The Bad Karma of Take Back Yoga

Is it Bad Karma to take back something you freely gave to the world?  The “Take Back Yoga” movement wants their Yoga back.

A group of Indian-Americans has ignited a surprisingly fierce debate in the gentle world of yoga by mounting a campaign to acquaint Westerners with the faith that it says underlies every single yoga style followed in gyms, ashrams and spas: Hinduism.

The campaign, labeled “Take Back Yoga,” does not ask yoga devotees to become Hindu, or instructors to teach more about Hinduism. The small but increasingly influential group behind it, the Hindu American Foundation, suggests only that people become more aware of yoga’s debt to the faith’s ancient traditions.

I find the want to own the “debt” of Yoga — and its embedded history — is a fool’s ploy to gain attention for a few, narcissistic, individuals who are bored with life.

Yoga, in its essence, is only about about capturing and releasing the energy of the world back into the world with greater clarity and density — and if we have to pay back a psychic tax to Hinduism every time we raise our arms or fold our legs or raise our faces to the sun — the very notion of Yoga is discredited and made decrepit.

Here’s how the whole “Take Back Yoga” debacle started:

Shortly after being told by Yoga Journal that “Hinduism carries too much baggage,” the Foundation formulated its stance on this important issue with the release of its paper Yoga Beyond Asana: Hindu Thought in Practice, quoting extensively from both the legendary yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar as well as his son, Prashant Iyenagar.  The stance paper highlights not only the delinking of yoga from its Hindu roots, but also the erroneous idea that yoga is primarily a physical practice based on asana.  Yoga covers a wide array of practices, embodied in eight “limbs,” which range from ethical and moral guidelines to meditation on the Ultimate Reality.  Asana is merely one “limb” which as become the crux of Western yoga practice.

Are you buying into that argument or not?

Must we first acknowledge the roots of Yoga in Hinduism if we hope to properly practice Yoga in our current, mainstream, modern-day lives?

When does a binding history begin to foster, and then spread, Bad Karma into the world from healthy, strong bodies that prefer the freedom of the mind instead of being tethered to a required, religious, ritualism?

16 comments

  • Interesting, David. I actually was unaware of the link between Hinduism and Yoga and perhaps they just want people to be aware, perhaps not with every move, but perhaps to just have a general knowledge that the exercise they are doing did not come from a void but has a history.

    I am reminded of the New York University Theater, which has not always looked like the new ugly building it does now but once was a beautiful historic space — perhaps the people asking people to learn about the tie is similar to putting photos in the new theater with information about the history of the theater?

    • Gordon –

      I would agree with your argument connected to the Provincetown Playhouse and NYU’s failed restoration, except for the fact that the movement is called “Take Back Yoga” — which negatively implies that Yoga does not unreservedly belong to you as a gift. The whole idea is argued upon the false idea that Yoga is somehow exclusive and provincial.

      A much better PR trick would’ve been to call the movement, “Sharing Yoga Even More…” with a “by the way” tossed in at the end that would remind everyone of the link back to Hinduism.

      Oh, and NYU would’ve done the American Theatre movement a much bigger good deed if they’d turned back the dials of time and restored the Provincetown Playhouse to its original being and then made it into a museum that would preserve the essence of the space — with some carefully staged old and new plays performed in the theatre as if it were 1921 again, along with all the technical limitations of performing in such a time and space.

  • There must have been a lot of navel gazing going on for these people to dream this up. But, have they consulted with the Jainists and the Buddhists? Yoga is theirs also, maybe more. I can appreciate that they may want to share the origins of yoga with it’s devotees but which origins? Not just hinduism surely? Kabbalah is practised by people of all persuasions, would Jews want to ‘take it back’. Isn’t that the thing about knowledge? Once it’s out there you can’t take it back and you can’t dictate how people use it. Maybe they could use their energy to make a positive contribution to the world.

    • You make some excellent points, kathe.

      If you read the “Take Back” website, they’re trilling about their success in the press, which confirms this is more propaganda for self-exaltation than a genuine movement rooted in confirmed beliefs and verifiable genetic provenance.

  • Is there even any need to debate this ?
    Of course, Yoga is very much a part of Hinduism. Yoga is born of Hinduism. Who did you think Patanjali was ? Patanjali was an ancient HINDU sage, who compiled the science of Yoga in a systematic manner.

    Asking if Yoga has to do with Hinduism is like asking if I can receive a Baptism and Holy-Communion, but still avoid getting involved with Catholicism. Do you understand ?

    The physical Yoga-Asanas are but a first step in the Vedic Hindu tradition of disciplining the body, and thence, the mind, as a pre-cursor to the attainment of Enlightenment by the Yoga-practitioner.

