The rape of Yoga

The rape of Yoga

Aseem Shukla /Sheetal Shah

Apart from distorting it beyond recognition, the proponents of America’s $ 6 billion Yoga industry deny Yoga’s inseparability with the Hindu way of life. The philosophy behind Yoga must be extolled

The burgeoning Yoga industry — built off of $108 Yoga pants contoured to bind and sculpt the body, $185 Yoga studio membership fees and $100 yoga mats custom designed to decrease slippage from sweaty palms — continues to skyrocket in popularity. The latest fad at a spinning studio round the corner: “combination spin and Yoga”, where the goal is to burn fat and loosen thigh muscles – ostensibly to decrease that pesky sore hamstring. But that shouldn’t be surprising when there already exists Yoga in the nude, yoga and food, and even “Doga” – i.e. yoga with one’s pet dog.

Welcome to Yoga 2010 sweeping the United States @ $ 6 billion per year, where it is legit to pair Yoga with just about anything, including faith. Apart from the aforementioned distortions of a 5,000-year-old science, we now see the rise of “Christian Yoga”, “Muslim Yoga”, “Kabbalah Yoga” and what have you.

Each of these “nuanced faith-yogas” have appropriated the knowledge of countless yogis without so much as a nod of gratitude towards Hinduism, the faith that gifted them this treasure. Hinduism today is identified overseas more with holy cows than Gomukhasana, the arduous twisting posture and exotic and erotic gods rather than the unity of divinity of Hindu tradition – that God may manifest and be worshiped in infinite ways; as a religion of incomprehensible ritual rather than the spiritual inspiration of Patanjali, the second century BC commentator and composer of the Yoga Sutras, that has formed the philosophical basis of practical Yoga for millennium.

As Yoga becomes more “mainstream”, its Hindu roots continue to be buried further and further by studios, practitioners and the media. While magazines such as Yoga Journal are replete with references to ancient India, new age blather and even Buddhism, it is only logical to ask why is there so much resistance to openly acknowledging Yoga’s inextricable links with Hinduism.

Firstly, perhaps because not all of the great Hindu Yogis who introduced the West to this ancient philosophy took the uncompromising path of a Swami Vivekananda in his open assertion and embrace of his Hindu faith. A generous perspective would be that these more modern yogis and swamis couch their teachings in secular syntax to benefit millions of followers. But a more realistic view would reach far harsher conclusions. The followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, under whose tutelage the Beatles steadied their mind, packaged and even trademarked the benefits of meditation as Transcendental Meditation (TM). Yet, a search of the words “Hindu” or “Hinduism” on TM’s website reveals not a single instance of either word.

Contemporary gurus unwisely continue this trend that severs yoga from its very wellsprings of inspiration. From Ayurveda to meditation and Yoga to pranayama and riya, the path of least resistance for acceptance in the West is seen to simply indulge the consumer with homilies to wellness, holistic healing and rewiring the mental hard drive without eliciting the baggage of that pariah term: “Hinduism.”

As these gurus highlight only the universal nature of Yoga while discarding overt references to Hinduism. They end up grabbing the transcendent philosophical fruits of the ancients, leaving Hinduism with stereotyped detritus of incomprehensible ritual and the cliched “caste, cows and curry.” As the popularity of Yoga has skyrocketed and spiritual practice has morphed into a $6 billion industry, this delinking has become so prevalent and commonplace that many in the western yoga community are outraged that any faith, particularly one that is now largely associated with colorful rituals and multi-headed gods, could dare claim to be the mother of Yoga.

Critics, such as the American Yoga Association and Deepak Chopra have argued that Yoga predates Hinduism – a term coined just a few hundred years ago. Based on this flawed logic, would these critics also venture to say that neither the Vedas nor the Upanishads nor the Bhagavad Gita are fundamental “Hindu” texts because they all pre-date colonial India? Would these same critics then take issue with the legendary BKS Iyengar’s statement in Light of Yoga that “some asanas are also called after the Gods of the Hindu pantheon and some recall the Avataras, or incarnations of Divine Power”? Or would they perhaps venture to state that Shiva is not a Hindu god because He is mentioned in the opening line of Swami Svatmarama’s Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

Even more baffling are the practitioners who learn to master asanas such as Hanumanasana or Natarajasana while simultaneously denying the Hindu roots of Yoga. Lord Nataraja’s eternal dance precedes creation of this universe itself, but when will the Deepak Chopras of the world concede that the spiritual tradition moving to His divine rhythms is what we all accept as Hinduism?

