Om Sweet Om

Om Sweet Om


Fat, drunk yogis: The continued confusion behind yoga

posted by sheetal
I’m a fan of Maureen Dowd’s column in the New York Times – her writing is pleasingly quirky and relevant.  Needless to say, I was intrigued when a friend forwarded her latest piece, which was provocatively titled “How Garbo Learned to Stand on her Head.”  It started out well enough – yoga as a stress reliever.But by the end of it, I was, well, stressed!   According to William Broad, the author whose book Dowd was reviewing, yoga began as a “sex cult,” can make a person fat, and is a “kinder version of alcohol.”  Not having yet read Broad’s book, I’m not so sure I even want to anymore thanks to Dowd’s summary.  Once again, we see yoga being described in terms of a purely physical practice – posture and breath – with no mention of the underlying philosophy or spirituality that drives it.

Far from beginning as a “sex cult” with Tantric roots, yoga has always been a part and parcel of the Hindu tradition with an end goal of union with the Divine.  Yoga and yogic practices date back over 5,000 years — the Indus Valley seals depict a number of figures in postures identical to various asanas.  The terms “yoga” and “yogi” have been mentioned in sacred ancient Hindu texts, such as the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, with a keen focus on the practitioner’s ability to achieve a steady mental state in order to attain oneness with the Divine.  In his famed Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes the goal of yoga as chitta-vritti-nirodha, or “the cessation of mental fluctuations” – a far cry from Broad’s described sexual arousal and climax which clearly imply fluctuations in one’s mental (and physical) state.

Secondly, if yoga can make a person fat, someone forgot to mention it to countless size 00 actresses and models who swear by it.  If yoga does lower the rate at which a person burns through calories, then arguably, that person will be hungry less often, and thus, consume less food.  So, where does the issue of becoming fat arise?  Because once again only the physical aspect of yoga is being analyzed. Yoga is a holistic method which encompasses both physical and spiritual discipline, entails mastery over the body, mind and emotional self, and transcendence of desire. And asana is only one of the eight limbs of yoga.  The first limb is yama, or restraint, which in and of itself is suggestive of the idea that we should temper our consumption.  Patanjali lists five yamas, but some sources actually list ten, one of which is mitahara, or moderation of appetite – neither eating too much nor too little.  Learning to moderate our countless desires is fundamental to yoga, but seemingly overlooked in the purely physical interpretation of the practice.

Finally, from a purely practitioner standpoint, the idea that my 90 minute yoga practice has the same affect on my mind as a glass of wine, is absurd.  Yoga is considered to be best practiced early in the morning, on an empty stomach.  It loosens the various muscles of the body, centers the mind, and energizes the practitioner for the remainder of the day. If you are drinking a glass of wine first thing in the morning to achieve a similar effect, it’s likely time to check into AA.

Two years ago, the Hindu American Foundation launched its Take Back Yoga campaign to educate the public that yoga is one, much more than just a calorie burning, muscle toning physical exercise and two, rooted in Hindu philosophy.  Yoga is “an inward journey, where you explore your mind, your awareness, your consciousness, your conscience,” and attempts, such as Broad’s, to draw broad conclusions based on analysis of just the physical aspect of the practice do a disservice to this universal gift.



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sheena

    Thank you for sharing and writing to inform us of the misguided versions of yoga that there is out there and letting people know what yoga is all about and where it comes from!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Acarya Manhar Valand

    Well answered comment. However, who wants to educate materialists who have no inclination towards spiritual path? They want something and are looking for quick fix to their shallow lives! Never interested in getting the facts or delving at deeper thought level to seek the eternal solution. This journey is not for the fool hardy souls. Laissez faire! Only Truth can shed light through the pure those who seek.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sam

    Simply think that if you don’t know about Yoga and on the other hand I know a little bit about yoga than I can simply show you what little I know. We will do this by sharing our knowledge and if simple that if you know more about yoga than you are also a yoga teacher. When we give training for Yoga Teachers at our place than it’s totally with complete focus on you without any type of disturbance and daily distractions. If you are deeply interested in yoga than this is a great way to learn how to become a Yoga teacher.

Previous Posts

India's Holy Men by Joey L.
I just ran across these stunning images of Holy Men by photographer Joey L. The initial set of images are of Indian sadhus living in the holy city of Varanasi...and they are absolutely breathtaking. http://www.joeyl.com/personal-galleries/holy-men-2/

posted 11:54:40am Mar. 03, 2014 | read full post »

The Idea of a Constructed Hindu Identity
The following piece was written by my friend Raman Khanna, who is also a member of the Hindu American Foundation's Executive Council. “Hinduism was invented recently.” “The word Hindu is problematic.” “It’s not accurate to speak of Hinduism, only Hinduisms.” More than a decade has

posted 5:21:42pm Jan. 23, 2014 | read full post »

Coalition Against Reality: Deconstructing an Attack on the Hindu American Foundation
Principled opposition is expected when litigating issues in the public square, and the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) , for which I serve as the Senior Director, has at times faced stiff opposition from the right and left of the ideological spectrum in response to various positions, reports, and st

posted 5:38:10pm Jan. 06, 2014 | read full post »

Advice on kindness
My yoga teacher sent me the below link to George Saunders' convocation speech at Syracuse University for the class of 2013. It's worth a read: http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates/?src=me&ref=general&_r=0

posted 10:24:26am Aug. 08, 2013 | read full post »

Indian State makes Yoga mandatory in grade school
Last week, the Times of India reported that the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is making yoga mandatory for school children in grades 1 - 5.   What a great idea! The article can be found online at http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-07-31/news/40914078_1_yoga-teachers-chouhan-maste

posted 10:46:32am Aug. 05, 2013 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.