Yoga not religion, so easily accepted

LONAVALA: The inherent flexibility of the ancient health system of Yoga, combined with the fact that [it] has got nothing “religious” about it makes it readily acceptable across the world, experts contend.

The rapidly spreading popularity of Yoga outside India, particularly in the US and Europe, is a result of the ease with which Yoga as a discipline can be adapted to the needs of various people in various parts of the world, they said.

“It would be unwise to put Yoga in the entrapment of religion. It is simply an ancient system of effective health practises,” Sat Bir S Khalsa, a researcher with the Harvard Medical School said.

Speaking on the sidelines of an ongoing four-day conference on Yoga at the Kaivalyadhama Ashrama here, around 120 km east of Mumbai, Khalsa said “there was an inbuilt flexibility in Yoga, making it easy for people to take to it”.


Most westerners are naive to the religious origin and nature of yoga. Many practitioners who do, merely presume that the exercises are harmless if they are not practiced with a spiritual intent. Yoga is a series of exercises and postures (asanas) which are advertised as a way to tone up, reduce stress and experience tranquility. Yoga though is an intrinsic part of Hinduism. Swami Vishnudevananda, well known authority of Yoga, in his book The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga explains the purpose of Yoga, “It is the duty of each developed man to train his body to the highest degree of perfection so that it may be used to pursue spiritual purposes… the aim of all yoga practice is to achieve truth wherein the individual soul identifies itself with the supreme soul of God.”
– Source: Yoga, a Profile by Watchman Fellowship

Khalsa said Yoga started gaining popularity in the US during the 1960s counterculture movement, which involved rebellion by the youth of the day against the prevailing way of life in the Western world of that era.

“However, Yoga came to be more appreciated among the masses not when people realised its effectiveness, but only when people saw how and why it was effective,” Khalsa said.

According to Khalsa, close to 15 million Americans practise Yoga, which itself is a booming industry worth billions of dollars.

A similar scene has unfolded in Europe, where thousands have taken to Yoga in a bid to soothe ruffled minds and normalize bodily functions hitherto sickened by prevailing lifestyles and a certain lack spiritual activity.

“We have been conducting regular teachers’ training, diploma and therapeutic classes since the 1980s in the city of Crest in southern France. All our students are French,” Kaivalyadhama Trust’s French head Lav Kumar Sharma said.

“It began as a result of the typical curiosity that Westerner has towards anything oriental. But now they have understood Yoga very well and it has come to a stage where one doesn’t have to convince people about it,” Sharma said.

According to him there are research activities going on in the field of several psycho-somatic illnesses like insomnia, hypertension and nervous disorders in France. As a source of income Yoga has been in a boom phase for several years now.

“It is the only field in Europe which does not require national diploma recognition. So it is easily accessible and is growing by leaps and bounds,” he said.

“I earn around 2000 Euros per month. In Crest alone there are 1,000 people like me and roughly 60,000 Yoga teachers in France. The figure could be around 8, 00,000 for Europe,” Sharma said. However, some traditionalists like former dean of the Bihar School of Yoga, Swami Mangaltirtha, a professor of bio-sciences, rue the fact that Yoga is being overtly commercialised and manipulated in the name of adaptation.

Yet, it seems most exponents have made the best out of the ancient practice and continue to do so to bring peace of mind and relaxation of body to millions across the world.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday January 1, 2007.
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