    So, all practitioners of Yoga are getting initiated into Hinduism, like it or not. If your Evangelical Church has a problem with your getting involved with the Heathen religion of Hinduism, drop out of the Yoga class.

    Also, Yoga requires its practitioners to be VEGETARIAN. So, if you are practising Yoga-asanas, but are still eating animal-flesh, you are already in violation of the Yogic principles. Does that make you a bad person ? Well, it definitely makes you an incomplete Yogi or Yogini.

    You Americans can call it Power-Yoga, and any other kind of name, but bear in mind, that you owe it all to Hinduism.

    Also know this that before Christianity swept over Europe, ancient Europe was actually Hindu. Alexander the Greek invaded India, but ended up becoming conquered by Hinduism and Buddhism. Alexander’s Greek Generals took back with them to Europe Hinduism and Buddhism.

    It’s amazing that Americans are ever so willing to attribute pretty much any ancient knowledge to the Chinese. Thus, Americans will gladly announce that they are practising Kung-fu, an ancient Chinese art. But even this is factually incorrect. For even Kung-fu was invented by an ancient Indian monk, who traveled to China, and taught Kung-fu to the peasants of China. The Chinese word “Chen”, and the Japanese equivalent “Zen” are both derived from the Sanskrit word “Dhyan”, which means a combination of concentration and meditation.

    Gautama Buddha was born a Hindu prince, who went on to establish Buddhism.

    From India, Buddhism traveled East to China.

    I am perfectly happy to be thanking those great Americans, the Wright Brothers Orville and Wilbur, every time that I step onto an aircraft to take a flight. So, why can’t Americans similarly be gracious enough to give credit where credit is due, and thank Hinduism every time that they step onto their Yoga-mats ?

    • Chris –

      You really pay homage to the Wright Brothers every time you step onto an aircraft? In what way do you pay homage, and for what reason? Because they were the first to fly? Or because they were allegedly the first to invent the airplane?

      I think you picked a poor example in the Wright Brothers, because many believe the real father of modern flight was Leonardo Da Vinci, not the Wright Brothers. Others think a Brazilian invented the airplane. Others still, believe a Frenchman was the inventor.

      Do you thank Ben Franklin for discovering electricity — or Thomas Edison for inventing the lightbulb — ever time you flip a light switch to illuminate a room?

      Do you thank Margaret Sanger every time you practice birth control?

      Have you thanked me for participating in this blog since I invented the world “Memeingful” and gave it scope and definition?

  • Wow! Myths and misconceptions abound!

  • David W. Boles,

    Thanks for inventing the word “Memeingful”.
    I hope that you are receiving your due royalties for this grand invention of yours.

    Regarding my thanking the Wright brothers for every flight I take, I am not wrong. My Ph.D. happens to be in Aerospace Engineering, so we’ll take my word on this subject.

    So tell me, my friend,

    Are you a VEGETARIAN ?

    Because it makes no sense to practice Yoga asanas, while still consuming animal-flesh.

    Why are Americans willing to say, ” The ancient CHINESE martial-art Kung-fu”, but are shy to say, ” The ancient HINDU science of Yoga” ?

    And why is the White Man married to Christianity ? After all, Christianity, just like Judaism and Islum, is a SEMITIC Religion, that originated in the Middle East ? So, why does the White Man, who has his roots in Europe, identify himself with a Religion that originated in the Middle East ? I’m just saying that Christianity and Hinduism are both equally foreign to the White Man.

    • Chris –

      I am Vegan, not Vegetarian and, yes, I practice Ashtanga Yoga without giving thanks to Hinduism.

      I also choose to support Deepak Chopra’s argument on the “Take Back Yoga” issue, and not yours:

      The text usually cited as the definitive source for Yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, but the familiar poses that are part of Hatha Yoga are generally traced to Shiva cults, the god Shiva being its founder. The problem that is being swept aside is that exact dates cannot be assigned to any of these texts. Nevertheless, what is certain is that ancient Vedic culture, which lays claim to being the first written spiritual tradition in the world, is much older than the loosely formed religion, Hinduism, that sprang from it. The spiritual practice of Yoga was part of Vedic culture long before Hinduism. In the interests of generosity, maybe we should refer to a famous Sanskrit aphorism, Vasudev Kutumbukam: “the world is my family.” Yoga is India’s gift to the world, and it would be a shame to bring back the phrase Indian giver, now banished from polite conversation, with a new meaning.

      • Vegan ? Props to you, David Boles !

        Ah, that Deepak Chopra !
        In India, we laugh our heads off at that pompous fool.

        Meanwhile, Vedic culture = Hinduism.
        and Hinduism = Vedic culture.

        So, if Deepak Chopra says that Yoga originated from Vedic Culture, then he has, in effect said that Hinduism gave birth to Yoga.

