- Editor’s note: The Victorian Era is a term used to refer to the period of 1820 to 1914 in the United Kingdom, not the United States.
Yes, yoga was practiced in the Victorian Age, 1820 to 1914 when Queen Victoria of England reigned. “Victorian society was organized hierarchically. The main organizing principles of Victorian society were gender and class. Victorian gender ideology was based on a doctrine of separate spheres meaning men and women had different missions in life. Men were meant to participate in politics while women were meant to run households and raise families,” (britannica.com/event/Victorian-era).
Yoga migrated from the East and awakened the curiosity of Victorian women in the United States. Just imagine practicing yoga garbed in long skirts and dresses. But, let’s experiment with today’s practice and some modifications of “Downward Dog,” a posture Victorian women were able to do in their long dresses and corseted waists.
With a long straight back aligned with the legs and feet, keep the arms long by the sides. Slowly breathe your way into the pose using the depth of the breath to lengthen the body and relax. Extend the legs long to the back and raise the arms straight up and wide apart, lifting the core. Keep the neck long and aligned with a straight back. Hold the pose for three minutes as you freely breathe.
Lay down flat again on the stomach, then bring one leg forward with a bent knee and raise the arms long and parallel to each other while balancing both arms to the sky. Hold this posture for three more minutes. Return to Downward Dog and lift the buttocks up. Slowly, pull the legs back underneath the core one at a time to center. With buttocks raised into a “V” hold the posture. Repeat the same pose three times from Downward Dog and return to standing tall.
The next pose is to come back to the center of the mat, standing, then extend the legs, parallel, wide apart. Bend the right knee, keeping the left leg straight as your bend forward over the right knee with a straight back. Grab one hand underneath the center of the legs as you clasp the other hand and straighten the core, lifting upright. Hold the posture for three minutes before changing to the other side. This is a simple posture to perfect as it works on pulling energy out of the back and thighs. Repeat the posture several times on each side.
Today, there are many books and classes that introduce a variety of yoga philosophies and practices. What a great era to live in as each person grows, faces changes in the status quo and moves forward with a positive, pro-growth philosophy through all changes. Yoga is a way to bring this mental philosophy and physical practice into everyday life, discovering harmony and growth. Yoga grows within each human as a way of life. Today is a challenge, as it was in the past when new knowledge emerged from “old ways.”
Who better to have an understanding of changes over time than Oliver Wendell Holmes, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932. Holmes reviewed law cases to determine a “fair” and lasting verdict that he had to live with through recorded history that shaped the destiny of the emerging United States. He expressed a proactive philosophy, maintaining hope in each person, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are only tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Enjoy your yoga practice just as the “New Age” Victorian women (depicted in the beauty of this mannequin) who dared to initiate this expanded philosophy into everyday life.