I am sure many of you are familiar with the whole story of Hindu
American Foundation (HAF) and their 2010. ‘’take back yoga’’ campaign. For you that still haven't, the campaign started last year with letters to newspapers like The New
York Times and to magazines like Yoga Journal, about how Yoga is a Hindu
practice and this fact (in their opinion) seems to be missing from yoga
classes, published articles about yoga, yoga books etc. in the western
society. They are concerned that the West is disconnecting Yoga from
Hinduism and not respecting its roots.
This argument stirred up yoga community, especially in the States where yoga is not only widely spread but it is also a multibillion dollar industry. Deepak Chopra called people at HAF Hindu nationalists and the real stir was made by a woman called Meera Nanda in a few articles published in Open magazine called ‘’Not as old as you think’’ and ‘’The ludicrousness of Taking back yoga’’.
In the articles Meera Nanda writes that “the modern postural yoga has
borrowed key movements, rhythms and sequences from the Western
traditions of body-building, gymnastics, drills and dances.“ For the
widely spread Ashtanga yoga she reflected on findings of Norman Sjoman
about the origins of Ashtanga practice. Sjorman claims that the practice
was compiled by Krishnamacharya with the help of his Hatha yoga
knowledge and an illustrated manual, titled Sritattvanidhi which is an innovative combination of hatha yoga asanas with rope exercises used by Indian wrestlers and the danda push-ups developed at the indigenous Indian gymnasiums.
She also said – ” Modern yoga was, of course, put together in India, by Indians, but with a whole lot of Western input. So let us not be so touchy and such purists about its Vedic-Hindu origins. Let us enjoy the mongrel that this thing called modern yoga is.”
Meera Nanda ends the first article with: ” Hinduism, whether ancient, medieval or modern, has no special claims on 21st century postural yoga. To assert otherwise is churlish and simply untrue.”
In return the HAF called her a Hinduphob and the comments of the readers got pretty extreme. Not to mention full of hate.
I have to agree with many of the claims of Meera Nanda written in her article, and disagree with some. Yoga, as everything else, is a part of the ever changing state of all, a part of the evolution. Who cares how old an asana or an asana sequence is if it is a practice that brings something good to the practitioner? Should we respect the Ashtanga tradition less or stop practicing all together if we agree with claims that it was Krishnamacharya who invented the series and, to an extent, was inspired by wrestling and gymnastics? Or is it more valuable to us if we believe that there was an old scripture called Yoga Korunta, an old knowledge presented to humans by Rishi Vamana?
I have to say I find the teachers that call their classes ‘’yoga’’
classes and try to avoid Sanskrit names of asanas, chanting or any kind
of connection with anything else but a mere exercise routine – annoying
to say the least. That’s on a bad day. But, on a good day I know that
even those annoying teachers that publish yoga books called Calm, Slim
& Sexy (?) are doing a service to so many people that come to their
classes. If you understand the profound effect of just doing some asanas
and breathing have on people living in today’s fast, competitive and
stressful world, I have to acknowledge that they are actually helping
people and making a change for good.
From what I understood, the HAF sees that most of the yoga community acknowledge that yoga is a practice originated in India and they do make references to India and Eastern philosophy, (that is the best sales pitch anyways), but not to Hindu roots. Actually, most of today’s western yoga teachers (myself included) will claim that yoga is not a religion, but science, a universal knowledge, a path.
People in general are snobs and we live in a snobbish world. We admire those of royal blood, those who came from a ‘’good family’’ of a long lineage. We even prefer pets of a good breed. And this is true for the whole world. I have to say it is very true for India. One only has to think of the caste system that is still (in 21st century!?) present in the Indian society. I have to say that I find the caste system one of the most unjust, unfair, so racial and so utterly wrong. Perhaps the HAF should be fighting another battle for Yoga – that of uniting all brothers and sisters of Hindu India and not separating them through a system so cruel. I for one, and I am sure there are many others like me, respect the Hindu tradition, read the scriptures and try to live by this universal knowledge (that can be found in the scriptures in all religions) but will never claim to be part of a religion that still labels people as the untouchables or the impure ones. And this done by using the authority of God.
Is Karma yoga Hindu? Yes, I guess it is as it is mentioned in one of the most loved Hindu text, The Bhagavad Gita. But is the concept Hindu? Are the Hindus the only ones that are practicing this form of selfless service of others? When I think of Karma yoga I think of Mother Teresa. Was Mother Teresa a Hindu? No. But was she a Karma yogi? Yes. Or is she not allowed to be called that because she practiced another religion? When I think of the concept of Ahimsa I think of Ghandi. And yes, he was a Hindu. But is it wrong in quoting a Sufi poet Rumi while talking about Bhakti (devotional) yoga because he wasn’t a Hindu poet?
I wonder what Ghandi, the father of the Indian nation, would say
about the Hindu elitists from the HAF. I think they should go back to
reading the scriptures and understand them better. They should also
better understand the word Yoga. The word itself means to Unite and the
word itself holds the strongest message in this argument – UNITE – which
is opposite of separate.
Yoga today is uniting the world in a practice that is a practice of peace and of finding the true self. Maybe it is a new religion that will unite all others. Whatever it is, it is about the union and not about the separation. Haven’t we separated from each other enough?
Yoga is a universal knowledge that has been there long before a human
called it yoga. So was an Oak tree long before a human called it Oak.
The ego of it all is surprising to me, or perhaps not so if you
understand the human nature.
It is not all about us. The human being is not the center of the universe. There are so many other beings on this wonderful planet of ours that have been here long before we came and started labeling everything – even God. You can’t take back something that does not belong to anyone. It just IS and it is here for all of us to share. The message of yoga should be – let’s Unite – under one flag, one Truth, one blue sky and one God.