Who owns yoga? :Indian Americans stir a debate over yoga’s soul

Discussion in 'Religion & Culture' started by S.A.T.A, Dec 2, 2010.

  1. S.A.T.A

    S.A.T.A Senior Member Senior Member

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    Who owns yoga? :Indian Americans stir a debate over yoga’s soul

    Paul Vitello, The New York Times


    Yoga is practiced by about 15 million people in the United States, for reasons almost as numerous — from the physical benefits mapped in brain scans to the less tangible rewards that New Age journals call spiritual centering. Religion, for the most part, has nothing to do with it.

    But a group of Indian-Americans has ignited a surprisingly fierce debate in the gentle world of yoga by mounting a campaign to acquaint Westerners with the faith that it says underlies every single yoga style followed in gyms, ashrams and spas: Hinduism.

    The campaign, labeled “Take Back Yoga,” does not ask yoga devotees to become Hindu, or instructors to teach more about Hinduism. The small but increasingly influential group behind it, the Hindu American Foundation, suggests only that people become more aware of yoga’s debt to the faith’s ancient traditions.

    That suggestion, modest though it may seem, has drawn a flurry of strong reactions from figures far apart on the religious spectrum. Dr. Deepak Chopra, the New Age writer, has dismissed the campaign as a jumble of faulty history and Hindu nationalism. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has said he agrees that yoga is Hindu — and cited that as evidence that the practice imperiled the souls of Christians who engage in it.

    The question at the core of the debate — who owns yoga? — has become an enduring topic of chatter in yoga Web forums, Hindu American newspapers and journals catering to the many consumers of what is now a multibillion-dollar yoga industry.

    In June, it even prompted the Indian government to begin making digital copies of ancient drawings showing the provenance of more than 4,000 yoga poses, to discourage further claims by entrepreneurs like Bikram Choudhury, an Indian-born yoga instructor to the stars who is based in Los Angeles. Mr. Choudhury nettled Indian officials in 2007 when he copyrighted his personal style of 26 yoga poses as “Bikram Yoga.”

    Organizers of the Take Back Yoga effort point out that the philosophy of yoga was first described in Hinduism’s seminal texts and remains at the core of Hindu teaching. Yet, because the religion has been stereotyped in the West as a polytheistic faith of “castes, cows and curry,” they say, most Americans prefer to see yoga as the legacy of a more timeless, spiritual “Indian wisdom.”

    “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.”

    For many practitioners, including Debbie Desmond, 27, a yoga instructor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the talk of branding and ownership is bewildering.

    “Nobody owns yoga,” she said, sitting cross-legged in her studio, Namaste Yoga, and tilting her head as if the notion sketched an impossible yoga position she had never seen. “Yoga is not a religion. It is a way of life, a method of becoming. We were taught that the roots of yoga go back further than Hinduism itself.”

    Like Dr. Chopra and some religious historians, Ms. Desmond believes that yoga originated in the Vedic culture of Indo-Europeans who settled in India in the third millennium B.C., long before the tradition now called Hinduism emerged. Other historians trace the first written description of yoga to the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred Hindu scripture believed to have been written between the fifth and second centuries B.C.

    The effort to “take back” yoga began quietly enough, with a scholarly essay posted in January on the Web site of the Hindu American Foundation, a Minneapolis-based group that promotes human rights for Hindu minorities worldwide. The essay lamented a perceived snub in modern yoga culture, saying that yoga magazines and studios had assiduously decoupled the practice “from the Hinduism that gave forth this immense contribution to humanity.”

    Dr. Shukla put a sharper point on his case a few months later in a column on the On Faith blog of The Washington Post. Hinduism, he wrote, had become a victim of “overt intellectual property theft,” made possible by generations of Hindu yoga teachers who had “offered up a religion’s spiritual wealth at the altar of crass commercialism.”

    That drew the attention of Dr. Chopra, an Indian-American who has done much to popularize Indian traditions like alternative medicine and yoga. He posted a reply saying that Hinduism was too “tribal” and “self-enclosed” to claim ownership of yoga.

