What is Yoga? Hinduism. Some 5,000 years ago, there were people living in a place which came to be known as the (H)indus river valley.
It was these (H)indus that created the religious language known as Sanskrit. The Sanskrit/Hindu word “Yoga” means: “Yuj Atman Brahman ca,” (“To yoke to one’s individual Soul and Soul Source.”) The various (authentic) Yogas are the means by which Hindus achieve this Soul/Self-Realization: Karma Yoga (ethics), Bhakti Yoga (devotion), Raja Yoga (meditation) and Jnana Yoga (outer and inner study or enlightenment). There are other Yogas within these classic Hindu/Yogas, such as: Hatha Yoga (Hindu devotional postures).
It is Hatha that is, generally, distorted by the simplistic use of “Yoga.” With a vital ethical and devotional attitude (posture), the Hindu (or student of Hinduism) is now ready for the physical postures (asanas). The asanas represent a specifically Hindu worldview. “Hatha” refers not only to nature worship (moon; sun: tha) but also to the Hindu deities Siva, Vishnu (Hara; Hari).
The “Soul” purpose of the asanas is to create a healthy body, calm mind and emotions in order to enter the spirit realms. It is for this Soul purpose that, of all the Hindu/Yogas, Hatha Yoga was supposed to be kept, relatively, secret. Sages realized that the immature would emphasize the body, thus, completely distorting the spiritual intent. Feeling good at the expense of others is not an ethical choice.
New Age Yoga (NAY) is: Hot Yoga, Power Yoga and Gentle Yoga, to name few. There are especially arrogant individuals who even attach their own names to these Hindu disciplines. There are so-called 200 hour Certified Yoga Teachers and Yoga Therapists.
Imagine treating Baptism and Communion as an Underwater Therapy and Wine Tasting business! Envision a Fitness Rabbi, Diet Pope and Gaming Imam! Picture Hot Baptism (at your local gym), Power Mass and Gentle Genuflecting! How about a 200 hour Certified Communion Teacher greeting students with Hallelujah and denying any Christian connection? How about marketing Baptism pants to display one’s physical accomplishments! As ridiculous as this seems, this is exactly how callous, absurd and insulting is the NAY crusade.
How many also realize that, factually, the following are sacred Sanskrit/Hindu terms: Namaste, Karma, Mantra, Guru, Swastika and Chakras? How many are aware that Hindus invented the all-important zero? Along with Yoga, these Hindu terms have been co-opted and distorted beyond recognition. Unfortunately, not a week goes by that the press and Madison Avenue do not aid in reinforcing the abuse of these religious terms. NAY is bringing in big money.
In the “NAYsayers” dogma, Yoga is everything but religion. To them, Yoga is a physical exercise and, perhaps, an elite universal spiritual practice. The thoughtless cliché: “I am spiritual but not religious,” is a common deception. It is in this pseudo-spirituality that NAY gets very bizarre.
Covertly indoctrinating one into any religion is abusive. Scattering Hindu terms and displaying Hindu images into a so-called Yoga class should be cause for not only questioning the religion of the teacher but also the intent. And, “naturally,” it costs money for these “spiritual teachings.” Those who feel superior to the more religious should remember everyone is free to go into any religious service.
There are many established religions. Of course, a truly creative individual may come up with something new. However, stealing from an existing religion (and/or culture), then denying it, and profiting from it is the M.O. of the usurper. Repeated invasions of India have left many Hindus in a state of confusion, at best. Hindus have historically been “an easy mark” and are at fault for not learning and protecting their religion. Some Hindus simply give up: “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
Divorcing any aspect of Yoga from its Hindu roots is dishonest and a grave insult to a great world religion and it adherents. Presently, the Yino flock to their studios and completely shun Hindu Temples/Ashrams and teachers. Ironically, qualified Hindu teachers have been denied teaching Hatha Yoga in a public setting not only because it is religion but also because they did not have a Western Yoga Certification! The “Certified Yogis/Yoginis” are, actually, clueless not only to the facts of Yoga but also to the austere and devoted lifestyle of the true Yogi.
If one wants to learn Hinduism/Yoga (and perhaps become a Hindu), do that. If one wants to stretch and relax, be thoughtful and considerate and don’t call it Yoga.
Swami Param is president of the Classical Yoga Hindu Academy in Barnegat, N.J.