For these self-indulgent appropriators of Yoga in the US, the end-all-and-be-all of Yoga is asana-based classes. They have not delved into Yoga’s foundational scriptures, such as Patajanli’s Yoga Sutras. For these “lay” yogis, the focus is on sculpting muscles or simply balancing in Sirshasana for 10 minutes, ignoring that the ultimate goal of Yoga is also that of Hinduism: moksha, the attainment of liberation from worldly suffering and from the cycle of birth and rebirth. Yoga 2010 is only a stress-buster, 90 minutes out of the American’s day, a few times each week.

And unfortunately, much of what is practiced in the West is exactly this – asanas in the name of Yoga, making it that much easier to decouple the practice from its Hindu roots. It’s rather simple to brush off the idea that Hinduism, or any faith for that matter, can lay claim to a headstand or spinal twist or any physical pose. But for Hindus working toward the ultimate goal of moksha, Yoga is not just an asana practice that can be forgotten after “arising” from savasana. Instead, yoga is lived every minute of everyday and both asana and pranayama are small, but integral components. As Prashant Iyengar, the son of BKS Iyengar, so aptly states, “There is no physical Yoga and spiritual Yoga. If it is exclusively physical, it won’t be Yoga. Yoga is dealing with the entirety; it is a union.”

Yoga is not only for Hindus; Hindus do not own yoga. Yoga is Hinduism’s gift to humanity to follow, practice and experience. No one will ever be asked to leave their own religion or reject their own theologies or convert to a pluralistic tradition such as Hinduism. Yoga, in its path of regaining mastery over the body, mind and intellect, does not offer ways to believe in God; it offer ways to know God.

Dr Aseem Shukla, a Minneapolis-based Pediatrician is co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and may be reached at shuk1011@umn.edu; Sheetal Shah is Director, Development, HAF

Another article worth reading by the same author (don’t forget to read the readers’ comments):

The theft of yoga

The dispute is about origins of Yoga, not its ownership. That is why the statement “Nobody owns Yoga” is a strawman argument. To make Yoga more palatable to Xian moneybags, some mercenary charlatans of Deepak Chopra variety have begun to claim that Yoga has nothing to do with Hinduism but is an orphan art that miraculously developed on its own in ancient India. This is a blatant lie and theft of intellectual property. It is like saying Bible has nothing to do with Christianity, and if some Christians object, then argue: “Nobody has any copyright on Jesus.”

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “The rape of Yoga

  1. VoP

    Another one in the series…

    It is wrong to deny that yoga has its origins in Hinduism – Yoga has been shamelessly rebranded to make it more acceptable to western culture, but this is based on a lie
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/dec/02/yoga-hindu-rebranded-wrongly

    • sanjay

      That mercenary charlatan Deepak Chopra is leading this campaign to deny that Yoga has anything to do with Hinduism. According to him, Hinduism is too “tribal” while Yoga is universal and that Vedas have nothing to do with Hinduism too as they predate Hinduism!!

      Well, India and Hinduism in every age have produced traitors who walked over to the other side for a silver coin. Chopra is one of them. As a British officer from the Raj said: “Weakness of Muslims is women, weakness of Sikhs is alcohol, and weakness of Hindus is money.”

    • JGN

      VoP, Hinduism is not an “ism” in its narrow sense. It is a way of life. We do not have the concept of “my way or highway”. That is the speciality of the West Asian Religions claiming exclusivity to their imaginary gods.

    • Mr Philips

      No, yoga does not have its origins in Hinduism. The term Hindu is not even a sanskrit word.

  2. JGN

    Sanjay, every one has weakness for money and women. A great satirist of Kerala, Kunchan Nambiar had said “Kanakam moolam Kamini moolam kalaham palavidham ulakil sulabham” which roughly translates to “there are plently of fights in the world due to money and women”, over a hundred years back!

