Stumbled on this yesterday in the NY Times (emphasis added):
“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.”
The “Dr Shukla” mentioned in the article is Dr Aseem Shukla and what he is talking about is the “take Yoga Back movement..Below, some excerpts from his recent article on “The theft of Yoga” (emphasis added):
Nearly 20 million people in the United States gather together routinely, fold their hands and utter the Hindu greeting of Namaste — the Divine in me bows to the same Divine in you. Then they close their eyes and focus their minds with chants of “Om,” the Hindu representation of the first and eternal vibration of creation. Arrayed in linear patterns, they stretch, bend, contort and control their respirations as a mentor calls out names of Hindu divinity linked to various postures: Natarajaasana (Lord Shiva) or Hanumanasana (Lord Hanuman) among many others. They chant their assigned “mantra of the month,” taken as they are from lines directly from the Vedas, Hinduism’s holiest scripture. Welcome to the practice of yoga in today’s western world.
..The Yoga Journal found that the industry generates more than $6 billion each year and continues on an incredible trajectory of popularity. It would seem that yoga’s mother tradition, Hinduism, would be shining in the brilliant glow of dedicated disciples seeking more from the very font of their passion.
Yet the reality is very different. Hinduism in common parlance is identified more with holy cows than Gomukhasana, the notoriously arduous twisting posture; with millions of warring gods rather than the unity of divinity of Hindu tradition–that God may manifest and be worshiped in infinite ways; as a tradition of colorful and harrowing wandering ascetics more than the spiritual inspiration of Patanjali, the second century BCE commentator and composer of the Yoga Sutras, that form the philosophical basis of Yoga practice today.
Dr Aseem Shukla’s photograph, courtesy: University of Minnesota
Why is yoga severed in America’s collective consciousness from Hinduism? Yoga, meditation, ayurvedic natural healing, self-realization–they are today’s syntax for New Age, Eastern, mystical, even Buddhist, but nary an appreciation of their Hindu origins. It is not surprising, then, that Hindu schoolchildren complain that Hinduism is conflated only with caste, cows, exoticism and polytheism–the salutary contributions and philosophical underpinnings lost and ignored.
…The Los Angeles Times last week chronicled this steady disembodying of yoga from Hinduism. “Christ is my guru. Yoga is a spiritual discipline much like prayer, meditation and fasting [and] no one religion can claim ownership,” says a vocal proponent of “Christian themed” yoga practices. Some Jews practice Torah yoga, Kabbalah yoga and aleph bet yoga, and even some Muslims are joining the act. They are appropriating the collective wisdom of millenia of yogis without a whisper of acknowledgment of yoga’s spiritual roots.
Not surprisingly, the most popular yoga journals and magazines are also in the act. Once yoga was no longer intertwined with its Hindu roots, it became up for grabs and easy to sell. These journals abundantly refer to yoga as “ancient Indian,” “Eastern” or “Sanskritic,” but seem to assiduously avoid the term “Hindu” out of fear, we can only assume, that ascribing honestly the origins of their passion would spell disaster for what has become a lucrative commercial enterprise. The American Yoga Association, on its Web site, completes this delinking of yoga from Hinduism thusly:
“The common belief that Yoga derives from Hinduism is a misconception. Yoga actually predates Hinduism by many centuries…The techniques of Yoga have been adopted by Hinduism as well as by other world religions.”
So Hinduism, the religion that has no known origins or beginnings is now younger than yoga? What a ludicrous contention when the Yoga Sutras weren’t even composed until the 2nd Century BCE. These deniers seem to posit that Hinduism appropriated yoga so other religions may as well too!
For the more curious amongst you, here is what Yoga is really about:
“There is no physical yoga and spiritual yoga. If it is exclusively physical, it won’t be yoga. Yoga is dealing with the entirety; it is a union.” – Prashant Iyengar, son of B.K.S Iyengar
Yoga, from the word “yuj” (Sanskrit, “to yoke” or “to unite”), refers to spiritual practices that are essential to the understanding and practice of Hinduism. Yoga and yogic practices date back more than 5,000 years — the Indus Valley seals depict figures in yoga poses.
…With the popularity of Yoga skyrocketing throughout the world, particularly in the West, there arise two main points in need of clarification. First, that which is practiced as “Hatha Yoga” – a form of Raja Yoga – in much of the Western world is but merely a focus on a single limb of Yoga: asana (posture). ..this “asana heavy” form of Yoga – sometimes complimented with pranayama (breathing) – is only a form of exercise to control, tone and stretch muscles. Ignored are both the moral basis of the practice and the ultimate spiritual goal.
P.S. Please note that I am travelling for the next few days so there may be some delay in moderating and responding to comments. Thank you for your patience and support, as always.