Uniting the world, yoga way
S. Madhusudhana Rao
After software, India’s biggest ‘soft export’ to the world is yoga. It is arguable, though, which has more power and potential to change people’s lives. As 192 countries out of 193 in the world are set to bow to our ancient practice of bringing body, mind and soul into harmony on Sunday the June 21, the various forms and postures of yoga have started grabbing the global attention.
For the first time, the world has embraced an Indian-origin unique physical-mental ‘exercise’ that is hailed as the best holistic approach to the overall physical and mental development of human body. Yoga practitioners vouchsafe for it and volumes of evidence based on scientific research done by experts from various fields prove that yoga is not mumbo jumbo. It is a science based on body-mind relationship and their harmonious functioning. Yoga is believed to pave way for efficient and optimum utilization of our body resources naturally.
Asanas, yoga enthusiasts aver, can bring a qualitative change to our stressed-out life. The secret of success lies in how well a yoga follower synchronizes his/her breathing with body movements and concentrates on the posture. The scientific principle involved in various asanas is when they are performed observing simple rules as prescribed in ancient texts there will be an increase in the flow of oxygen to cells in various parts and vital organs of the human body. It is scientifically proved that more ‘pran’ supply to oxygen-starved/deficient cells will energize them and help fight different kinds of ailments.
This is only the physical health aspect of yogic asanas whose effects on de-stressing our minds are well documented by scientists throughout the world. Thus new scientific evidence, coupled with extensive research in the art and science of yoga, has helped the ancient Indian practice to spread its wings across the globe in the last few years. The role of jet-set gurus and hundreds of books written in English and translated into all major languages in the world can’t be overlooked in making yoga a global phenomenon.
Americans are the first to embrace yoga in a big way and their endorsement of yoga and its immense health benefits has given it an unmatched boost not only in the US but even in the country of its origin India! Millions of Americans practice yoga in one form or the other and their number has been steadily increasing with original yogic practices undergoing a phenomenal change and a makeover in the hands of young and inventive enthusiasts.
Thus we hear about hot and cold to steam and sex yoga, among dozens. However, their founders and followers can hardly claim what they propound is an offshoot of 5,000-year-old Maharishi Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Puritans in this country who adhere to Patanjali yoga sneer at its commercialization and degeneration of original concepts and practices enunciated in subsequent yoga texts. But what is glossed over is the newly-evolving forms of yoga are tailor-made for modern living and fast-paced life. Often, they are seen a mere shadow of the ancient practice with elements of aerobics, physical exercises and various dance forms. Nevertheless, a yoga tag earns them name and fame – and often commercial success.
But the point to be noted is these practices – by whatever name you call them –have been designed keeping in mind the feel good factor at physical and mental level and to lead a relatively happy life. They are not aimed at taking the practitioner to a spiritual level. Nor can he/she aspire for salvation. In other words, they are nothing to do with religion. Yoga, in general sense, is not a religious practice. Nor can it be termed Hindu since it originated in this country.
Giving yoga religious overtones is politicizing a wellness regimen. We hear opposition to it from many quarters not only in India but even in the US where some Christian organizations fear yoga classes are aimed at conversions and in a few American states attempts have been made to legally ban yoga teaching.
In this country, resistance to introducing yoga in schools is well known. The main objection is against an invocation chanted before starting a yoga session and at the end of it. Another objection is to making yoga teaching mandatory. The protestations are misplaced and based on groundless apprehensions, deliberately spread by vested interests that the saffron party, ruling at the centre and in some states, is trying to win back minority communities through yoga teaching in primary and secondary schools.
Needless utterances by some right-wing outfits add to minorities’ fears and suspicions. As a result, the spirit and essence of yoga is lost in polemics. Left to themselves, many parents and children opt for yoga if it is explained in a scientific manner. A look at the massive following of Jaggi Vasudev of Isha Foundation, Sri Ravi Shankar of the Art of Living, Baba Ramdev and a host of others in and outside India explains why people of all ages and walks of life, including corporate honchos, throng to yoga gurus without being prodded. Of course, an element of selfish interest is involved: yogic path for salvation.
It is this belief that leads a majority of people to draw own (wrong) conclusions. Unless one combines yoga practices with Hindu meditation techniques, yoga remains a harmless and effective way of maintaining a sound body and mind.
Confusion arises when one looks at ‘yoga’ in its totality. That is physical, mental and spiritual aspects and their practice in a unified manner. In fact, there are several types of yoga like Gyan, Bhakti, Karma, Hatha, Raj, Mantra, Shiva, Naad, Laya and many more. It is said yoga is a part of the Rig Veda. In ancient times, Yoga was taught to a chosen few. Over a period of time, saints, spiritual leaders and Gurus had started spreading this knowledge and again it was confined to those seeking higher consciousness and moksha. They took to yoga of their choice.
Now, thanks to electronic communications, New Age gurus and the digitally shrinking world, yoga has been brought to the realm of common man. Instead of taking a blinkered view of yoga, if one picks what is best suited for physical and mental health in it, the world will be a better place to live in. That is the spirit of World Yoga Day and participants should strive for it.