    Yoga is nothing more than a good exercise. There are no Saints in the Himalayas who are two hundred or three hundred years old. Surya Namaskar is a complete and inexpensive exercise than the “yogas” peddled by the fake “gurus” selling Indian culture and civilization to the Yankees for a few hundred dollars .

    The maximum life span of a humanbeing is about 120 years, no matter what ever they do to prolong the life span. Hope you have heard of Jaquilin Onasis who had even refused to get photographed for fear of some rays affecting his health and led a secluded life in the hope of prolonging his life span.

  3. chidanada mohapatra

    Deepak chopra is a scroundel out to make his living by selling what he calls yoga.His preaching that yoga is not part of Hinduism is tantamount to saying that sun rays are not originating from sun. Nonesense

  4. Mr Philips

    Hinduism was an attempt to integrate yoga into every aspect of ones life. So the ideal that was Hinduism is yoga.
    Before this, the Rishis or wise men of India , would advise the citizens on how to live their life. During this period, Hinduism had not come about.
    It is therefore correct to say that yogic practices were in existence before the advent of Hinduism. This is backed up by historical evidence unearthed in the Indus Valley, a civilization that predated Hinduism. So sorry, but that is factual evidence.
    It is also correct to say that yoga can be practiced by anyone of any race, gender or personal belief system. Sexual inequality has no place in yoga, neither does a repressive, outdated caste system.

    • Indian Realist

      Umm… what is the basis of this statement that “Indus Valley” pre-dated Hinduism? Yogic practices were in existence before the advent of Hinduism? Really? If this is the case, then pls tell us the date when Hinduism began. You are just spouting missionary nonsense. These kind of church-inspired “theories” about pagan history and culture are dime a dozen.

  5. Krishnadas

    Hari Bol

    I am from Poland and been in the Hare Krishna movement for 38 yrs . India on getting freedom should have deleted the word Hindu and called it Sanatan Dharma. Sanatan Dharma would have brought the greatness of India very well. Hindu is a labelled word like the Abrahamic faiths. Prabhupada Srl La was also of this opinion.

    It was WWII which opened the eyes of the West ( if you like to call so) to diffrentiate between religion and spirituality. Sanatan Dharma unlike the Abrahamic faiths of commandments and a book has eternal works almost infinite. It is a miracle that these works are kept and for the world to read and find solace.

    I feel that many in the West and even the English educated Indian elite including Sanatanis understand very little Sanskrit. This is root of all the problems. I have been learning Sanskrit for the past 25 yrs. I have understood very little.

    Many in the West put up a show ( a false pretence) that they are experts in Sanskrit. Please take them with a pinch of salt. Sanskrit is not an easy language to comprehend , unless and until you have lived through it thoroughly.

    I doubt whether the claimant of this Yoga idea ever has learnt Sanskrit. This author reminds me of the writers in medevial Europe who used to provoke Jews just by writing to provoke. The author must be following medievial lessons of Europe to provoke Sanatanis.

    Sanatan Dharma is an ocean . In one life time even if you study 20% of the texts it is an achievement.

    I would advice all Sanatanis not to get provoked by such writing. Yoga is from Sanatan Dharma. Let them keep on churning, we will keep on chanting.

    Hare Krishna Hare Rama

  6. Suhas


    Al Jazeera’s good one on Yoga

  7. Rajan Das

    Yoga is a body-mind exercise; it has nothing to do with hinduism, as much as karate has nothing to do with buddhism. If every art and science is given a religious identity we’ll have Modern medicine as Christian medicine, Auyurveda as Hindu medicine, Unnani as Muslim medicine and so on and so forth. Well, we can’t afford to do that; plain and simple.

    • Indian Realist

      Yoga is a unique path of spiritual advancement and God realisation invented by the ancient Hindus. It thus falls within the ambit of religion and religious identity of its inventors becomes important. You are cleverly comparing it with secular things such as science and mathematics. Even there, you give credit to the inventors, don’t you? If there can be “Bernauli’s Theorum” and “the Raman effect,” why cannot Yoga be similarly attributed to Hindu inventors, clearly stating their religion? Did you even know that Yoga is one of the six systems of Hindu philosophy? You are just a useful idiot for the Whites who are making sure that nothing of significance in ancient India ever gets credited to Hinduism.

  8. Pingback: American Yoga and Hindu Spirituality | Leadingchurch.com

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