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Take Yoga Back! What? Who? Huh?

in YD News, Yoga Origins

Oh so much fuss! Who owns yoga? Who will save yoga? Who will stop yoga demons from taking over the world? Holy Hanuman! Do we even know what we’re talking about anymore? Jeepers. The latest yoga article in The New York Times spotlights the newest stirrings in the “I had yoga first” historical debate. It’s time to Take Yoga Back! Or so proclaims a new campaign launched by the Hindu American Foundation, and organization co-founded by none other than Deepak Chopra’s beef-stigator Dr. Aseem Shukla. Their main mission? Essentially, to remind people (Americans) of yoga’s roots (Hinduism, they say), and promote and/or reclaim ownership to what they believe are India’s gifts to the world.

Frankly, we see no harm in heritage pride (government efforts have already been underway with the TKDL digitizing every single yoga pose ever), and perhaps India’s image in America, and the world, could use some spiffing up. But if their message is of peaceful advocacy and awareness, then this whole “taking back” jazz isn’t exactly a namaste. And from whom? Unless there’s some other motive?

“In a way,” said Dr. Aseem Shukla, the foundation’s co-founder, “our issue is that yoga has thrived, but Hinduism has lost control of the brand.”

Hm.

It’s true yoga is so wildly popular these days, but are you concerned where it originated and if it has religious roots?

For more commentary on the subject check out Branding Yoga, Branding India: More Commentary on Yoga and Hinduism Connection

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23 comments… add one

  • Dr. Shukla brands himself by calling yoga a brand. They lost control of the BRAND??? Maybe they need to GET back TO yoga…nice piece, yogadork!

  • “Hinduism has lost control of the brand.” – exactly the kind of statement that makes my guts roil and makes my practice at home a sanctuary, and makes me glad I moved out of the US, far away from the gloss of advertising and propaganda that goes along with the mega movement of branding. Next we’ll hear that Christians have lost the brand of praying…

    As for the idea of reclaiming the ownership of India’s gifts to the world – if you require acknowledgement and praise for your gift, then it wasn’t a gift, it was a manipulative move to have your ego polished. I’d like to think that people ensconced in Yoga would be more into the idea of giving freely, a gift for the sake of giving, etc.

  • Brand? Take back? That’s not very warm & fuzzy plus it certainly adds an air of commercialism.

    In my personal journey of yoga I have always been interested in the historical aspect to deepen my awareness and to be a better teacher. It has opened up my spiritual life as a result.

  • To be innovative I believe it is important to acknowledge where yoga came from. I have always been taught to thank my teachers, and their teachers for the wisdom that is passed on. It is also my experience that the purpose of yoga is to wake up. Anyone who is awake surely understands that there is more than enough to go around. More than enough love. More than enough curiosity. More than enough respect. What is the purpose of claiming ownership over something that is timeless? That sounds like a sure way to disrepute the value of a yoga practice. With gratitude for where yoga has come from, and respect for the direction it is going, I hope that those who practice or judge yoga will not turn this tradition of curiosity, exploration and soul searching into yet another thing to quarrel about.

  • Apparently Deepak considers the “Take Yoga Back” point of view to be a crude outcropping of Hindu nationalism.

  • oh yeah, am sharpening my blog pencil on this one. and frankly, I am beginning to understand the angst.

  • Actually, who turned yoga into a brand? Sure, Bikram had a bit to do with it. BUT really, it’s the western consumerist world that’s mostly responsible for yoga props, yoga clothes, naked yogi photo shoots, yoga conferences selling all sorts of things for ridiculous amounts of money and let’s not forget… toe sox! ;)

    In the process, yoga has in many ways been stripped of most of it’s inner meaning. Geez, some people can’t even handle hearing a bit of chanting (especially those Christians who think it must be “of the devil”).

    In regards to the Hindu-or-not nature of yoga, this is what I wrote recently over at The Joy of Yoga:
    The history of Hinduism, Tantra, yoga, Ayurveda, Buddhism etc etc is heavily intertwined and in some respects, this is a “chicken or the egg” question.

    Which came first, really? In the great unwritten-pre-history history of all of the above, it’s impossible to say for sure. Okay, the Tibetans were better at writing stuff down than anyone else, but still.

    So, Hindus have every right to claim yoga as Hindu. But then, we think of Hinduism as a religion and yet there’s nothing inherently religious in the practice of yoga. EXCEPT for those people who do see it that way. And I’ve been in debates with Hindus before who say things like “the only reason I call myself a Hindu is because I practice yoga”.

    Of course, Hinduism is so vast and variegated that the above definition of Hinduism would not be something all Hindus agree on.

    Then there is Deepak’s argument, which I believe partly stems from the concept that asana and meditation were around way before anything that could be referred to as Hinduism became a (loosely) organised religion, with it’s vast pantheon of gods, goddesses, mythology and puja.

    There’s a great deal more to the debate than that, of course.

    In some ways for most westerners, it doesn’t make a difference.

