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Yoga, Hinduism and Market

Muslim organisations have made it absolutely clear that they have no objections to Hindu brothers and sisters observing Yoga Day with enthusiasm. It is always good for people belonging to all religions engaging in spiritual and physical exercises. This certainly makes them better human beings. What Muslims are concerned about is the involvement of the government at a massive scale (which would have been appreciated if the government supported practices belonging to all religions rather than a preferred one), and campaign among Muslims for joining it. The argument being advanced is that yoga has nothing to do with religion, an argument which goes contrary to the statements by Shankarcharyas and Adityanaths. In this article, I will show that yoga is not only a practice having direct links with Hindu faith and scriptures but also that the motivation behind the present campaign is more commercial than concern for health.

An article in Wikipedia gives the following account of Yoga’s relationship with Hindu religion:

 Yoga is an Indian physical, mental, and spiritual practice or discipline. There is a broad variety of schools, practices and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism (including Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism and Jainism. The best-known are Hatha yoga and Raja yoga….. the origins of yoga have been speculated to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions, but most likely developed around the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, in ancient India’s ascetic circles, which are also credited with the early sramana movements. Chronology of earliest texts describing yoga-practices is unclear, varyingly credited to Hindu Upanishads and Buddhist Pali canon, probably of third century BCE or later. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali from first half of 1st millennium CE is one of a key surviving major texts on yoga. Hatha yoga texts emerged around 11th century CE, and in its origins was related to Tantrism.

“Yoga gurus from India later introduced yoga to the West, following the success of Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the 1980s, yoga became popular as a system of physical exercise across the Western world. Yoga in Indian traditions, however, is more than physical exercise; it has a meditative and spiritual core. One of the six major orthodox schools of Hinduism is also called yoga, which has its own epistemology and metaphysics, and is closely related to Hindu Samkhya philosophy.….

 “Many studies have tried to determine the effectiveness of yoga as a complementary intervention for cancer, schizophrenia, asthma, and heart disease. The results of these studies have been mixed and inconclusive, with cancer studies suggesting none to unclear effectiveness, and others suggesting yoga may reduce risk factors and aid in a patient’s psychological healing process.”

In an interesting article, a Christian writer objected to the conversion of a Hindu yoga into Christian yoga, as was being argued in some Christian circles. Titled, “East and West, the Two Shall Never Meet”, the article says:

“Christianity cannot be integrated with yoga and remain Christian. To think otherwise imperils the Christian truth and faith. As the managing editor of ‘Hinduism Today,’ Sannyasin Arumugaswami, remarks, ‘Hinduism is the soul of yoga ‘ based as it is on Hindu Scripture and developed by Hindu sages. Yoga opens up new and more refined states of mind, and to understand them one needs to believe in and understand the Hindu way of looking at God. . . . A Christian trying to adapt these practices will likely disrupt their own Christian beliefs’.’ East is East, and West is West, and if Christianity is to remain Christian, the twain should never be married.

In another article, “Can Yogic Practices Be Integrated With The Christian Faith?”, Pastor Larry De Bruyn writes:

“The practice of yoga is pagan at best, and occult at worst. Its teachings emanate from the Eastern religions, all of which teach that self is God, only we just don’t realize it until we do the techniques. ‘The goal of yoga is self-realization-to look deeply within to what ought to be the temple of the one true God and to discover the alleged true Self or higher Self to be God. Nothing could be more religious than that, yet with straight faces, all of the yogis insist that practicing yoga does not change anyone’s religious beliefs.’


Market of Yoga

It should however be credited to Hindu minds and market planners that they successfully transformed an essentially religious practice into a market commodity through conscious attempts to delink yoga from religion. An article on the increasing fondness of Americans for yoga says,

 “A 2002 survey of Americans showed that more than half the population expressed an interest in practicing yoga, and a 2004 news report claimed that there were nearly 15.5 million yoga practitioners in the country. Nearly 77% of the practitioners of yoga are women, and half of the yoga enthusiasts have a college degree.

“In the small college where I teach in rural Virginia, at which participation in at least one form of physical education is required, yoga classes are the first to fill up - not aerobic dance, not fitness walking, and certainly not weightlifting. Yoga Journal, the most popular magazine for yoga enthusiasts, now has a paid circulation of 350,000 and a readership of more than 1,000,000. Yoga has indeed been embraced by Americans.

“But as yoga became more popular, and as the industry grew to be worth nearly $6bn, and as a variety of savvy marketers begin branding their ‘special’ yoga techniques, it was hard not to notice that few yoga teachers and journals mentioned the origins of the practice and its connection to Hinduism. Yoga was secularised to rid it of any taint of a pagan tradition. The practice, the savvy marketers claimed, was ‘a spiritual path, but not a religious one’, to calm the committed Christian who wanted to hang on to Jesus while doing the ‘surya namaskara’ (obeisance to the sun).”http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2010/dec/02/yoga-hindu-rebranded-wrongly

An article, entitled, “How Yoga Became a $27 Billion Industry -- and Reinvented American Spirituality” says:

 “In the more than 40 years since Khalsa (the firs Yoga Master in the USA to market it) opened his school, he has watched as yoga in America has evolved from a niche activity of devout New Agers to part of the cultural mainstream. Dozens of yoga variations can be found within a 1-mile radius of his studio in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, from Equinox power yoga to yogalates to ‘zen bootcamp.’ Across America, students, stressed-out young professionals, CEOs and retirees are among those who have embraced yoga, fueling a $27 billion industry with more than 20 million practitioners - 83 percent of them women. As Khalsa says, ‘The love of yoga is out there and the time is right for yoga’”

“Perhaps inevitably, yoga’s journey from ancient spiritual practice to big business and premium lifestyle - complete with designer yoga wear, mats, towels, luxury retreats and $100-a-day juice cleanses -- has some devotees worrying that something has been lost along the way. The growing perception of yoga as a leisure activity catering to a high-end clientele doesn’t help. ‘The number of practitioners and the amount they spend has increased dramatically in the last four years,’ Bill Harper, vice president of Active Interest Media’s Healthy Living Group, told Yoga Journal.

“More than 30 percent of Yoga Journal’s readership has a household income of over $100,000. As American yoga Master Rodney Yee remarked at a 2011 Omega Institute conference, compromising the authenticity of the practice and ignoring its traditions is ‘ass-backwards.’ ‘It dumbs down the whole art form,’ he said.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/16 /how-the-yoga-industry-los_n_4441767.html

With World Day for Yoga, big industrialists must be having big plans to market yoga and all its products, from clothes to juices in all countries, especially Western countries. Prime Minister Modi is an ideal partner. What else can be of greater importance to him than something which combines his love for corporates and Hinduism?  It will be pertinent to argue here that if Surya namaskar was removed from the programme, it was not in respect to Muslim apprehensions, as has been publicised by the government, but to make sure that the marketing of Yoga in Christian-dominant West and other countries where some other religions are dominant, does not face any problems.

It would however be appropriate to say that such a positive belief in religious practices and religious morality is surely much better than the rabid communalism in which the Hindutva votaries normally engage. But if Muslims are blamed for not participating in yoga, this would turn the positive into negative. Let Hindus observe Yoga Day with religious fervour and let Muslims continue strengthening their physical and spiritual health through Namaz, Fasting and avoidance of forbidden beliefs and practices. (worldmuslimpedia.com)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 July 2015 on page no. 5

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