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Twisting the Yoga Debate

The Huffington Post is currently featuring a debate entitled “Is Yoga a Hindu Practice?”  On one side, it features Suhag Shukla, Managing Director/Legal Counsel of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), who argues that yoga is absolutely rooted in Hindu philosophy.  Suhag is pitted again Tara Stiles, a well-known yoga teacher here in NYC who has become even more famous thanks to her student, Deepak Chopra, who ironically enough has made his millions by repackaging Hindu philosophy and selling it as anything and everything, but Hinduism.

As one would expect of a lawyer, Suhag provides solid, logical arguments to prove her point.  And since she has done such a nice job of this, I see no reason to rehash the myriad of reasons she uses to explain why yoga is rooted in Hindu thought.


Tara, on the other hand, just seems to miss the point altogether, and in the process, misrepresents what I said during last year’s yoga panel at Princeton.  First, the debate is not and never was about who owns yoga – no one person, no one group, no one religion owns yoga.  I said the same thing during the panel discussion at Princeton.  So, for Tara to continue to twist the debate into “who owns yoga” is quite frankly, the easy way out because everyone seems to agree on the answer.

Second, the debate, on the Huffington Post and at the Princeton panel, is and has always been about the origins and roots of yoga, and one which Tara consistently fails to address.  Instead, we’re offered a stream of consciousness that includes stories about bottling water and a “super tall dude” with great energy.  We are told that I’m looking for “respect” and “ownership” of yoga.  I’m unclear as to why that was her takeaway from the panel, but my goal at Princeton was not to demand respect nor ownership; rather it was to understand that yoga is rooted in Hindu thought.  And ironically, instead of countering my and Suhag’s points, Tara, somewhere in the midst of wondering why “yoga people” are crazy, unknowingly makes some beautiful allusions to Hindu philosophy.


…yoga exists inside all of us, we simply need to quiet, pay attention, and remember. When we remember, expansion of consciousness sparks up and cultivates the union of the self with the union of everyone’s self, the collective consciousness. Yoga for me, personally has always felt like plugging into the cosmic mainframe and downloading infinite secrets and wonders of the universe as we dive further and further inward. The further we dive the more we understand that the big “out there” is really the big “in there.” We discover that the external exists internally…

Those are the best four sentences of her piece, and it makes me think that perhaps she may have read the Bhagavad Gita in a previous life and retained part of its knowledge.  The idea of looking inwards to find the bigger picture, or “infinite secrets and wonders of the universe,” or the Divine is at the very crux of Hinduism.  It is why Hindus say, “Namaste” – the greeting is an acknowledgement of the Divine residing within us all.  The beauty of the above lines in isolation is that they demonstrate that yoga is far more than just a physical practice.  It is a holistic practice, a lifestyle that is designed to make the yogi one with the Divine, or “collective consciousness” in Tara’s words.

“One who sees the Self present in all beings and all beings present within the Self – Such a person, whose self is absorbed in yoga, sees the same everywhere.” – Bhagavad Gita, 6.29

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment JamesF

    One only needs to check the scripture to see who or what talked about Yoga and how to perform it first , to understand that Yoga is rooted in Hinduism .

  • Hari-ji Baba

    Yoga’s not an exclusive Hindu process. . . It’s best to view ‘Yoga’ as an evolutionary process toward maturity or journey of the soul. Everyone’s born onto ‘yoga’ whether it’s developed or not towards a better life’s another question!!?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Mayank Patel

    Time to rebrand “Take Yoga Back” campaign?

    Even a cursory glance at “Take Yoga Back” campaing makes it clear that Hindus or HAF is NOT claiming exclusive ownership & royalties out of Yoga. All they are asking is acknowledgement of Yoga’s Hindu root but commercial interests have successfully twisted the campaign.

    It’s time to rebrand “Take Yoga Back” to “Link Yoga Back”. The new name would go a long way in countering propaganda, and is a more accurate descriptor of campaign.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Narendra Patel

    I read Tara Stiles comments/arguments. It felt like I was reading some Hindu SDcriptures. Her arguments sounded like thoughts borrowed from Hindu Texts. Question is not who owns Yoga. Question is about Origin Of Yoga. Remember the word Yogeshwar,(Translation in English= Lord of Yoga) means Lord Krishna. No Yoga teacher or practioner of Yoga is more ancients than Lord Krishna.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Shankerprasad S Bhatt

    I am a writer and as written one book on “Prayers of all religions of the world
    Another book on ” Medtation System of various religions of the world and it is under print.
    I my research it is found that yoga system and meditation practices have been initiated under Hindu practices
    This is my opinion


    Truly yours

    Shankerprasad S Bhatt

  • Swami Param

    We have been trying, for years, to get people involved in this injustice. Interestingly, I was a beliefnet moderator for a brief time on a Yoga discusssion. When I continued to insist that Yoga was Hinduism, I was “fired.”

