Moscow in 1993 by Viktor Sergeyevich Boyko; it has expanded to have branches around Russia.[14]

Yoga steadily increased in popularity; in 2007, the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, stated that "little by little, I'm mastering yoga".[15] By 2015, yoga was ubiquitous, with a class in every gym and new yoga studios in every town. The president, Vladimir Putin, met the prime minister of India, Narendra Modi at the BRICS summit that year, and promised to try yoga alongside his other sporting activities.[16] In 2018, two entrepreneurs who made their money in knitting, Mikhail Galaev and Dmitry Demin, founded Prana, a yoga business in Moscow with 23 practice rooms, said to be the largest in Europe. Yoga styles available in Russia have expanded to include new forms such as Aerial Yoga (with hammocks) and Jivamukti Yoga.[16]

Russian yoga teacher Nina Mel in Kukkutasana (Rooster pose)[17]

Russia's relationship with yoga has remained uneasy, however; in 2015, officials in Nizhnevartovsk closed yoga classes as "religious cults";[18] in 2017, the yoga teacher Dmitry Ugay was charged with "illegal missionary activity" under an anti-terrorism law;[15] and in 2019 the Russian member of parliament Yelena Mizulina stated that yoga could "turn people gay".[19]

The Russian yoga teacher Nina Mel,[20] who created "N-Code Yoga Practice", was featured as Yoga Magazine's teacher of the month in 2019.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ These are three of the eight limbs of yoga defined by Patanjali.[5] According to Chip Hartranft's commentary on the Yoga Sutras, discrimination (viveka) implies another limb, pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses.[6]


  1. ^ a b Kazak, Olga (9 August 2013). "Russia's age-old passion for yoga". Russia & India Report.
  2. ^ "Agni Yoga". Archived from the original on 23 October 2018.
  3. ^ a b Cogozzo, Linda (May 1991). "Yoga in the USSR". Yoga Journal: 63–67, 100–103.
  4. ^ a b Wegner, William H. (March 1976). "The Creative Circle: Stanislavski and Yoga". Educational Theatre Journal. 28 (1): 85–89. doi:10.2307/3205965. JSTOR 3205965.
  5. ^ Yoga Sutras 2.29.
  6. ^ Patañjali (2003). The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali : a new translation with commentary. Boston, Mass: Shambhala Publications. pp. 42–43. ISBN 978-1-59030-023-7. OCLC 50124494.
  7. ^ Fets, Konstantin (7 August 2014). "Yoga as an essential part of Stanislavsky's studios". which cites Tcherkasski, Sergei (2016). Stanislavski and Yoga. Routledge and Icarus Publishing. ISBN 978-1138954090.
  8. ^ Fets, Konstantin (4 August 2014). "Stanislavsky's tryst with yoga".
  9. ^ Hulton, Dorinda; Kapsali, Maria (2017). "Yoga and Stanislavski: reflections on the past and applications for the present and future". Stanislavski Studies. 5 (1): 37–47. doi:10.1080/20567790.2017.1294382. ISSN 2056-7790.
  10. ^ Fedorov, Anton (1 October 2010). "Поставившая мир на голову" [Turn the world on its head]. Vokrug sveta (in Russian) (October 2010). An authorised English version of the article is available on the Wild Yogi website.
  11. ^ Goldberg, Michelle (2016) [2015]. The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, The Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West. London: Corsair. pp. 8, 185–189. ISBN 978-1-4721-5204-6. OCLC 927383820.
  12. ^ "Yogafest held in Moscow". Russia & India Report. 10 October 2012. Retrieved 17 November 2014.
  13. ^ "B.K.S. Iyengar was the pioneer of yoga revival in Russia". Russia & India Report. 20 August 2014.
  14. ^ Barashev, Roman (9 March 2007). "Yoga in Russian". RIA Novosti.
  15. ^ a b Balmforth, Tom (12 January 2017). "Russian yoga fans alarmed at arrest of teacher under new law". The Guardian.
  16. ^ a b "Namaste: Russia Embraces the Yoga Lifestyle". The Moscow Times. 2 April 2019.
  17. ^ a b "Teacher of the month: Nina Mel". Yoga Magazine. Retrieved 21 November 2019.
  18. ^ Plucinska, Joanna (1 July 2015). "Officials in Central Russia Have Banned Yoga Because They Think It's an Evil Cult". Time.
  19. ^ Parfitt, Tom (10 April 2019). "Yoga makes men gay, says Russian MP Yelena Mizulina". The Times.
  20. ^ "Yoga Profiles: Nina Mel, the Yoga Goddess". All Yoga Types. Retrieved 21 November 2019.