How Goras are stealing our yoga

The theft of yoga
By Aseem Shukla

Nearly 20 million people in the United States gather together routinely, fold their hands and utter the Hindu greeting of Namaste — the Divine in me bows to the same Divine in you. Then they close their eyes and focus their minds with chants of “Om,” the Hindu representation of the first and eternal vibration of creation. Arrayed in linear patterns, they stretch, bend, contort and control their respirations as a mentor calls out names of Hindu divinity linked to various postures: Natarajaasana (Lord Shiva) or Hanumanasana (Lord Hanuman) among many others. They chant their assigned “mantra of the month,” taken as they are from lines directly from the Vedas, Hinduism’s holiest scripture. Welcome to the practice of yoga in today’s western world.

Christians, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, agnostics and atheists they may be, but they partake in the spiritual heritage of a faith tradition with a vigor often unmatched by even among the two-and-a half-million Hindu Americans here. The Yoga Journal found that the industry generates more than $6 billion each year and continues on an incredible trajectory of popularity. It would seem that yoga’s mother tradition, Hinduism, would be shining in the brilliant glow of dedicated disciples seeking more from the very font of their passion.

Yet the reality is very different. Hinduism in common parlance is identified more with holy cows than Gomukhasana, the notoriously arduous twisting posture; with millions of warring gods rather than the unity of divinity of Hindu tradition–that God may manifest and be worshiped in infinite ways; as a tradition of colorful and harrowing wandering ascetics more than the spiritual inspiration of Patanjali, the second century BCE commentator and composer of the Yoga Sutras, that form the philosophical basis of Yoga practice today.

Why is yoga severed in America’s collective consciousness from Hinduism? Yoga, meditation, ayurvedic natural healing, self-realization–they are today’s syntax for New Age, Eastern, mystical, even Buddhist, but nary an appreciation of their Hindu origins. It is not surprising, then, that Hindu schoolchildren complain that Hinduism is conflated only with caste, cows, exoticism and polytheism–the salutary contributions and philosophical underpinnings lost and ignored. The severance of yoga from Hinduism disenfranchises millions of Hindu Americans from their spiritual heritage and a legacy in which they can take pride.

Hinduism, as a faith tradition, stands at this pass a victim of overt intellectual property theft, absence of trademark protections and the facile complicity of generations of Hindu yogis, gurus, swamis and others that offered up a religion’s spiritual wealth at the altar of crass commercialism. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, under whose tutelage the Beatles steadied their mind and made sense of their insane fame, packaged the wonders of meditation as Transcendental Meditation (TM) just as an entrepreneur from here in Minneapolis applied the principles of Ayurveda to drive a commercial enterprise he coined as Aveda. TM and Aveda are trademarked brands–a protection not available to the originator of their brand–Hinduism itself. And certainly these masters benefited millions with their contributions, but in agreeing to ditch Hinduism as the source, they left these gifts orphaned and unanchored.

The Los Angeles Times last week chronicled this steady disembodying of yoga from Hinduism. “Christ is my guru. Yoga is a spiritual discipline much like prayer, meditation and fasting [and] no one religion can claim ownership,” says a vocal proponent of “Christian themed” yoga practices. Some Jews practice Torah yoga, Kabbalah yoga and aleph bet yoga, and even some Muslims are joining the act. They are appropriating the collective wisdom of millenia of yogis without a whisper of acknowledgment of yoga’s spiritual roots.

Not surprisingly, the most popular yoga journals and magazines are also in the act. Once yoga was no longer intertwined with its Hindu roots, it became up for grabs and easy to sell. These journals abundantly refer to yoga as “ancient Indian,” “Eastern” or “Sanskritic,” but seem to assiduously avoid the term “Hindu” out of fear, we can only assume, that ascribing honestly the origins of their passion would spell disaster for what has become a lucrative commercial enterprise. The American Yoga Association, on its Web site, completes this delinking of yoga from Hinduism thusly:

“The common belief that Yoga derives from Hinduism is a misconception. Yoga actually predates Hinduism by many centuries…The techniques of Yoga have been adopted by Hinduism as well as by other world religions.”

So Hinduism, the religion that has no known origins or beginnings is now younger than yoga? What a ludicrous contention when the Yoga Sutras weren’t even composed until the 2nd Century BCE. These deniers seem to posit that Hinduism appropriated yoga so other religions may as well too! Hindus can only sadly shake their heads, as by this measure, soon we will read as to how karma, dharma and reincarnation–the very foundations of Hindu philosophy–are only ancient precepts that early Hindus of some era made their own.

The Hindu American Foundation (Disclosure: I sit on the Foundation’s Board) released a position paper on this issue earlier this year. The brief condemns yoga’s appropriation, but also argues that yoga today is wholly misunderstood. Yoga is identified today only with Hatha Yoga, the aspect of yoga focused on postures and breathing techniques. But this is only one part of the practice of Raja Yoga that is actually an eightfold path designed to lead the practitioner to moksha, or salvation. Indeed, yogis believe that to focus on the physicality of yoga without the spirituality is utterly rudimentary and deficient. Sure, practicing postures alone with a focus on breathing techniques will quiet the mind, tone the body, increase flexibility–even help children with Attention Deficit Disorder–but will miss the mark on holistic healing and wellness.