    However, I know how we Aussies felt with something as trifling as one of our national footwear icons – the ugh boot – was “taken over” by an American company. Apparently no one here in Australia had thought to trademark “Ugh boots” and then a US company did. Now the brand “Ugh” charges a small fortune for their shoes and they became quite popular in the US. But our daggy footwear still gets made by Aussies and we definitely prefer the non-US made version…

    So, something that’s much more personal and important – a country’s religion and associated practices – having that appropriated I’m sure, is a complete and utter insult to those who do care. And not to mention the complete Americanisation of yoga, including the whole “bra fat” debacle and others like it… yeah, I can see why India’s Hindu community is upset.

  • “In the process, yoga has in many ways been stripped of most of it’s inner meaning. Geez, some people can’t even handle hearing a bit of chanting (especially those Christians who think it must be “of the devil”).”

    tell it, sister.

    as one of my teachers has said, for yoga to have become so pop and trendy and dare I say it, mainstream, in America, the spirituality had to be stripped out of it. it was ok years ago because only “weirdos” like the hippies did it back in the day….but for yoga to go mainstream Shiva and Buddha were turned into design statements….;)

    I wonder if the people who think Indians/Hindus (i.e., the Indians/Hindus who feel that the respect and reverence for yoga has been lost) shouldn’t get upset about this yoga debate, feel the same way about Native Americans who believe that their culture has been appropriated? Would they tell them to get over it, too?

  • I read all 8 pages of comments attached to the NYT article and now, along with wondering what sort of acknowledgment I am supposed to be giving the Indian roots of Yoga (do I need to release a formal press statement or join some new Hindu Yoga Alliance to get a stamp showing I admit Yoga is their gift to humanity?), I’m immensely agitated that there are more than a few comments along the ‘Hinduism = Yoga just as Christianity = Christmas’ lines.

    My pagan heart is reeling at the insanity of that statement and its lack of knowledge.

    Obviously, Americans aren’t going to get Yoga and its origin correct if they cannot even do a passable job with the origins of their own most largely practiced religion. They generally can’t even follow the split from an agrarian-based calender to the Gregorian one after all.

    But back to it – I didn’t know that yoga was supposed to come with inner meaning, I thought I was supposed to uncover and find that out for myself. As my own authority. Truth is one, men call it by many names, and all that. Which means that the only inner meaning yoga can lack originates in the practitioner not necessarily the practice, whatever odd form that might be taking at the moment. Kind of makes me think of when we were told ‘only boring people are boring’ back in school – only meaningless people will practice meaningless yoga.

    Here’s to hoping we all find meaning in our practice ~ NAMASTE

  • abbylou

    Do we have to treat yoga as a gift from the Hindus? I think it would be more appropriate to acknowledge that Yoga with a big “Y” was born and raised in India. The collective body of practices and wisdom of Yoga with a big “Y” were developed and honed in India. What I call yoga with a little “y” is the 4th cousin 8 times removed from Yoga with a big “Y.” It is primarily a physical practice and is it is the predominant yoga practiced here in the U.S. It most definitely is a brand.

  • What saddens me is the irony in that all of this political and religious anger, outrage and miscommunication surrounds a practice that is supposed be all about unity, peace and self realization…

  • pam

    you hit that nail on that head!

  • The whole premise of this campaign is that yoga has a single origin, the message is that THAT origin is Hindu and the dilemma is that the other faiths must be abrogated in order to engage with a pluralistic tradition.

    Lets see: FALSE, FALSE and … FALSE

    But we must wish them well all the same – they have as much of a claim as anyone else – well maybe not the Jains – but more than most Western “schools” it is true – I wonder what they ever hope to achieve here ?

    Could it be a touch of the 5,000 old or so “Buddhist envy” – after all Buddhism has (mostly) side-stepped the whole theistic problem quite neatly with their yoga.

  • Somehow, it’s hard to consider yoga as something concrete and susceptible to control and manipulation, no matter what its point of origin. First, it surges out of the peculiar linkage between the human body, mind and spirit, so it cannot be restricted to one race or nation. It’s now a kind of “non-native species” that’s been released into new eco-systems so it can morph into all kinds of hybrids (monsters and mundane cliches) — Toyota ad campaigns, self-development pitches, a graft onto Christianity, a healing treatment for the wounds of war, etc.

    I do care about its historical origins, but I am equally aware of how easily I can project onto the concept of yoga my own prejudices and expectations.

  • Personally, the way I put it in yoga class is: “Yoga arose from the cultural soil of Hinduism.”

    I don’t know if that would satisfy Dr. Shukla.

  • this new debacle made me go back and look at my notes from the first time I studied yoga in India 5 years ago. I came across this line from my Yoga Philosophy class at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, classes taught by Desikachar and his senior teachers:

    “Hinduism actually rejects yoga.”

    and I take damn good notes.

    if anyone does not know who the sramanas were, please look it up. they were pre-Hinduism.

  • Akshey

    Linda ,its funny
    some hindus are shaivite,some are Atheist then you will said that
    Bhagwat Gita is not part of hindu philosophy because many hindus doin’t believe in God.

    and what abt yoga being taught in Gita,now you can say that
    Gita has nothing to do with hinduism :)

    Western countries or I can say Corporate world have power,money
    you can modify the facts and portray it as you desire.

