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