Non-partisan Yoga

Everything was going well, I had just completed my trial session with a young couple, and was waiting for them to come out of their Shavasana(Corpse pose) so I could end my class. After ensuring they were comfortably seated, I went about my normal routine of ending my class by chanting ‘ohm’ three times. I had grown so accustomed to this practice that I was completely taken aback when my chanting was followed by a long uncomfortable silence. I opened my eyes, only to find two of these experienced yoga practitioners staring back at me, with murderously quizzical eyes. It took me a moment to realize my oversight. I was sitting in an extremely religious household, covered with shelves and shelves of religious books and upholstery. And they were all Islamic texts.

It was that day I realized that unknowingly I was subscribing and preaching the very form of yoga I find so repelling; and that is yoga which is rigid and fixed. Comfortable in my usual routine, I had forgotten that one of the most essential trait to be a yoga teacher, is the ability to mould the ancient practice in a form that will benefit all, be free of judgment, religion and politics.

In the wake of International yoga day, my facebook yoga page is being bombarded with messages. The interest in yoga has peaked ever since the UN announced 21st June as International Yoga Day. Last year we saw over 35,000 people follow our Prime minister as he switched from one misaligned asana to another. An article I read today informs me that this year the PM would be practicing yoga in Chandigarh while his team of Union ministers will be leading yoga rallies in other cities. Suddenly I find myself to be a yoga teacher in a time where yoga has become so inextricably linked with politics in our nation. Instances of Muslim organizations objecting to Surya Namaskar being taught in school as mandatory yoga have surfaced in the last year. And while UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon happily endorsed the physical and spiritual benefits of this ancient form, there were debates and riots in our nation protesting the imposition of International Yoga day.

Many people tell me it’s an exciting time for yoga in India, and I must be so happy to have the opportunity to teach in this era. My reply to them all is this – it’s a sad time for yoga and for those who truly understand this ancient form of living.

Last year has not only seen the blatant use of yoga to make India visible on the global map, but has stirred a negative flavor in the mouths of those who are not familiar with the scriptures and teachings of yoga-which are not necessarily all Hindu. The practice is being labeled Hindu, repressive, intolerant and imposing. Now, I know there is nothing wrong with sharing the benefits of yoga and spreading it to the global community, but when this is done as a political strategy to garner the support (read votes) of the many unknowing followers of gurus like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar or Baba Ramdev, and re-packaged to be sold as a Hindu commodity, I as a believer of yoga’s true benefits at a level deeper than just physiology, get angry. This saffronization of the ancient form has failed to create a diverse platform for yoga, instead it has created a divide and alienated a segment of people who now have grown into vociferous opponents of its imposing ways. Here, I reiterate that this misconstrued version of yoga is due to some gross political decisions like making yoga mandatory in government schools. I agree it is beneficial for health, but if administered incorrectly, like forcing children to pray to Surya dev (Sun God) while doing Surya Namaskar, it not only ties the practice to a certain religion, but fails to highlight the essence of yoga which is definitely not imposition and curbing of freedom.

If we deconstruct the ancient scriptures; be it the ancient Vedantic scriptures or the more “modern” and less theistic scriptures of Patanjali and Tantra, we find that yoga has evolved over the years. It was never limited to a series of asanas or meant to be reduced to the mere status of an exercise as treated by some modern day yoga gurus, nor is it all about chanting, praying and performing rituals. The ancient practice is said to lead one to a greater understanding of the world and more importantly- of oneself; by carefully practicing a certain life-style and accepting the significance of breath & turning inward so that there is universal acceptance and peace. However many have questioned its place in the current society. Some authors like JulianWalker and Mark Singleton have challenged yoga’s cultural notions. And I’m neither endorsing that, nor am I discrediting their view. Being a yoga teacher, I of course, have complete faith in its therapeutic, spiritual, mental and psychological benefits. However what I find beautiful in yoga is the fact that there are various schools of thoughts and scriptures to study from, there is the freedom to choose and interpret. The sheer vast expanse of yogic knowledge out there is itself unrestricting and devoid of imposition. And as a believer of this ancient form of practice, I find it heart-breaking that this main teaching has lost its place. Instead I see yoga being commodified and used as a political tool.

I never got a call back from the couple, and I don’t blame them. It’s okay to be a firm believer of a religion, and the fact that they had been practicing yoga for years already proves that their religious belief didn’t colour their understanding of yoga, but I called them a few weeks later. I had to clarify to them that ‘ohm’ wasn’t mandatory; it’s all about the vibration. And I want to clarify to all of you, yoga is not mandatory. It’s a choice, and it’s okay if you say no, as long as you don’t impose.

So when you celebrate International yoga day, do me a favor, take a moment to understand that the ancient form you’re practicing is not the brainchild of one religion or person, or the current government. It’s a choice of life-style that people over many years have made. So can you.

Original Source: Yoga With Priyanjali


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