A group of Hindus are so taken aback by how yoga is practiced in the U.S., that they have launched a “Take Back Yoga” campaign to address the disconnect between its roots and what is really taking place on our mats today. To which we have one request: While you’re at it, can you take back crunches and other ab exercises from yoga class too?
Is it just me or does a yoga teacher commanding us to do 100 bicycles, scissor kicks or Pilates-type ab work seem out of place when we’re trying to get our zen on? According to our own very scientific poll here at Blisstree (with all three writers), it does.
Somehow moving from a graceful flowing vinyasa where we are exploring our bodies and emptying our minds to being instructed that we need to get ready for bikini season by working off those “love handles” seems, well, un-yogic. So, when I read about the Hindu American Foundation who wants to “take back yoga”, I have to applaud in some ways.
The whole fashionista, look-at-me scene at some yoga studios has to annoy them. As must seeing a round of push-ups thrown after every downward dog. And yogis who talk during class, let their cell phones ring and try to out-do one another in headstand must just push them right over the edge.
The way they see it, there is a fundamental disconnect between yoga and Hinduism. A lack of continuity between the roots of yoga and what’s taking place on mats around the country today. And while some will argue that yoga doesn’t belong to anyone and we are free to practice it however we damn well please (Namaste), others will say by focusing on only the physical aspects of it, we are missing out.
Sheetal Shah, senior director at the foundation, told NPR that the group started the campaign when they noticed that while “Vedic,” “tantric” and many other words appeared regularly in yoga magazines, the word “Hindu” was never mentioned. So, the foundation called up one of the country’s most popular magazines (Yoga Journal?) to ask why.
They said the word ‘Hinduism’ has a lot of baggage. And we were like, ‘Excuse me?’
Shah went on to say that some Americans just get it wrong with they think of Hinduism, because, to them, they think of “multiple gods, with multiple heads and multiple arms. Colorful [and] ritualistic.”
As part of the “Take Back Yoga” campaign, the Hindu American Foundation is hoping for broader acknowledgment that yoga has Hindu philosophical roots, while also emphasizing that it is universal and appropriate for everyone, according to Shah.
What we’re trying to say is that the holistic practice of yoga goes beyond just a couple of asanas [postures] on a mat. It is a lifestyle, and it’s a philosophy. How do you lead your life in terms of truthfulness? And nonviolence? And purity? The lifestyle aspect of yoga has been lost.
And as much as I want to stand up and say, to each yogi her own, I do see their point.
For example, how many times have you been driving out of the yoga studio parking lot and encountered a fellow yogi who was in such a hurry to get on with the next thing on her to-do list that she almost took you out? Maybe that was just me, but it happened. As did seeing fellow yogis go home and post gossip or negative things on Facebook and hearing about some of the unscrupulous, unethical practices of others. Not that any of us are perfect by any means, but it does seem like yoga often ends the moment we roll up our sweaty mats.
It’s not that yoga is–or should be–a religious experience (although it certainly can be for some), it’s that the spiritual component does seem to get lost at times. If yoga truly means “union” then it seems taking that unity and applying it to all aspects of our lives should be the goal.
One yoga teacher, Alison West, agrees and says yoga should be accessible to Jews, Christians, atheists and others who feel no affinity with Hindu spiritual traditions. All people, she says, should feel free to use yoga for personal satisfaction or emotional and mental awakening.
The genius of yoga, is that it’s accessible to all. It’s very important to not overstress the Hindu origins of yoga. And at the same time, nobody should dismiss the vast importance that Hinduism has played in the evolution of yoga over the centuries.
Agreed. Now if we could just get rid of those crunches during class…
What do you think?