“There is little doubt about yoga being an Indian art form,” Shripad Yesso Naik, the new yoga minister, said in a Washington Post interview. “We’re trying to establish to the world that it’s ours.”
But while yoga’s Indian origins are widely documented in ancient texts and reinforced over centuries of teaching, its place in Indian culture in the future is a bit more complicated. Yoga’s rising global popularity has led to disagreements about what constitutes an authentic yoga practice — and about who is qualified to say what’s authentic and what’s not. Even within India, ideas about yoga vary and have caused political and religious tension.
In 2013, for example, India’s Supreme Court weighed whether yoga was too religious to maintain as a part of the secular country’s physical education curriculum in public schools.
“Can we be asking all the schools to have one period for yoga classes every day when certain minority institutions may have reservations against it?” the court asked.
That same year, a California judge confronted the same dilemma when a couple sued the Encinitas Union School District for promoting religion by offering voluntary yoga classes stripped of cultural references, including the poses’ Sanskrit names. The judge ruled that yoga did not infringe upon the separation of church and state, saying that the practice may have religious roots but not in the way it was being practiced in Encinitas schools.
“Many of the media headlines are missing the distinction that is being made in this case: yoga versus based-on-yoga. The judge is clear in stating that yoga is religious and rooted in Hinduism – the same idea that HAF has been highlighting for over three years in its Take Back Yoga project, but what is crucial is the line between yoga in its entirety and this based-on-yoga program in Encinitas. When yoga is stripped of everything but the physical limbs, it’s no longer yoga.”
Yoga is an ancient practice, HAF writes on its website, that traces roots centuries back to Vedic traditions in India and sacred Hindu texts like the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutra.
In the Yoga Sutra, a Hindu treatise composed by philosopher Patanjali circa 150 B.C.E., is full of the religious foundations of the practice. The philosopher wrote: Continue reading >>