by S.
June 21 was declared as International Yoga Day by the United Nations General Assembly. On account of that declaration, events related to yoga were held all over the world. Vedanta Society also observed a 3-day Yoga Conference with workshops that was attended by about 60 people on each day.

A raging debate prevalent in every country: Is Yoga a Hindu technique? Arguments are presented in both ways:  Some non-Hindus say it is a Hindu technique and therefore, it should not be taught in public institutions, while some Hindus also say the same but only to glorify their own religion and many neutrals/agnostics/atheists claim that it is technique now completely divorced of Hinduism. The tenor of such a debate was presented non-confrontationally by the various speakers in the conference. The academicians/therapeutics presented the benefits of Yoga in one’s physical life while the “more religious” ones presented it from the perspective of Hinduism as a step towards Self/God-realization. 

 Usually, Yoga in the West (Hatha Yoga) is focused on physical well-being with very little focus on the mental well-being. In India, Yoga is usually seen as a spiritual technique, with Hatha Yoga seen as only a step towards meditation (Raja Yoga). In my opinion, a blend of both the approaches is needed for a wholesome life. While India needs to improve its focus on the physical component of Yoga to improve the general health of its populace, the West needs to understand that Yoga also plays an important role in improving the mental well-being of the people when its meditative part is included in its presentation. While it is easier in India to improve focus on the physical aspects of Yoga, it is more difficult to introduce the meditative component of Yoga in the West without bringing in any flavor of Hinduism so as not to raise the hackles of non-Hindus. Raja Yoga must be introduced to Hatha Yoga practitioners in the West as it is entirely scientific, in that it does not call for a faith in any super-natural being called God or for having allegiance to any particular religious practice or dogma or symbolism or iconography.

Currently the physical component of Yoga is presented in the Yoga studios whereas the mental/spiritual component with heavy religious tilt is presented by Hindu/Buddhist groups. So there are people who only frequent a Yoga studio to get physical benefits whereas there are others with frail bodies who cannot gain much benefit of meditative practices prescribed in the religious gatherings due to lack of Hatha Yoga experience. The Conference pointed the importance of Raja Yoga with Hatha Yoga acting as its stepping stone; however it did not emphasize amply the need for Raja Yoga to be introduced in Yoga studios or the Hatha Yoga in religious groups. Neither the religious nor the secular presenters of the Conference envisaged a Yoga “studio” that would have both Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga to bring a wholesome Yoga experience to a Yoga enthusiast. The fractured nature of presentations in the conference with focus only on either physical or mental component of Yoga was perhaps a befitting reflection of the current schism seen between the focus of Yoga studios and religious groups on Yoga.

One Comment

  1. If 'Yoga' (or for that matter anything) is helpful, then it should be accepted, whether religious or not. I find it rather funny to see the debate getting centered on Yoga being religious or not, as if its acceptance hinges on that! In Indian thought, every discipline, if extended deep enough, takes us to the ultimate truth = God or Brahman, as everything is from THAT and so – will lead to THAT. The important question should be, 'is Yoga – in any form – helpful or not?'. If it is helpful, but one does not wish to accept it, because he/she is afraid of its being a 'religion', then, he/she is a loser. I pity that person.

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