    The fight went viral — or as viral as things can get in a narrow Web corridor frequented by yoga enthusiasts, Hindu Americans and religion scholars.

    Loriliai Biernacki, a professor of Indian religions at the University of Colorado, said the debate had raised important issues about a spectrum of Hindu concepts permeating American culture, including meditation, belief in karma and reincarnation, and even cremation.

    “All these ideas are Hindu in origin, and they are spreading,” she said. “But they are doing it in a way that leaves behind the proper name, the box that classifies them as ‘Hinduism.’ ”

    The debate has also secured the standing of the Hindu American Foundation as the pre-eminent voice for the country’s two million Hindus, said Diana L. Eck, a professor of comparative religion and Indian studies at Harvard. Other groups represent Indian-Americans’ interests in business and politics, but the foundation has emerged as “the first major national advocacy group looking at Hindu identity,” she said.

    Dr. Shukla said reaction to the yoga campaign had far exceeded his expectations.

    “We started this, really, for our kids,” said Dr. Shukla, a urologist and a second-generation Indian-American. “When our kids go to school and say they are Hindu, nobody says, ‘Oh, yeah, Hindus gave the world yoga.’ They say, ‘What caste are you?’ Or ‘Do you pray to a monkey god?’ Because that’s all Americans know about Hinduism.”

    With its tiny budget, the foundation has pressed its campaign largely by generating buzz through letters and Web postings to academic journals and yoga magazines. The September issue of Yoga Journal, which has the largest circulation in the field, alluded to the campaign, if fleetingly, in an article calling yoga’s “true history a mystery.”

    The effort has been received most favorably by Indian-American community leaders like Dr. Uma V. Mysorekar, the president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, in Flushing, Queens, which helps groups across the country build temples.

    A naturalized immigrant, she said Take Back Yoga represented a coming-of-age for Indians in the United States. “My generation was too busy establishing itself in business and the professions,” she said. “Now, the second and third generation is looking around and finding its voice, saying, ‘Our civilization has made contributions to the world, and these should be acknowledged.’ ”

    In the basement of the society’s Ganesha Temple, an hourlong yoga class ended one recent Sunday morning with a long exhalation of the sacred syllable “om.” Via the lung power of 60 students, it sounded as deeply as a blast from the organ at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

    After the session, which began and concluded with Hindu prayers, many students said they were practicing Hindus and in complete sympathy with the yoga campaign.

    Not all were, though. Shweta Parmar, 35, a community organizer and project director for a health and meditation group, said she had grown up in a Hindu household. “Yoga is part of the tradition I come from,” she said.

    But is yoga specifically Hindu? She paused to ponder. “My parents are Hindu,” she said. But in matters of yoga, “I don’t use that term.”
     
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  3. Rahul92

    Rahul92 Senior Member Senior Member

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    Waste of time it is patented to Indian Hindus but no restrictions on other religions
     
  4. johnee

    johnee Elite Member Elite Member

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    No one owns Yoga as such, but it does belong to Hindus. Of course, everyone can use it. But Yoga and Hinduism are quite unseparable. The yoga is practised these days as a physical exercise, hence when it is practised as just a exercise to tone the body and keep it healthy, religion has no place. The yoga that hinduism is associated with does not end at a body level.
     
  5. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    Yoga is Indian.

    However, it was outsourced to the West by our West oriented Yogis, who wanted to make a quick but Big Bucks, through Western celebrities !

    The West then 'discovered' Yoga and the benefits.

    And Indians went gaga and turned to it with great vigour and many indigenous Yoga gurus surfaced. They made it an industry and also added a yoga product industry and started having a ball. They were and are also interested in politics and were and our power brokers too!

    Yoga, thus, permeated a whole lot of new vistas!
     
  6. johnee

    johnee Elite Member Elite Member

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    I think the uncomfortability of some is not that Yoga is Indian, but that Yoga is Hindu...
     
