Anand Manikutty wrote:
Christians, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, agnostics and atheists they may be, but they partake in the spiritual heritage of a faith tradition with a vigor often unmatched by even among the two-and-a half-million Hindu Americans here. The Yoga Journal found that the industry generates more than $6 billion each year and continues on an incredible trajectory of popularity. It would seem that yoga's mother tradition, Hinduism, would be shining in the brilliant glow of dedicated disciples seeking more from the very font of their passion.
Yet the reality is very different. Hinduism in common parlance is identified more with holy cows than Gomukhasana, the notoriously arduous twisting posture; with millions of warring gods rather than the unity of divinity of Hindu tradition--that God may manifest and be worshiped in infinite ways; as a tradition of colorful and harrowing wandering ascetics more than the spiritual inspiration of Patanjali, the second century BCE commentator and composer of the Yoga Sutras, that form the philosophical basis of Yoga practice today.
Why is yoga severed in America's collective consciousness from Hinduism? Yoga, meditation, ayurvedic natural healing, self-realization--they are today's syntax for New Age, Eastern, mystical, even Buddhist, but nary an appreciation of their Hindu origins. It is not surprising, then, that Hindu schoolchildren complain that Hinduism is conflated only with caste, cows, exoticism and polytheism--the salutary contributions and philosophical underpinnings lost and ignored. The severance of yoga from Hinduism disenfranchises millions of Hindu Americans from their spiritual heritage and a legacy in which they can take pride.
On the matter of Hinduism and Yoga, three observations :
1. Yoga is based on a set of scientifically sound principles. One of the most important uses of Yoga is stretching. In Yoga, various parts of the body are allowed to stretch in natural ways through various Yoga postures. This is particularly important given the sedentary nature of our lives in the post-Industrial age. Given that humans have evolved from apes, animals that live on trees and forests, and that our bodies are made for walking and running and jumping around, Yoga can be really quite beneficial in helping us recover some of the agility and flexibility that our springy, lithe human bodies are naturally endowed with.
2. Yoga organizations in the United States have done an excellent job marketing Yoga. However, while I recognize the important role that marketing plays within organizations, marketing is not everything. I and other Yoga adherents are particularly concerned about the implications of the commercialization of Yoga. In this, we are not unique. Christians raise concerns about the commercialization of Christmas. Hindus have a right to raise concerns about the commercialization of Yoga in much the same way. It is part of our cultural heritage and we have good reason to protect our heritage in quite the same way that Christians like to protect theirs. However, the concerns we raise are unique to us.
I will give here one example of what I have personally experienced vis-a-vis Yoga in the United States. One fitness chain that I have been a member of is Crunch Fitness, a for-profit chain of health clubs around the United States. I was a member of Crunch Fitness in San Mateo for a few months, and so have had the chance to observe how Yoga is presented and marketed. Now, I have reason to be extremely annoyed with Crunch Fitness because as a member, I found the following : one, they treat their customers poorly; two, they do not have good processes in place (as for instance, for such things as membership fee refunds); and three, they charge a lot. But that is not the reason I am writing this.
All that frustration aside, the reason I am writing about Crunch Fitness' presentation of Yoga in their classes is the commercialism that is often present. When every exercise session is accompanied with a quid pro quo (personal training sessions, drinks canteens, nutrition bars (!)), it takes away from the joy of exercising itself. During Yoga practice at Crunch Fitness, there are almost no references to the history of Yoga nor to the rich cultural tradition to which Yoga belongs. Not that it is absolutely essential, but there is a concern that there is a loss of both the context of the tradition as well as the spirit. The concern here is not the mere commerce. The concern is whether the sort of crookedness that often accompanies the business practices of many commercial entities is also to be expected here. There is here not only lost "innocence", but also an opportunity cost in terms of lost health and wellness. It is this sort of an opportunity, worth millions of dollars to Americans, that Hindu Yoga adherents are concerned about.
3. Yoga can be used as a teaching aid for various aspects of human physiology and nutrition. While it is true that Yoga evolved in premodern and medieval India prior to the Age of Enlightenment, modern Yoga is based on scientific principles. (I really don't want to get into this "debate" currently raging on in America on evolution. I will simply note to nay-sayers that if you don't believe in evolution and you do Yoga and you want to disagree with me based on your belief in creationism, you are taking away from the tradition that Yoga is a part of. This sort of stuff takes away from both the power of Yoga to transform lives physically and the power of Yoga to help people realize scientific truths. It takes away from Hinduism itself inasmuch as truthful inquiry is a cornerstone of Hinduism. If you don't believe in evolution and you do Yoga and you want to disagree with me based on your beliefs in creationism, intelligent design and what not, well, then, I have two words for you : please evolve. I mean, of course, that you should evolve your beliefs.)
There are many reasons for Hindus to Take Back Yoga and these are just three of them.
Hindus should take back
Yoga. Yoga is only
for those who've evolved.