Hindu group stirs debate over yoga's 'ownership'

Posted By: Abdul Nisar
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New York, Nov 28 (ANI): Who owns yoga? It may be a difficult question to answer, but it is the most talked about topic in the yoga community-thanks to a group that ignited the debate.

The group of Indian-Americans has spurred a fierce debate in the gentle world of yoga by starting a campaign to acquaint Westerners with the faith that according to them underlies every single yoga style followed in gyms, ashrams and spas: Hinduism.

The campaign, labelled 'Take Back Yoga,' does not ask yoga devotees to become Hindu, or instructors to teach more about Hinduism. The group behind it, the Hindu American Foundation, has only suggested that people become more aware of yoga's debt to the faith's ancient traditions.

The suggestion, however, has drawn a flurry of strong reactions from figures far apart on the religious spectrum.

Deepak Chopra, the New Age writer, has dismissed the campaign as a jumble of faulty history and Hindu nationalism.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has said he agrees that yoga is Hindu - and cited that as evidence that the practice imperilled the souls of Christians who engage in it.

In June, it even prompted the Indian government to begin making digital copies of ancient drawings showing the provenance of more than 4,000 yoga poses, to discourage further claims by entrepreneurs like Bikram Choudhury, an Indian-born yoga instructor to the stars who is based in Los Angeles.

Choudhury nettled Indian officials in 2007 when he copyrighted his personal style of 26 yoga poses as "Bikram Yoga."

Organizers of the 'Take Back Yoga' effort pointed out that the philosophy of yoga was first described in Hinduism's seminal texts and remains at the core of Hindu teaching.

Yet, because the religion has been stereotyped in the West as a polytheistic faith of "castes, cows and curry," they say, most Americans prefer to see yoga as the legacy of a more timeless, spiritual "Indian wisdom."

"In a way our issue is that yoga has thrived, but Hinduism has lost control of the brand," the New York Times quoted Aseem Shukla, the foundation's co-founder, as saying.

For many practitioners, including Debbie Desmond, 27, a yoga instructor in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the talk of branding and ownership is bewildering.

"Nobody owns yoga. Yoga is not a religion. It is a way of life, a method of becoming. We were taught that the roots of yoga go back further than Hinduism itself," she said.

Loriliai Biernacki, a professor of Indian religions at the University of Colorado, said the debate had raised important issues about a spectrum of Hindu concepts permeating American culture, including meditation, belief in karma and reincarnation, and even cremation.

"All these ideas are Hindu in origin, and they are spreading.

"But they are doing it in a way that leaves behind the proper name, the box that classifies them as 'Hinduism,'" she said. (ANI)

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