Yoga legacy has grown to be a very popular pastime in Britain, despite its humble beginnings in mid-20th century. Although it is difficult to determine how many people practice yoga, the UN estimates that there are between 300,000 to 500,000 who regularly do so.
Through the dedication and hard work of many individuals, the discipline became popular in Britain. My book Yoga in Britain examines the many ways yoga came to be a part of British culture. Two women, whose passion and dedication played a major role in popularizing yoga in Britain, have been forgotten.
Yogini Sunita Legacy
Yogini Sunita was the daughter of Bernadette Boccaro, a Catholic family with Portugese-Indian heritage. She was born in 1932 to a Portugese Catholic family in Bombay. Around 1960, she arrived in Britain along with her husband and their son. She quickly made new friends who were eager to learn yoga and assumed the identity of Yogini sunita, teaching the techniques she had learned from Narainswami at the beaches near Bombay.
Sunita was already teaching yoga to 780 students at Birmingham Athletics Institute by 1965. Historical sources indicate that she was a charismatic teacher who taught flowing sequences of poses, with many postures being performed with one knee bent and the other in the groin.
Sunita’s signature technique is the slipped second, in which one calls to anxiety and then releases them for just one second. Sunita legacy explained this to BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour listeners in 1961. It is a mental relaxation that allows you to respond to life’s demands better. Sunita said that this was eight hours of perfect sleep.
Sunita, who was 38 at the time of her tragically premature death in 1970, began teaching others how to teach. However, she left no manuals or training programs. Wrote that Pranayama Yoga required knowledge about psychology, tension causes and three hundred exercises. Stressed, however, that the gift and ability to teach such a subject cannot be attributed solely by letters.
Sunita understood this and foresaw many of today’s debates over the validity and nature of yoga teacher training programs. Sunita realized in the 1960s that just because someone has a yoga teaching certificate doesn’t automatically make them a great or charismatic teacher. She stressed that yoga is an embodied practice, and not all qualified practitioners are suitable teachers of this type of tradition.
Kailash Puri Legacy
Kailash Puri (1926-17), a second woman who helped popularize yoga in Britain, was a teacher of yoga. She lived in Crosby with Gopal Singh Puri (1915-1995), and taught between 1968-1990. Kailash and her husband, both Sikhs from the Punjab, had moved to Crosby as Gopal Puri was a lecturer in biological sciences at Liverpool Polytechnic.
Puri noticed a need for yoga soon after the Beatles returned to India. He encouraged his wife, Kailash Puri, to teach poses, breathing exercises, relaxation, and philosophical lectures while also creating herbal prescriptions based upon Ayurvedic principles. Kailash Puri was also a teacher in healthy eating and vegetable cooking. She served as an Indian cookery consultant for Marks & Spencer in the 1970s.
The Puris, like Sunita, also stressed yoga as relaxation. This was an antidote for modern problems such stress, materialism, and emotional imbalance. Frank and Hazel Wills were their students and helped popularize yoga through a regular slot on BBC Television’s lunchtime program Pebble Mill at One for many years starting in 1973. They also published a book called Yoga for All.
Both Sunita as well as the Puris stressed that yoga was not tied to any particular religious belief. Both claimed that the techniques were easily accessible and have significant benefits for relaxation and health. Importantly, neither Sunita or Puri set any guidelines for teaching others yoga. Their legacy influence is largely gone.
B.K.S. was one of the first to realize this. It is much easier to document the legacies of Iyengar (1918-1914), who created a standardised teacher education syllabus in conjunction with London’s adult education system, as well as Wilfred Clark (1898-1981), the founder of the British Wheel of Yoga.
Why British Women Embrace Yoga
These two women are important in inspiring women and should not be underrate. After the war, 70-90% of all yoga classes in Britain taught by women. There are many reasons why this happened. Mark Singleton is a yoga historian and senior researcher at SOAS. He pointed out that modern yoga has many similarities to exercise methods like the Swedish and Danish gymnastic drills, which were popular among women in late 19th century and early 20th century.
Yoga was also a way to relieve what one yoga teacher called housewife syndrome. Which, according to her experience, included. Monotony, lack of recognition, indeterminate painfulls, and psychosomatic symptoms.
Women could also teach yoga, which allowed them to find work that was flexible. Enough to fit in with their family obligations. They could earn more by teaching yoga than other jobs that were available to them at the time, like secretarial work.
Yogini and Kailash Puri weren’t just yoga teachers. Their lives were a testament to how yoga offered new opportunities for empowerment. And social influence that allow them to be liberate.