Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Postures Are Not Yoga

In response to Joanna Brooks's post Think yoga is a religion? Try youth soccer!

The word "Hindu" is a very complex term and most Hindus will be quick to admit that they don't understand their own religion. By comparison, the word "Yogi" is much simpler: A yogi is anyone who has mastered yoga. Ask any yogi and they will tell you: yoga has no cultural prerequisites whatsoever. Specifically, you don't have to be born a Hindu or convert to Hinduism to practice yoga or to become a yogi.

In fact, you can't "convert" to Hinduism. The very idea of "conversion" from one religion to another is a Western (non-Hindu) concept. OK, you might be able to find a very liberal-fringe Hindu priest (probably one who lives and works in America) who would agree to do a conversion ceremony, but such "conversions" are a very recent invention with no tradition, and no backing in the Hindu scriptures. Hence, most Hindus will not recognize such a conversion.

So, Hinduism comes with all this cultural baggage. It is a full-blown religion with its own laws and traditions. Yoga, by contrast, has no baggage. Yoga is the Sanskrit term for UNION between the individual self and the "Supreme Self" (i.e. God, but it's the God that lives in your heart that is meant here, not the one sitting on a throne in heaven). Anyone who is at one with God, or is trying to be, is doing yoga and any technique that leads to oneness with God is a yoga technique, regardless of what it's called.

Shakespeare wrote: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet." Substitute "yoga" for "rose" and it still holds. True spirituality is always above all matters of culture and religion.

Now, if you kill the rose and embalm it, I think most will agree that it is no longer a rose (though it might look like one and someone might try to market it to the ignorant masses as one).

When you remove all the spirituality from yoga, it's like removing all the blood from a human being. The resulting corpse is no longer the person it once was. It is qualitatively something different. We no longer refer to it as a human being. It is a corpse.

From a global perspective, what the Americans have done to yoga isn't really as important as it may seem from inside America. The author of the article writes: "how does a culture respond when it finds that its ancient religious rituals have been totally decontextualized. . . ." But I'm not sure to what extent the decontextualization of yoga in America and other European cultures has even appeared on the Hindu culture's radar screen. Obviously, some members of the Hindu diaspora are concerned about it.

I would say that you cannot "decontextualize" yoga without turning it into something else. The fact that the perpetrators of the decontextualization continue to call the resulting entity by the name "yoga" - and the rest of society goes along with that . . . well, what to say? It's collossal ignorance at best.

Hopefully Take Back Yoga and other campaigns like it will help Americans to realize that yoga is something different than they have been told.

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