  • BTW, the teacher who made that statement that I wrote down in my notes is Indian, Hindu, and it was in India. at a yoga school.

    just sayin’

  • My feelings on this issue were mixed until I carefully reviewed the transcript of Dr’s Shukla and Chopra’s exchange in the Washington Post:

    http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/undergod/2010/04/shukla_and_chopra_the_great_yoga_debate.html

    It was eye-opening.

    My conclusion is this:

    No one is claiming “ownership” of yoga.

    1) Yoga is a Vedic science (intended to take one beyond material i.d’s). It was born from the consciousness of Vedic rishis.
    2) Vedic followers got stuck with the name, Hindu.
    3) “Yoga arose from the cultural soil of Hinduism” is an accurate and gracious acknowledgement of this (Thanks, Emma!).

    Why such controversy?

    The six schools of Hinduism are Sankhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimasa, Vedanta and Yoga. Perhaps what your teacher was conveying, Linda-sama, was that the schools have very different practices. Just a guess.

    “Hinduism rejects yoga” would be like someone rejecting her own arm. I mean no disrespect.

    Obeisances to all.

  • I explained what teacher meant in part 2 of my post….

  • Chris

    Is there even any need to debate this ?
    Of course, Yoga is very much a part of Hinduism. Yoga is born of Hinduism. Who did you think Patanjali was ? Patanjali was an ancient HINDU sage, who compiled the science of Yoga in a systematic manner.

    Asking if Yoga has to do with Hinduism is like asking if I can receive a Baptism and Holy-Communion, but still avoid getting involved with Catholicism. Do you understand ?

    The physical Yoga-Asanas are but a first step in the Vedic Hindu tradition of disciplining the body, and thence, the mind, as a pre-cursor to the attainment of Enlightenment by the Yoga-practitioner.

    So, all practitioners of Yoga are getting initiated into Hinduism, like it or not. If your Evangelical Church has a problem with your getting involved with the Heathen religion of Hinduism, drop out of the Yoga class.

    Also, Yoga requires its practitioners to be VEGETARIAN. So, if you are practising Yoga-asanas, but are still eating animal-flesh, you are already in violation of the Yogic principles. Does that make you a bad person ? Well, it definitely makes you an incomplete Yogi or Yogini.

    Americans can call it Power-Yoga, or any other kind of fancy name, but bear in mind, that you owe it all to Hinduism.

    Also know this, that before Christianity swept over Europe, ancient Europe was actually Hindu. In other words, Hinduism is not entirely alien to the White Man. ( Hitler got it partly right ! )

    Alexander the Greek invaded India, but ended up becoming conquered by Hinduism and Buddhism. Alexander’s Greek Generals took back with them to Europe Hinduism and Buddhism.

    It’s amazing that Americans are ever so willing to attribute pretty much any ancient knowledge to the Chinese. Thus, Americans will gladly announce that they are practising Kung-fu, an ancient Chinese art. But even this is factually incorrect. For even Kung-fu was invented by an ancient Indian monk, who traveled to China, and taught Kung-fu to the peasants of China. The Chinese word “Chen”, and the Japanese equivalent “Zen” are both derived from the Sanskrit word “Dhyan”, which means a combination of concentration and meditation.

    Gautama Buddha was born a Hindu prince, who went on to establish Buddhism.

    From India, Buddhism traveled East to China.

    I am perfectly happy to be thanking those great Americans, the Wright Brothers Orville and Wilbur, every time that I step onto an aircraft to take a flight. So, why can’t Americans similarly be gracious enough to give credit where credit is due, and thank Hinduism every time that they step onto their Yoga-mats ?

  • When you say ‘before Christianity swept over Europe, ancient Europe was actually Hindu’ what are you referring to and where is the evidence? Polytheistic, I will grant; with definite shamanic tendencies, that are shared with the early stirrings that grew into Hinduism for sure – but not Hindu as such. I’d really like a reference on your statement.

    Additionally, we might need to back up and reassess this blanket idea that all modern yoga practitioners take Patanjali as their steadfast guide. I know for me that while the Yoga Sutras are beautiful and interesting in all sorts of ways, primarily the open ended actions that the yamas and niyamas dictate the individual come to naturally instead of proscribing or prohibiting in the manner of the 10 commandments of Christianity, they do not direct my practice in the same way as the Upanishads.

  • however old yoga is, whenever it is it began to be recorded, no matter the thousands of years involved – whatever was observed & experienced, was / is an observation & experience of what already existed – observe any child of two playing, any kitten doing the same – whatever yoga is or was or will be, predated the first person, existed in the first person, and, by virtue of god being in all of us, came within us the moment we were born – the knowledge within us predates anything written

    now, to add my predominately western take : the above is an as if opinion based on what i know & believe at this point in time; i don’t blame myself for knowing more, or less, than i do, but continue to learn as i go ;-) namaste, con dios, god be with you

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