  7. Tshering22

    Tshering22 Sikkimese Saber Senior Member

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    ^^ When Yoga was formed, there was no other religion that existed. So Yoga is essentially Hindu. Hindu is the ancient identity of India. Why hesitate to call a spade as spade?
     
  8. johnee

    johnee Elite Member Elite Member

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    I agree, but it seems some western practisioners of Yoga are uncomfortable with this fact. They could ignore the connections and just use the Yoga but instead they are trying to propagate an alternate view of the origins of Yoga. I read in a newspaper that some american was claiming that Yoga was actually brought to India by Aryans from Europe... :emot15:
     
  9. LurkerBaba

    LurkerBaba Staff Administrator

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    Exactly!
    It won't 'sell' if its associated with polytheism and idol-worship

    Ms. Desmond is a moron!! How the F*^% is Vedic tradition different from Hinduism?
     
  10. Tshering22

    Tshering22 Sikkimese Saber Senior Member

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    Last ditch attempt here as usual: attempting to bring race superior since their religion was not even born at that time. Americans are a confused lot who don't even know whether their origins are Semetic or Celtic and they want to analyze our origins? :emot15:

    I can understand how desperate the Church is getting in attempting to keep their self-assumed superiority all over the world when their own don't believe in any of it.
     
  11. johnee

    johnee Elite Member Elite Member

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    So, due to the inherent prejudice against Hinduism, Yoga may not sell and therefore alternative versions are being crafted to suit the delicate sensitivities of western clients.

    Instead of using the popularity of Yoga to remove the prejudice against Hinduism and Hindus, its going in the opposite direction!!
     
  12. Rahul92

    Rahul92 Senior Member Senior Member

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    Yoga hasn't been discovered for those westerners so it shouldn't be adjusted according to westerner's requirment
     
  13. johnee

    johnee Elite Member Elite Member

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    Yoga was discovered/invented for all of humanity by our great Maharshis of yore. But the Yoga was not meant to just strengthen the body, it had spiritual aim which ended with the attainment of Moksha. Those Maharshis were/are part of Hindu tradition.

    Of course, others can also utilise Yoga and they can do so without having to concur with all the concepts of Hinduism. But to tell lies about the origin of Yoga just because someone is uncomfortable with Hinduism is absolutely wrong.
     
  14. Rahul Singh

    Rahul Singh Senior Member Senior Member

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    SANATAN DHARMA now popularly called HINDUISM was always and still [unofficially] a way of life not religion. It was because of the new religions and historical events that people started calling us HINDUS and unknowingly started using word DHARM[A] as a Hindi alternative to english word Religion. But since this is 2010 and we are now called HINDUS officially this YOGA is very much a religious practise and a Hindu way of life. But as someone said HINDUISM is very much an open source religion and Hindus do not believe in words like 'Patent' and 'Copyright' as far as their DHARMA(not religion) is concerned.

    On other side, unlike west thinks Yog[a] is not just 'controlled breathing exercise'[PRANAYAM] and 'physical posture exercise'[ASANA] but a comprehensive daily routine and consists 'Yama', 'Niyama', 'Pratyahara', 'Dharana', 'Dhyana', 'Samadhi'. And aim of practising these is to attain MOKSHA (liberating soul from cycle of life and death) and this is the ultimate aim of any follower. In this sense Yog[a] is very much SANATAN DHARMA's or HINDU's, like it or not.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2010
  15. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    My comparison was the sudden interest in Yoga in India with that of the West.

    Yoga has been a part of the Indian ethos and culture possibly since time began.

    And yet, there was not this hype and hoop la that is evident today and the emergence of high profile Gurus who are cashing on the hype including the TV Yoga gurus, some of whom are deified!

    Yoga cannot be done without a qualified and trained yoga master since, like every other form of physical or even spiritual exercise, incorrect practices can do more harm than good. And yet, TV Yoga is such a popular pastime.

