Even though I never practiced yoga growing up, I had always known that it was deeply rooted in spirituality and Hinduism. I heard of stories of great yogis with incredible strength and complete control over their bodies and minds. As I grew up, yoga became a popular trend among young twenty-somethings, and it was redefined for me by my peers and by “yoga” studios that popped up across the nation. Then, as I began to delve into spirituality, I began to practice yoga. I explored my spirituality through yoga, and yoga through my spirituality.
Recently, yoga has fallen on my radar, as there has been a bit of controversy surrounding the practice in America. This particular incident is the most recent. Here is a video of a group of American moms discussing the effects that practicing yoga could have in schools. They are discussing the events surrounding the banning of the word “namaste” from a Georgia public school.
Here is a link to the article.
Watch this video before I move on:
What exactly is wrong with this video? Well, it’s a group of American women talking about how a religious practice, yes, religious practice, that originated in India and is deeply rooted in Hinduism is good for their body and mind but they would rather not associate it with Hinduism. Yoga, unfortunately, is the newest platform for the intellectual re-colonization of India and Hindus in particular.
The word yoga, by definition, means “union of the individual spirit with the universal spirit.” It is practiced in order to achieve the ultimate goal of moksha, or liberation. Yoga is the practice, and yoga is also the goal. It is a path to the ultimate and it is the ultimate. The practice of yoga leads not only to physical fitness, but also to mental stability, enhanced devotion, and ultimately, alignment with the universe. It combines breathing techniques, various asanas, and most importantly, devotion. To presume that the only things encompassed in yoga are breathing techniques and poses, is to strip it of its divine identity and insult the culture from which it is derived.
One of the women in the video refuses to say “namaste” because it means “I bow down to the divine in you” and that was too “hippie” for her. Yoga at its core proclaims that the “divine” in you can achieve union with the divinity in everyone and the universe. This woman, wants to do stretching exercises under the guise of yoga, but refuses to say namaste. This is just one example of how we as Hindus are looted of our philosophies and practices for the benefit of society, but are still seen as practitioners of a “hippie” religion.
By no means do you have to be Hindu to practice yoga. It is a means of enabling the individual consciousness to experience the universal consciousness. To different people, the universal consciousness could mean different things, whether it is Krishna, Jesus, or a formless cosmic energy. Hinduism does not discriminate. But to participate in the stripping of its identity and forcibly divorcing it from Hinduism, is downright criminal.
The Kohinoor diamond that is embedded on the crown of the British royalty came from India. The British arrived, looted the country, colonized the people, and stole the jewel to claim as their own. Now the same thing is happening to yoga. Yoga is a gem from the depths of Hinduism and now we are all participating in intellectual theft and re-colonization. Most “yoga” in America, is the product of a deep-seated human need for fulfillment, combined with a tendency to “white-wash” anything that is too brown.
The philosophy and the practice of yoga are intertwined. To practice yoga successfully and completely, you cannot separate the philosophy from the practice. Again, yoga is a means to achieve union with the universe and to experience the universe without the veil of the mind. If you want to do “the downward dog” and “mindfulness meditation” then please, please, please, don’t call it yoga. Too often, in the west, yoga is nothing more than a fitness regimen. To call stretching exercises, yoga, is not only senseless, but also quite deplorable. This fitness version of yoga that is marketed to a society whose main religion is capitalism, is a complete misrepresentation of authentic yoga.
It is not possible to have a low calorie, “lite” version of yoga, and call it by the same name. It disgraces the original source and soon people forget the true taste of authentic yoga. Even if “mindfulness meditation” or different yoga asanas are the techniques of choice, do give credit to the source. Now many, like this lady in the video, want to do sun salutations to improve fitness and clear their mind. But the moment it is called surya namaskar and they are asked to face east (the direction from which the sun rises, by the way), it becomes “dangerous to open yourself up to new ideas.” Rather than embracing the practice of another culture, people want a version of yoga that has been ingested, digested, modified, whittled down, and vomited back out to claim as the original. This is rooted in the fundamental belief that a culture can’t offer something positive to the world without imposing itself onto everyone. By acknowledging and accepting the source of a practice, you don’t have to have your core beliefs shaken and changed. You simply give credit where credit is due.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali begin by saying “Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness. Then, pure awareness can abide in its very nature.” Even “mindfulness meditation” is encompassed in these first few verses of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Many types of yoga, including kriya yoga and ashtanga yoga are derived from Patanjali. The origins of yoga are very different from the sexualized, “mindful,” yoga-pants version of “yoga” that is so popular today.
The west is clearly recognizing the physical, mental, and even spiritual benefits of yoga, and therefore refuses to abandon the practice. But the only way that it will accept yoga is if they can regurgitate a digested version of it to make it its own without crediting the original source. It’s as ridiculous as calling Fanta, freshly squeezed orange juice. This blatant lie delegitimizes our identity as Hindus and is one of the many elements of Hinduism that are being picked apart and appropriated.
This article seems to think “Namaste” has no spiritual significance.
Do they know what it means? It quite literally means “the divine in me recognizes the divine in you” so yes, it is used as a greeting but that doesn’t make it devoid of its spiritual context. In Hinduism, spirituality is intertwined into every fiber of our life. It is not something that is practiced separately. So, even when we are greeting people, we are acknowledging the divine. However, after 100’s of years of conquest and colonization, our practices have been stripped of their spiritual identity and rendered meaningless.
We will continue to expand on yoga in future posts but as always, leave your comments below!