All of this is not to contend, of course, that yoga is only for Hindus. Yoga is Hinduism’s gift to humanity to follow, practice and experience. No one can ever be asked to leave their own religion or reject their own theologies or to convert to a pluralistic tradition such as Hinduism. Yoga asks only that one follow the path of yoga for it will necessarily lead one to become a better Hindu, Christian, Jew or Muslim. Yoga, like its Hindu origins, does not offer ways to believe in God; it offer ways to know God.

But be forewarned. Yogis say that the dedicated practice of yoga will subdue the restless mind, lessen one’s cravings for the mundane material world and put one on the path of self-realization–that each individual is a spark of the Divine. Expect conflicts if you are sold on the exclusivist claims of Abrahamic faiths–that their God awaits the arrival of only His chosen few at heaven’s gate–since yoga shows its own path to spiritual enlightenment to all seekers regardless of affiliation.
Hindus must take back yoga and reclaim the intellectual property of their spiritual heritage–not sell out for the expediency of winning more clients for the yoga studio down the street.

For the last 500 years, ever since the Goras came into contact with the Hindu civilisation, they have been coolly lifting off the intellectual creations of Hindus and quitely putting them in their own pockets, claiming these to be their own.

When challenged, they say these things were lying around without any owner, Hindus have nothing to do with these, and so the person who spotted them first becomes their owner. Then the Goras run away with the Hindu intellectual property to their own lands and begin marketing it as their own, and ask Hindus to buy it from them!



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10 responses to “How Goras are stealing our yoga

  1. Mohan

    An excellent article! My compliments as always, Dr. Shukla. I think it should be noted that while yoga is certainly a gift of the Hindus to the world, it is one of many gifts that the ancient Bharatiya civilization has provided the world. One need only look at the Upanishads or the Thirukkural to understand the wisdom that the world is being offered in what remains a truly universal faith.

  2. Mani

    Thoughtful piece..

  3. VoP

    Excellent column by Shri Shukla. The Abrahamic dirt and it’s misappropriation techniques are completely exposed.

    • OffendedMan

      “The Abrahamic dirt and it’s misappropriation techniques are completely exposed.”

      Ah, bigotry and libel together! Nice.

      Are you familiar with the term “putz?” You should be. You are one.

      • ss

        Bigotry is when someone says “Our god is true, your god is false” and rest of humanity is unclean and going to hell. Where does your intellectual sophistication dissappear when you make this claim?

  4. Mark

    Hmmm, there might be another way to think about this…

    It’s seems true that in the west, Yoga is pretty much promoted as a secular exercise program. Even then though, there is always the promise, underneath, that there is something more.

    This could eventually awaken a longing for true realization, at which point, the weekly Yoga class in San Francisco is going to feel limited and the student will look to understand the true nature of Yoga and lead them, if what you say is true, to Hinduism.

    Ironic that a religion which has been so open to adopting components of other religious traditions would now be in this position. 🙂

  5. VoP

    Excellent comment from NAVIN1


    Hinduism does not own yoga. Hinduism does not own the Vedas. It does not own the Upanishads, the Gita, the Ramayana, the Tantra.. Truth is beyond ownership.

    That is not the problem being discussed. Although it is the problem being discussed.

    The real problem is some groups claim to own the Truth. Whether it is the atheists, the christians,or the muslims, these groups claim ownership of Truth. Now their history is to claim a truth from other groups, that admit no one can own the truth, pervert it and then feed it back to the world as their own: christmas, easter, animal rescue, women’s rights, science… and of course compassion, caring, ahimsa, stayagraha. Likewise, people are now trying to patent genes and plants.

    So what do these people who claim to own truth do with it. They destroy culture after culture, they lie about their origins, the deceive about their intentions, and they monopolize the intellectual space.

    Along comes a good Hindu who knows he does not own truth. He gives his truth to these monopolists, the monopoloists use the truth, and then destroy the good Hindu. After all, once Hinduism is not synonymous with ahimsa, satya, citta, ananda, yoga, veda, vigna, vidya, surya/asurya duality, all that remains of Hinduism is ritual and that can be discarded, so Hinduism can be discarded. Once Hinduism is discarded, then the idea that you can have a personal relationship with the supreme beyond form can be discarded. Then the monotheists can do and say whatever they want and people will follow, armageddon comes, hell arrives on earth as the prince of darkness, jesus, and his right hand man, mohamed, take over.

    But how do you fight this mahasura? The patent power of Devi, with ALL the shakti of all of the Devas that understood that truth is worth fighting for. And so, we must stand up and say: when you seek the truth you are being Hindu, when you seek justice, you are being Hindu, when you seek to act, you are being Hindu, when you seek knowledge, you are being Hindu. When you align your goals with the supreme, you are being Hindu. And if you don’t want to be Hindu, we Hindus still believe you are being Hindu but choose to blind yourself from the truth. But if you want honestly to not be Hindu, close your eyes to the truth, close your eyes to justice, close your eyes to the need to act, and do this, if you want, by opening your eyes to a book or a heaven that you worship. If in your book you find happiness, or if you find it in “ours,” that is fine. But if you claim that this is your truth when it is not, we will reclaim it for this is but another datum of your himsic, lying nature.

    No, Hindus don’t own truth, we must, though, be willing to fight for it.


  6. VoP

    After this appeared Deepak “Scumbag” Chopra makes a feeble argument and it gets shattered by Aseem Shukla

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