This doesn't help yoga's street cred, but nor would inaccurate claims. Photo: istolethetv/Flickr
It seems these days a lot of grown-ups are forgetting that wonderful lesson we learn as kiddos in pre-K called sharing. First we had a woman in Spain who filed paperwork claiming ownership of the sun. Now, as reported in The New York Times, we have the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) stirring up debate over who owns yoga (or rather, where yoga originated) with a controversial campaign called Take Back Yoga.
No, paperwork is not being filed by the group but it is leaving some yoga practitioners' Lululemon panties in a twist.As a yoga practitioner and instructor myself, here's my short and sweet response to the whole debacle which is basically the HAF's campaign, "Bringing to light yoga's Hindu roots," as stated on their website and the public's response to it -- which generally finds yoga's roots religion-less. I find both groups more or less wrong.
But let me start off by stating, as dangerous as I find any individual or group claiming territory or ownership of something of such a wide scope as say, the sun or yoga, I find it similarly dangerous for me to step into a debate when I'm not Hindu myself nor understand the HAF's true intentions behind their campaign. I say this as a disclaimer that these thoughts are merely my own using only the information I had available and not representative of anything other than lil' ol' me.
With that said...
1. I'm no expert in comparative religion but everything I have formally studied about yoga's historical roots leaves me in agreement with Dr. Deepak Chopra who responds to and dismisses the claims made by the HAF in The Huffington Post. He quite humorously writes,
There was bread and wine before the Last Supper, flies and frogs before the curses that Jehovah visited on Egypt and Yoga before Hinduism.
He continues to point out the glaring gray area in terms of yoga's historical timeline writing,
The text usually cited as the definitive source for Yoga is Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, but the familiar poses that are part of Hatha Yoga are generally traced to Shiva cults, the god Shiva being its founder. The problem that is being swept aside is that exact dates cannot be assigned to any of these texts. Nevertheless, what is certain is that ancient Vedic culture, which lays claim to being the first written spiritual tradition in the world, is much older than the loosely formed religion, Hinduism, that sprang from it. The spiritual practice of Yoga was part of Vedic culture long before Hinduism.
So while yoga does have roots in an ancient spiritual tradition (if that makes any super secular Westerners cringe, I'm sorry!), it's one that pre-dates Hinduism.
2. While I don't agree with HAF that yoga is inherently "Hindu" and is as far as I understand like Dr. Chopra, Vedic, I will agree with the sentiment behind HAF's Take Back Yoga campaign which highlights the practice's multi-limbs beyond asanas (physical postures). Yoga isn't merely the commercialized exercise craze often -- but not always -- portrayed in our Western culture. It can, in addition to other things, offer mental trainings, ethical aspirations and even enlightenment, if you wish.
3. As a yogini-scholar-in-training, I wish to always deepen and educate my understanding of yoga's ancient roots. This helps inform my own practice. But that's the thing, I consider my practice my own-- and I encourage everyone to make it their own too, if they want to. While I do appreciate historical accuracy (I wouldn't have blabbed on this far if I didn't), it ultimately doesn't matter to me if yoga originally sprang from the Vedic tradition, Hinduism, Christianity or Judaism. For me, what really counts is: What does yoga mean to me? How does it apply to my daily life? And am I becoming a healthier, happier person in the process?
In my belief, yoga is all of ours. And, yes it's mine. (Insert evil laugh here.) Don't worry, I won't file the paperwork -- wink, wink.