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Hindu foundation’s yoga campaign draws unexpected response

November 29, 2010
tags: ,

We’ve heard the Christians weigh in on the yoga issue. Boy, have we. I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that the latest warning was issued from a conservative Christian leader on the spiritual dangers of Christians practicing yoga. We’ve also seen Christians adapting yoga to meet their needs (I once covered a Lenten yoga series here in Austin. The Catholic group used an instructional video featuring a priest in sweatpants. Yikes.)

But what we’ve been lacking (in the mainstream media at least) is the Hindu perspective. I mean, aren’t they the ones who should be annoyed by the Westernization (including aerobicization, if I may invent a word) of one of their ancient spiritual practices?

Well, according to this NYT piece, the Hindu American Foundation has launched a campaign urging yoga instructors and practitioners to at least acknowledge the Hindu origins of the asanas. What’s surprising, however, is the pushback they’re getting from American yogis and others  — including Deepak Chopra — you would think would be all about educating people on the debt yoga owes to Hinduism. But a lot of these folks are dismissing the HAF’s campaign.

For many practitioners, including Debbie Desmond, 27, a yoga instructor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the talk of branding and ownership is bewildering.

“Nobody owns yoga,” she said, sitting cross-legged in her studio, Namaste Yoga, and tilting her head as if the notion sketched an impossible yoga position she had never seen. “Yoga is not a religion. It is a way of life, a method of becoming. We were taught that the roots of yoga go back further than Hinduism itself.”


Here’s a good critique from Get Religion on the failure of the NYT to really explore that argument:

The article explains the origins of the viral debate about how much yoga owes to Hinduism. One of the readers who submitted the story thought the choice of “experts” arguing against yoga’s Hindu origins were a bit weak. They were, in fact, a Brooklyn yoga instructor and Deepak Chopra. We’re told that some religious historians think that yoga originated “in the Vedic culture of Indo-Europeans who settled in India in the third millennium B.C., long before the tradition now called Hinduism emerged.” But we’re not given any religious historians who agree with this. What’s more, the Vedic culture is strongly related to the origins of Hinduism, so some clarification about exactly where the argument differs would be helpful, too.


And for those of you who don’t have time to read the whole NYT piece, here’s how this who debate came about:

The effort to “take back” yoga began quietly enough, with a scholarly essay posted in January on the Web site of the Hindu American Foundation, a Minneapolis-based group that promotes human rights for Hindu minorities worldwide. The essay lamented a perceived snub in modern yoga culture, saying that yoga magazines and studios had assiduously decoupled the practice “from the Hinduism that gave forth this immense contribution to humanity.”

Dr. Shukla put a sharper point on his case a few months later in a column on the On Faith blog of The Washington Post. Hinduism, he wrote, had become a victim of “overt intellectual property theft,” made possible by generations of Hindu yoga teachers who had “offered up a religion’s spiritual wealth at the altar of crass commercialism.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. David Joel permalink
    November 30, 2010 2:04 pm

    Reality check please. Yoga is a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation. But, dear reader, it is not copyrighted, no more than the term Christian or church, and so, what is seen and practiced is subject to the mere whims of the “devotee.” And so it is just as senseless to charge “Christians”with “Boy, have we.” You could have more correctly identified them as American or an Englishman, or? For, if one is really a disciple of Christ they would speak disparagingly of no one, but the false teacher of the gospel of Christ.

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