  • http://Yogaincompletenessisbasedonhinduism Harish Kandpal

    It is strange to see this debate. Yoga only as physical exercises might not relate to hinduism. Why you call it yoga? You call it exercise only. But why these poses are, what are the benefits, how it relates to Ayurveda and full yogic practices, if we question it’s links to Hinduism, only novice or misleading people will do it.
    Anybody who disagrees that yoga is from hinduism, I can only say, welcome to Hinduism.

  • duart maclean

    No Veda….no yoga. No Upanishads….no Buddha.
    What’s the fuss. It’s obvious.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment k.a.jayakumar,got training in post-graduate diploma in yoga education from kaivalyadhama in 1977-1978

    it goes without saying that yoga is rooted absolutely in hindu philosophy,and as hindu con cept embraces vasudaiva kutumbakam(world is one family),yoga is for the entire world community and as it is rightly observed by Swami Kuvalyananda,Founder of Kaivalyadhama,Yoga has a complete message for the human body, yoga has a complete message for the human mind, yoga has a complete message for the human spirit and yoga has complete message for the humanity.So,Suhag Shukla is absolutely correct.
    Last paragraph, “in Tara’s words”, exposes her total understanding/holistic insight of Yoga,which is appreciable as many yoga teachers are responsible for the piece-meal or comparmentalised approach of yoga.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment aham dasanudas

    Just like the number sytem, the solution to the quadratic equation, and so many other contributions ot the world, yoga is also another scientifc contribution. Mentioned in Bhagavad Gita, it is in three steps, Karma yoga, Jnana yoga, and Bhakti yoga the preceding one leading to the following. It is simply our cheating tendency that we deny acknowledgement to wherre it belongs while plagiarizing.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment balbir singh

    about whether yoga ia a hindu or unversal concept, i assure you that it just so happened that the rishis or holy men in india seeing the terrible consequencies of frequent wars with wounded soldiers left on the field of battles for days screamung in pain, bleeding to death without medicines, plus the rape oe women by the victors not just after the victory but for years afterwards till their domination lasted.
    the rishes who happened to be very wise by chance of 1 in a million ,retired into the forests to think how mankind can live in good health, wealth,& happiness doing trade instead of wars so all could prosper.
    they wrote the veda scriptures about 5000 years ago when there were no other religons like christains, muslims, sikhs, jews but just because they were in india they came to be called hindus after the indus plains.
    so where is the question of yoga being a hindu concept.the literal meaning of yoga or yog in sanskrit is “TO JOIN.” but join what ?. bodily health + a sharp mind to solve the daily problems & achievement by the leaders of that that simplest knowledge
    that living peacefully is more benficial than war. there was a lot of contact with persia who may have founded the indian populations in the northern part of the country. the similarity is the intoxicating fermented juice of a certain plant was called HOMA IN IRAN & SOMA IN INDIA,which being a costly drink was consumed only by the elite thinkers as it helped relax the mind & increses the power of intutive visualisation to help find answers of astronomy & yoga.
    so in view of the above yoga is not a hindu concept as there were no other defined religons at that time 5000 years ago.the other religon came later to protect their group interests

  • http://YogaaHinduPractice Vidyadhar Mishra

    Yes Yoga is a Hindu practice as much as Ayurveda and Meditation have their origin in Hinduism. But to say that Yoga should be confined to Hinduism or should be the monopoly of Hindus is wrong.

    We are living in a Universal world where there is a free flow of knowledge. It is courteous to acknowledge the origin of that knowledge.

    Today the world is unanimous in accepting that zero is of Hindu origin. Something that even the most vociferous secular politicians of India would like to deny. But the fact remains the fact.

    Because zero is of Hindu origin does not mean that only Hindus should have the sole use of zero.

    In the same way Yoga is also of Hindu origin but the benefit of Yoga can be shared by any individual who practices Yoga

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Sundra

    Yoga in and out is Hindu, India and there is no doubts about it. The postures, Asanas, Mudras are from the land Barath. Yoga postures and practices have Mantras linked to them. Yoga was developed by MahaRishi Patanjali. Just because we did not stress it and wanted to share should not pave the ways for others to lay claims like the Martial arts and Medicine brought and taught to neighbouring India by Bhothi Dharma.

    So please…..

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ramesh Kurup

    Thank you for your breakdown of this issue. While there cannot be a doubt that yoga’s roots are Vedic, the yoga practiced in gyms across the country is as much Hindu as chocolate Easter bunnies celebrate Christ’s teachings. Its really disconcerting to have someone well versed in physiology dicuss the Gita during a lunch hour exercise class. While I will continue to go to yoga classes, I would never confuse that with going to temple.

  • Lansing Spiritual Center

    yoga practice should not be limited to religious, no matter Hindu or whatever.

    I like your ”
    yoga exists inside all of us, we simply need to quiet, pay attention, and remember”

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