    Even simple yoga exercises like Yoga Stretches incorrectly done can lead to Muscle Strains and Ruptures,

    The hatha pranayama techniques can lead to gastric issues. This is especially true if you do not perform all yoga asanas in a particular sequence.

    Some of the yoga poses are so complex that even experts don't understand them properly. Yoga poses like these done wrong can have adverse effect.

    Hence, yoga is a very serious physical and spiritual exercise and should be practised under a qualified person and not done merely as a fad as it is being done today, encouraged by the TV gurus. And the commercialisation of yoga and selling allied products in the name of yoga is even worse.

    Therefore, while one can drool over yoga, the commercialisation of Yoga has ruined its benefits and reduced it to mere physical activity with a whole lot of mumbo jumbo thrown in to sound ethereal and mystic!

    And yes, of course, it is connected with the Hinduism.

    Isn't it obvious?

    Haven't heard of Yoga in Islamic or Christian spiritual works!

    So, who is uncomfortable with Yoga being connected with Hinduism?

    And hasn't it been said that Hinduism is but a way of life?

    Hinduism is fine, but what is rather jarring is this new business format of 'package Hinduism' made alluring with a whole lot of mumbo jumbo!
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2010
  16. Rahul Singh

    Rahul Singh Senior Member Senior Member

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    Not to mention that first guru of Yog[a] is Devadhidev Mahadev Bhole Shankar.

    Actually people are getting confused because of word HINDU, not knowing that what people call Hinduism is actually named 'Sanatan Dharma'. BTW it is fact that people with religious concepts with core belief in "Holier than Thou" find these types of facts very uneasy to accept.
     
  17. S.A.T.A

    S.A.T.A Senior Member Senior Member

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    One can understand why the high priests of new age age spiritualism like Deepak Chopra would take deep offense when some of the most visible aspect of this movement,Yoga, Meditation etc,are sought to traced back to their spiritual roots in Hinduism.This seriously undercuts their status as the true custodians of a spiritual process which according to our self styled gurus were rescued and restored from 'tribalism' and a superstitious belief system centered around idolatry.This threatens their billion dollar spiritual industry which stands to gain from this dissociation from the so called pagan spiritual system.

    The tragedy of Yoga in the west and its recent appearance in the land of its origin in this new western avatar,has been the fact that 'Yoga' is now so deeply associated with the concept of 'body' ,'physical health','physical appearance',that in all this celebration of the 'physical' it has been largely forgotten that the 'Yoga' of Patanjali, of Yoga Sutras, of the Bhagvad Geeta(where Krishna devotes most time explaining the qualities of a man established in Yoga) is primarily concerned with helping man renounce his attachment to the body, body consciousness and realize his true self.

    The Hatha Yoga which concerns with Asanas(postures)and Pranayama(watching your breath) are a mere part of a much larger spiritual tradition,including the Yogasutras, of realizing the self.treating it and propagating it as the be all and end all of 'Yoga' is a blatant lie and is an act of spiritual misguidance.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2010
  18. p2prada

    p2prada Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    The world would have been a better place if everybody were atheist.

    On a side not: The Muslims in Malaysia did try to ban Yoga because it was Hindu. Not that I care, but it is a fact.
     
  19. Rahul Singh

    Rahul Singh Senior Member Senior Member

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    Problem is with Holier than Thou concept and i don't think religion is the first and last word people use to distinguish themselves as superior. Do you think religion is only?
     
  20. p2prada

    p2prada Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    Holier then thou attitude does not exist among atheists. :D

    Does not matter how people see each other as long as they have some thing called religion holding them back. Religion and Politics are the two most important factors that creates division among people. Politics cannot be helped but Religion can. Once Religion goes, Politics becomes a bit saner than usual after all Politics feeds on Religion.

    However the world becomes a better place. I am not talking about utopia of course.
     
  21. Phenom

    Phenom Regular Member

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    Like Soviet Russia???
    Or PRC???

    Religion is not the problem, the problem is with extremists.
    And extremists exist in every sphere of public life including Nationalism and Racism, so why pick out only religion.
     

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