Who does Yoga belong to?

My friend Evgeny and I go to learn Yoga from a Tamil Siddha Yogi and also learn Taiji Chuan from a student from an authentic Taoist Lineage.  Evgeny is a Bulgarian national and a serious student of Yoga, Darshana and Taoism. We often discuss the state of affairs regarding Yoga, how it is in India and it’s evident popularity in the West. As a serious practitioner of Yoga, my friend doesn’t have any doubts about the roots of Yoga. In fact he has embarked on a study of the history of Yoga and he clearly comes back with this response “Yoga was born out of the Hindu tradition”.

In course of our discussions, he often expresses irritation at the “New-agey” tendency to appropriate Yoga while not giving credit to it’s roots.  I have heard many Buddhists claim that Yoga was a practice separate from the Hindu religion, and many traditions have used it and integrated it’s practice into their version of Spirituality.

In the US we see the tendency to divorce Yoga from it’s roots and people patenting Sequences of Asanas, creating new types of Yoga such [[Viniyoga]], [[Vinyasa]], [[Kundalini Yoga]], [[Ashtanga Yoga]]…the list is almost as long as the list of rockstar Yoga Gurus here!

I recently also discovered that there is a “Christian Yoga” and how it helps the Christians connect with their “True God”. The names of the Asanas were changed and combined with devotional prayers and mindful intents directed towards “their God”.

Why is there so much apathy towards accepting that Yoga was born out of Sanatana Dharma (there is problem with that description too, because some Buddhists claim that Buddhism is the “real” Sanatana Dharma)?

When my friend Ravi and I were attending a conference in Chicago in 2008 called the “Human Empowerment Conference”, an american Yogi urged us (mainly Indian Hindus at the conference) to reach out to the Yoga community in the West and join hands with them. When asked why this Yoga community was so averse to recognizing the roots of the Yoga practice that has given them so much, the response came back “They are recovering from the onslaught of their birth religion..”

Deepak Chopra’s recent encounter with Dr Aseem Shukla over Yoga seems to summarize very succinctly what the New Age thinks about this subject. Also quoted and linked are some other articles on this topic:

An Article in the LA Times reported:

Incorporating prayer and readings from the Bible, Brock urged his class of about 20 students to find strength in their connection to their creator through yoga’s deep, controlled breathing. “The goal of Christian yoga is to open ourselves up to God,” he said. “It allows us to blur the line between the physical and the spiritual.”

The instructor then recited the Lord’s Prayer while his students moved slowly through a series of postures known as the sun salutation. 

Such hybrid classes, which combine yoga practice with elements of Christianity or Judaism, appear to be growing in popularity across Southern California and elsewhere.

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Some Christians call their versions of the discipline holy yoga or Yahweh yoga and some teachers urge participants to “breathe down Jesus.” Jewish yogis, in turn, have developed — and in some cases, even trademarked — Torah yoga, Kabbalah yoga and aleph bet yoga, applying Eastern meditative movements to Jewish prayer and study. 

Meanwhile, Californian Muslims who practice yoga have yet to merge it with the teachings of the Koran or worship of Allah, a local leader says. And there are skeptics within all three Abrahamic religions who question whether it is proper to integrate the Hindu-based spiritual practice into Western monotheistic traditions.


and more

Brock completed a 200-hour accredited course in Phoenix designed by Brooke Boon, author of the book “Holy Yoga.” Boon has trained nearly 200 Christian yogis, about a dozen of whom are teaching in Southern California. 

“Christ is my guru. Yoga is a spiritual discipline much like prayer, meditation and fasting,” Boon said in a telephone interview. “No one religion can claim ownership.”

Some fundamentalist Christians distance themselves from yoga, saying it is inseparable from Hinduism or Buddhism and therefore dangerous, even blasphemous. Some Orthodox Jewish authorities warn that if practiced with all its Eastern components, including Sanskrit chanting and small statues of deities, it amounts to avodah zarah, or the worship of false gods.

For many religious Jews, Christians and Muslims, viewing yoga as a physical rather than spiritual practice solves the dilemma. 

But Rabbi Avivah Winocur Erlick, a chaplain at Providence Tarzana Medical Center, says it is impossible to separate yoga from her Jewish spiritualism. About six years ago, Erlick began having intense spiritual experiences while doing yoga. She sought advice from a rabbi.

“He said, ‘God has been trying to reach you all these years and he is reaching you through yoga,” Erlick recalled. The rabbi challenged her to reconcile yoga with Judaism, which led to five years of study to become a rabbi. “For me, yoga is prayer,” Erlick said.

Dr Aseem Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation wrote in this Washington Post article titled the “Theft of Yoga”:

Why is yoga severed in America’s collective consciousness from Hinduism? Yoga, meditation, ayurvedic natural healing, self-realization–they are today’s syntax for New Age, Eastern, mystical, even Buddhist, but nary an appreciation of their Hindu origins. It is not surprising, then, that Hindu schoolchildren complain that Hinduism is conflated only with caste, cows, exoticism and polytheism–the salutary contributions and philosophical underpinnings lost and ignored. The severance of yoga from Hinduism disenfranchises millions of Hindu Americans from their spiritual heritage and a legacy in which they can take pride.

Hinduism, as a faith tradition, stands at this pass a victim of overt intellectual property theft, absence of trademark protections and the facile complicity of generations of Hindu yogis, gurus, swamis and others that offered up a religion’s spiritual wealth at the altar of crass commercialism. TheMaharishi Mahesh Yogi, under whose tutelage the Beatles steadied their mind and made sense of their insane fame, packaged the wonders of meditation asTranscendental Meditation (TM) just as an entrepreneur from here in Minneapolis applied the principles of Ayurveda to drive a commercial enterprise he coined as Aveda. TM and Aveda are trademarked brands–a protection not available to the originator of their brand–Hinduism itself. And certainly these masters benefited millions with their contributions, but in agreeing to ditch Hinduism as the source, they left these gifts orphaned and unanchored.


To which Deepak Chopra’s rejoinder titled “Sorry your patent on Yoga has Run out” was prompt and strong:

In his recent article for On Faith, Aseem Shukla lamentsthe disconnect between yoga and its origins in Hinduism. He’s certainly right that the practice of Yoga has become a “spiritual discipline” that is open to anyone of any faith. But it’s strange to find him disapproving of this fact, for several reasons.

First, yoga is a spiritual discipline in India, and always has been. The aim of the practice is liberation. When liberation occurs, the yogi is freed from the religious trappings that enclose Yoga. Those trappings have always been incidental to the deeper aim of enlightenment.

Secondly, yoga did not originate in Hinduism as Prof. Shukla claims. Perhaps he has a fundamentalist agenda in mind, but he must know very well that the rise of Hinduism as a religion came centuries after the foundation of yoga in consciousness and consciousness alone. Religious rites and the worship of gods has always been seen as being in service to a higher cause, knowing the self.


It is interesting to learn that Dr Chopra does not think that Yoga has it’s roots in Hinduism, even though Yoga as practiced — based on the revival of it by Sri Krishnamacharya and his two stalwart disciples the Late Sri Pattabhi Jois and Sr BKS Iyengar and Maharshi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I don’t know about you, but I always knew that Yoga was the practical aspect of Samkhya, one of the six primary schools of Hindu Orthodox Philosophy.  It has also been greatly influenced by Vedanta and one can find nearly one-for-one overlaps between the states described as Samadhi (or end-goal of Yoga) in Upanishadic literature.

I will hold my opinion on this matter in this piece. I would instead ask you Medhavis to tell me what you think…




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