You’d think yoga of all things would be free of controversy but yoga like all things man-made comes with its own built-in controversies and issues.
We need not go into the regular recycling issue of yoga gurus sleeping with students (this has been going on since the beginning of time so there’s no need to get your yoga shorts into knots) but here’s something much more recent: International Yoga Day coming to a yoga mat near you on June 21.Now what could possibly be wrong with holding an International Yoga Day?
Yoga as we know it today both here in North America and back home in India, isn’t the yoga that emerged from ancient times.
Today’s yoga isn’t much more than 150 years old and is more likely rooted in the needs of a post-colonial India and Indian nationalism plus the rise of the early 20th-Century women’s gymnastic movement than ancient tradition. Read Yoga Body by Mark Singleton for more on this.
Here at home it’s common practice for young yoga teachers (who are predominantly women) to read passages from some new age healing text at the end of class. Melody Beattie, the author of Codependent No More is a great favourite as young yoga teachers exploring their own healing path subject their paying customers to this psycho-babble thinking it’s yoga. It isn’t.
According to an article in today’s Globe and Mail Muslims are objecting to the day based on their beliefs that yoga, based as it is on ancient Indian texts, is a form of idolatry.
Indians protest that yoga is harmless but Muslims see evil intent in such things as the popular pose called the Sun Salutation which they say offends their beliefs that the only god is Allah.
Aside from my personal views about organized religion, the Muslims have a good point.
Read the translated from Sanskrit the Upanishads which outline the earliest forms of Hinduism (and thus the Muslim’s concern). Wikipedia says the Upanishads are considered by Hindus to contained revealed truths concerning the nature of ultimate reality and describing the character and form of human salvation.
From other writings on the Internet we find authors saying that the Upanishads contain the doctrine of reincarnation (karma) and focus on the training of the mind to think for itself (and thus more fundamental religious based objections arise) and become disciplined to reach a goal.
The chanting of the sacred Aum often heard at the beginning and end of modern yoga classes is often followed by a teacher chanting Shanti Shanti Shanti (peace, peace, peace) which is preceded by the thought “may we never hate.” One of my favourite yoga teachers would often end her class with this ancient chant and my heart would open.
But this is not Melody Beattie.
It’s about dharma (duty) and karma (you get what you give). Much of what we think and say is based on illusions (stories we make up) in our mind. Yoga brings us back to the body and more importantly to the breath which is a key component of yoga movement. It is about finding peace in your own heart.
Finally while the ancient texts focus on ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming) there is also a claim that dharma (duty) is what promotes the development of the universe and that all individuals and even nations should act in responsible ways to promote their own growth and the growth of the individual. The world cannot function if some of its parts are weak and broken.
Namaste. (I see and honour the divine light within you.)