Sunday, November 28, 2010


Hindu’s Take Back Yoga

A reader wrote to Reb Gutman Locks…

An article today in the New York Times reinforces what you have always said about yoga.  If they won’t listen to you, maybe they'll believe it from the New York Times.

Headline: Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul

New York Times: November 27, 2010

Yoga is practiced by about 15 million people in the United States, for reasons almost as numerous — from the physical benefits mapped in brain scans to the less tangible rewards that New Age journals call spiritual centering. Religion, for the most part, has nothing to do with it.

But a group of Indian-Americans has ignited a surprisingly fierce debate in the gentle world of yoga by mounting a campaign to acquaint Westerners with the faith that it says underlies every single yoga style followed in gyms, ashrams and spas: Hinduism.

The campaign, labeled “Take Back Yoga,” does not ask yoga devotees to become Hindu, or instructors to teach more about Hinduism. The small but increasingly influential group behind it, the Hindu American Foundation, suggests only that people become more aware of yoga’s debt to the faith’s ancient traditions…

Organizers of the Take Back Yoga effort point out that the philosophy of yoga was first described in Hinduism’s seminal texts and remains at the core of Hindu teaching…

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. …” [Paths comment, a way of life – a method of becoming isn’t religion???]

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.”

…Loriliai Biernacki, a professor of Indian religions at the University of Colorado, said the debate had raised important issues about a spectrum of Hindu concepts permeating American culture, including meditation, belief in karma and reincarnation, and even cremation.

“All these ideas are Hindu in origin, and they are spreading,” she said. “But they are doing it in a way that leaves behind the proper name, the box that classifies them as ‘Hinduism.’ ”

Exactly.  Yoga is an aspect of Hinduism and many of the concepts taught as part of yoga are Hindu approaches to life, spirituality, G-d, the universe and man’s place in it.  That’s the danger of yoga, infusing foreign spiritual concepts into your life.  A stretching exercise is just an exercise, but yoga is Hindu.


  1. the idea that *yoga is inherently hindu* is incorrect. yoga has its origins in India - there is no doubt about this. but the practices of yoga depend not on the belief system(s) of the ancient Indian culture(s), but rather on the structure of the human organism.

    the fact that we can trace yoga-like phenomena throughout all human cultures suggests that the basis for yoga lies not in culture, but rather in nature. For this reason, it would be false to say *yoga is inherently hindu.*

    however, the sequence of postures, the key meditations'structure and practice, are all the result of hindu and buddhist, i.e. Indian and Tibetan, psychological research. for this reason, it IS possible to say that *yoga is inherently hindu, * or at least South Asian.

    One final point. We have far more evidence for the early Buddhist practice of yoga than for the early Brahmanical practice of yoga. Perhaps (yikes) yoga is inherenly Buddhist, not Hindu...

    Jeff Durham

  2. I am undecided on the issue of yoga as exercise; there are compelling arguments both ways.

    Yet I don't see that this article is proof for the argument against. It simply presents the opinions of those who don't like what's happened to Yoga in the West.

  3. Is there even any need to debate this ?
    Of course, Yoga is very much a part of Hinduism. Yoga is born of Hinduism. Who did you think Patanjali was ? Patanjali was an ancient HINDU sage, who compiled the science of Yoga in a systematic manner.

    Asking if Yoga has to do with Hinduism is like asking if I can receive a Baptism and Holy-Communion, but still avoid getting involved with Catholicism. Do you understand ?

    The physical Yoga-Asanas are but a first step in the Vedic Hindu tradition of disciplining the body, and thence, the mind, as a pre-cursor to the attainment of Enlightenment by the Yoga-practitioner.

    So, all practitioners of Yoga are getting initiated into Hinduism, like it or not. If your Evangelical Church has a problem with your getting involved with the Heathen religion of Hinduism, drop out of the Yoga class.

    Also, Yoga requires its practitioners to be VEGETARIAN. So, if you are practising Yoga-asanas, but are still eating animal-flesh, you are already in violation of the Yogic principles. Does that make you a bad person ? Well, it definitely makes you an incomplete Yogi or Yogini.

    You Americans can call it Power-Yoga, and any other kind of name, but bear in mind, that you owe it all to Hinduism.

    Also know this that before Christianity swept over Europe, ancient Europe was actually Hindu. Alexander the Greek invaded India, but ended up becoming conquered by Hinduism and Buddhism. Alexander's Greek Generals took back with them to Europe Hinduism and Buddhism.

    It's amazing that Americans are ever so willing to attribute pretty much any ancient knowledge to the Chinese. Thus, Americans will gladly announce that they are practising Kung-fu, an ancient Chinese art. But even this is factually incorrect. For even Kung-fu was invented by an ancient Indian monk, who traveled to China, and taught Kung-fu to the peasants of China. The Chinese word "Chen", and the Japanese equivalent "Zen" are both derived from the Sanskrit word "Dhyan", which means a combination of concentration and meditation.

    Gautama Buddha was born a Hindu prince, who went on to establish Buddhism.

    From India, Buddhism traveled East to China.

    I am perfectly happy to be thanking those great Americans, the Wright Brothers Orville and Wilbur, every time that I step onto an aircraft to take a flight. So, why can't Americans similarly be gracious enough to give credit where credit is due, and thank Hinduism every time that they step onto their Yoga-mats ?

  4. Imagine if white people made Hanukkah popular and denied it's origins.


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