        Meanwhile, to quote a Jay Leno monologue joke : What would happen if Oprah were to marry Deepak Chopra ? She would become Oprah Chopra (sounds funnier on TV at 11.00 pm).

  • Chris,
    I am aware that your comment is directed at David W Boles but my interest in this subject is piqued so I though I would throw in my two cents worth.

    I think most ‘inventions’ owe their fruition in some large part to those who have laid the groundwork. I’m thinking especially of Sir George Cayley. He is celebrated by the Royal Society as being the ‘Father of Aeronautics’. He invented, constructed and built gliders, the first taking flight in 1804, just before the Battle of Trafalgar. He also understood and carried out measurement of wing lift. He was actively involved in the steam engine work of his day, he invented the heated air engine and succeeded in building a small gunpowder motor. What a guy!
    I would love to be cowed by your qualifications but alas in this day and age a PhD does not wield the cachet it did formerly

    I am not a vegetarian and I practise yoga. 70% of the 827,578,868 Hindus ( the 2010 census) in India, are not vegetarian. So either being carnivorous and practicing yoga are not incompatable concepts for them or they don’t practice yoga.
    Christianity was the state religion of Albania in 301 C.E. and quickly spread thoughout Europe and the world. That’s a while ago. It ceased to be foreign regardless of it being a semitic religion. I guess it was modified to suit local conditions in some places which is why there are some many Orthodoxies. Hinduism followed much later, C15, and by then Christianity was well entrenched. My point being that Christianity and Hinduism are NOT equally foreign to the ‘White Man’. Or the ‘White Woman’.
    You seem to be angry, Chris. Which makes me doubt the benefits of yoga to psychological health.
    Be well.

  • Kathe I am not so much angry as bemused – my normal reaction when confronted with stubborn-ignorance masquerading as scholarly-research.

    “Hinduism followed much later, C15, and by then Christianity was well entrenched.”

    Hinduism itself is more than 5000-years old. The ancient cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa (located in present-day Pakistan) bear irrefutable testimony (carbon-dating) to the antiquity of Hinduism, as do the ancient Hindu temples that may be found all over South India (e.g. Madurai, etc.).

    Alexander invaded India a few thousand years before Christ. It was during this period that Alexander was himself conquered by the wisdom of Hinduism and Buddhism, and his Greek Generals (Alexander died on the journey back from India to Greece) carried this Eastern wisdom back to Greece and to the rest of Europe.

    So, if Christianity became the state religion of Albania in 301 CE (your facts), we are then forced to conclude that Christianity found Europe, MUCH, much later than Hinduism did.

    Meanwhile, getting back to the original topic : The Hindu-nature of Yoga.

    It is indeed Hinduism that has given birth to Yoga. Yoga and Hinduism are inseparable.

    Yoga is a part of Hinduism, much like a Baptism is part of Catholicism. Yoga practitioners the world over would do well not to lose sight of the source of Yoga, even as these yoga-practitioners continue to derive immeasurable health-benefits from even the most superficial sampling of this great gem among Hinduism’s countless treasures.

    Ask any American practitioner of the Martial Arts, and he will respond thusly :
    Kung-fu ? —> Chinese
    Tae-kwan-do ? —> Korean
    Ju-jitsu ? —-> Japanese
    Aikido ? —> Japanese
    Karate ? —> Japanese

    Why then is it so hard for Americans to respond joyously, gracefully, and gratefully :
    Yoga ? —-> Hinduism and India.

    In India, a good 60 % of the total population of 1.1 Billion is still vegetarian, largely due to the fact that gentle Hindus make up 80 % of India’s total population. Unfortunately, India has a good number of Moslems and Christians among its population, who continue to consume animal-flesh.

    As for your carnivorous diet, you are, of course, deviating from the Yogic path, and doing irreparable damage to your Karma. A True Yogi or Yogini does NOT eat animal-flesh.
    Of course, if your Yoga studio is located in Hippytown, USA, then you can bend the rules as you see fit. So, you can go straight from your Yoga Studio to the nearby McDonald’s, and stuff your face full of dead-cow-flesh. Your choice.

    • Chris, there is no stubborn-ignorance, what we have here is a difference of opinion. Your ‘facts’ are incorrect. I cited from the 2010 census of India. If you want to believe that to be incorrect please do so. I am Australian so don’t live in hippytown, USA, which is rather a perjorative way of describing a way of life different to your own. I practise yoga to be fit, my spiritual needs are met by Judaism. As such, as you would no doubt appreciate, I do not frequent McDonalds or any non-kosher establishment. I guess it would be hard for anyone, American or otherwise to “respond joyously, gracefully, and gratefully” to your particular brand of hinduism or yoga as you present yourself as a bombastic, intolerant, chauvinistic nebish. You seriously need to find some spiritual enlightenment. Good luck with that.

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