Practicing Yoga Does Not Make You a Practising Hindu

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yoga hijaab muslim
Hijaab clad woman practising yoga

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

– Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali.

A fearless young woman wearing Hijaab had once posed daringly for photos. She was standing erect while touching her right thigh with her left foot. Her hands were stretched above her head, palms joined. There was no doubt about her religious identity, but the photo raised many questions and eyebrows. Was it an advertisement stunt pulled by Hindu fundamentalists or, was it just another propaganda to project the country as a secular one? The answers are still blowing in the wind while the Indian government continues to celebrate the ‘International Yoga Day every 21st June for the last seven years. 

This particular date was first proposed by the current Prime Minister of India in the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014. He didn’t forget to mention its association with Guru Purnima and Lord Shiva. But leaving these religious connotations aside, the significance of 21st June is, it is the longest day of the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice. 

woman practicing yoga
Yoga is not merely a physical practice

The whole period of three seasons: monsoon, autumn and the major part of winter is termed as ‘Visarga Kaal’  in Ayurveda. Visarga means ‘to give distinctly’ and it has been mentioned in the Ayurvedic texts that people gain maximum strength during this period. Their digestive power increases, their energy level improves. To create awareness regarding physical and mental well being, identifying a particular day for celebration can be considered to be a good initiative anytime. 


yoga for all races
The western world has also embraced yoga

Some sort of resistance arose when the majority of the Hindu Gurus started to voice their support for Yoga day. While Narendra Modi was speaking of “peace and harmony”, some people in India felt, the promotion of yoga was a partisan Hindu operation. The sequence of Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) was dropped because Muslims objected to the implication that the sun is a Hindu God; the chanting of the Hindu syllable ‘Om’ was also dropped. Almost on the same ground, Pope Francis and Mr. Modi had a conflict which ended with Modi’s words, “Yoga is NOT a religious practice.”

Moreover, yoga is not just a physical practice. Much of the yoga that is taught and practiced in both East and West is ‘hatha yoga’. The focus on the body was only a very minor aspect of yoga delineated by the main treatise ‘Paatanjal Yoga Darshan’. In fact, of the 196 verses in Patanjali’s Yogasutras, only three focus on the body. The primary aim of yoga is to still the mind for a transformation of consciousness. In an applied manner yoga is predominantly a psychological practice through which anxiety, stress or depression related issues can be managed. 

yoga fitness
Yoga is not a religious practice

This modern approach to yoga is not a new trend of Modi’s India. The Department of Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy (ISM&H) was created in March 1995 when PV Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister of India. The same department has been renamed ‘AYUSH’ i.e. Department of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy in November 2003 when the Vajpayee government was in incumbency. The primary aim was always to implement a parallel (or alternative) practice of medical science in our country that can work hand in hand with the allopathic system to serve better in the field of health and family welfare. In present pandemic days this particular objective is being humiliated when a half-learned guru raises his voice against western medicine research and tries to endorse yoga or ayurveda just to make his products more popular with the help of petty controversy. 

of the 196 verses in Patanjali's Yogasutras, only three focus on the body. The primary aim of yoga is to still the mind for a transformation of consciousness. In an applied manner yoga is predominantly a psychological practice through which anxiety, stress or depression related issues can be managed.

However, it will be wrong to deny the Hindu origin of yoga. Prema Mysore writes in his book, ‘Yoga: Concepts, Origin, Development and History’— ‘The tradition of Yogashastra is a single tradition, unmitigated or undisturbed with the passage of time! Through Yogashastra the internal faculties of man are independently and progressively developed in stages, and even if some help is required from other traditions, it can be drawn from the same, since Yoga is never in conflict with other faiths.’ 

As said by Tagore:  “Biswa sathe joge jethay biharo/ Seikhane jog tomar sathe amaro” (Where lies the connection between the supremo and the universe, there dwells the conjunction of you and me), the spiritual system called yoga walks on the same path. No matter whether the supremo wears a Taqiyah or Pagri on his skull, it’s all about understanding the existence of I, me or myself considering the vastness and diversity of the world and the universe as a whole. Just as the consumption of beef or pork cannot alter one’s religious identity, the mere practice of yoga cannot convert a non-hindu into a Hindu. The only thing it can actually alter is a person’s physical and mental health. 

Images courtesy: Abantika Pal and Rawpixel

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