Yoga Politics

While the world celebrated the first ever Yoga day on 21 June “ declared by a secular international body that the UN is – bringing to fore the merits and joy of one of the oldest of Indian traditions, there were many back home bending over backwards to make people see the move as a political one.

There were as many messages doing the rounds of the social media saying ‘Say no to yoga’ as there were people sprawled on their yoga mats seizing the day. The hashtag arguments took the Indian social media by the storm, even if for a day, with some spinning deliriously out of control, to the point of asking why the Indian Vice-president wasn’t made a part of the yoga fanfare! It’s quite another thing that the people talking about ‘making’ the VP a part of the day were the same people decrying the Modi-led government’s move as an attempt to foist it on the Indian public, nay, the world, as if under duress!

Let’s put the doublespeak aside and look at the issue sensibly: The first and foremost argument is that yoga is being thrust upon people. The way I see it, so are taxes. And traditions, mind you. Some would even go so far as to accuse their parents of imposing on them their religion. Or, how about relationships and responsibilities? In a lighter vein, yoga appears the most forgiving of the lot “ making the body more flexible and healthful, some say even the mind but we see a few exceptions enjoy the limelight so I shall keep it aside, along with these jokes.

Yoga, truly, is the science of health, inspired by nature, aimed at being one with the nature “ the lion’s share of asanas of the Hatha Yoga are modelled on animals: simhasana, bakasana; Vrikshasana is the pose of the tree. It should not be hard to imagine that one who finds a way to be one with the nature, rather than labels and cares of a life in the modern world, will enhance his/her well-being. Besides, to restrict oneself to asanas is to take a very narrow view of this gem called yoga. Yama and Niyama show the way to Asanas and Pranayam, which further result in Pratyahar, Dharna, Dhyan and Samadhi, and these, if realised, stand to benefit the self wholesomely and certainly.

So, if government is going all out to promote yoga, I’d say it could prove to be one of the most consequential steps to India’s advantage “ both culturally and socially. Imagine large swathes of the Indian public, which does not subscribe to a fitness regime for the want of several things, bending over to Yoga, for which all one needs is one’s self and a mat.

Now, about yoga and the Hindu religion. Yoga is as Hindu as the western medicine is Christian. To those mandarins who are heckled by the use of ‘AUM’ “ the primordial sound according to the Hindu philosophy “ let it be said that firstly, this prelude to meditation is entirely optional: you can choose your own mantra or no mantra, as many sects have chosen their own; Buddhism’s meditation techniques are also a case in point. Secondly, AUM was used, as was yoga, thousands of years before the Hindu identity came into being. I call Hinduism an identity in the same secular spirit that Swami Vivekananda called it a philosophy. Make of it what you will, that’s Hinduism for you “ the true essence of it. But we have ventured far, far, away from yoga here, a realisation these mandarins won’t allow. The interesting thing is that even a cursory reading of the Indian culture and history will help them to this fact. I can only assume they choose not to. What’s needed is a little flexibility, perhaps?

Let’s also teeter on the Surya Namaskar issue for once “ it is understandable that the religious mandarins are losing their balance on it. It’s all in the name. In the West, surya namaskar is rightly translated into and termed as sun salutations and the most frequently assumed pose within is called the downward dog. Bring on the objections. I wonder if a more secular name than sun salutations or surya namaskar is possible. The term is as secular as is the sun! Deny this and I go back to doing my surya namaskars, thank you very much!

Finally, there are those whom the œcommercialisation of yoga has in a tight brace. To them, I say, breathe free. Commercialisation of something signifies widespread interest in it, especially financial. It’s hard not to equate the phenomenon with flower power of 1969 with its appeal of drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll, instant coffee, and fast food… Or is it? Yoga is a life affirming activity. It is different from all the aforementioned fads. If done correctly and regularly, it is bountiful in the advantages it bestows upon the practitioner. Yes, many have and many will milk the yoga cash cow. Should that deter a practitioner from yoga? I leave you to answer for yourself.

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