Blog Post

Why Practicing Yoga Will Make You a Better Hindu

No one can explain yoga better than a Hindu, and in a recent article by the co-founder and managing director of the Hindu American Foundation, Suhag A. Shukla, Esq. confirms what most American Christians just don't want to accept - that practicing yoga will make you a better Hindu.

In this article published on the ultra liberal Huffington Post, Shukla disputes the conclusions reached about yoga-related injuries in William Broad's new book. She says they are premised on common misunderstandings in the West about what yoga really is - and isn't. 

"Yoga is a combination of both physical and spiritual exercises, the key word being 'combination' with an emphasis on the spiritual," she writes.

"Yoga is the practice of preparing oneself to yoke, unite or experience the Divine within (i.e. the individual self with the Cosmic Self). Yoga is about attaining moksha, or liberation, from worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and rebirth. Yoga is a holistic and spiritual system of living that is essential to the understanding and practice of Hinduism. What yoga is not is asana alone."

She goes on to describe the eight limbs of yoga: yama (restraints), niyama (observances), asana (posture); pranayama (mastery of breath); pratyahara (withdrawal); dharana (concentration); dhyana (meditation); and samadhi (higher levels of meditation).

"Analyzing yoga as only exercise and then labeling it as hazardous to one's health is a false equation because yoga doesn't equal asana. And therein lies the crux of the problem of not only Broad's theses, but the secular and physical fixation in which the West -- and sometimes the East in mimicking the West -- has cloaked this ancient spiritual tradition," she writes.

"As a result, we are now bombarded with Naked Yoga, Hip Hop Yoga, Hot Yoga, Antigravity Yoga, Christian Yoga ... the list is long and just as ludicrous. The truth is that none of these are yoga simply because they incorporate some form of asana and say they are. What's the saying? 'You can put lipstick on a pig...'"

In order to educate the public about yoga, Shukla's organization launched the Take Back Yoga (TBY) Project three years ago with the initial aim of bringing about an acknowledgement of yoga's Hindu roots by highlighting how the West has delinked it from its spiritual moorings and tried to make it into just another exercise routine.

"Just as equating yoga with only asana is a half-truth (more like a 1/8th-truth), so too is ignoring the spiritual, metaphysical Truths upon which yoga rests. Ever been to a studio which displays an Aum (Om) on its walls or a class which begins with the chanting of it? Aum, according to the Vedas (Hinduism's most sacred texts), is the primordial sound that resonated at the creation of our Universe and continues to resonate in each of us and all of existence. Ever close a session with hands at your heart and the utterance of "Namaste -- the Divine/Light in me bows to the Divine/Light in you"? Namaste encompasses the essential teachings of Hinduism that God is both immanent and transcendent and we all are inherently Divine. How about a class focused on sun salutations or Surya namaskar? Prostration to the sun was central to ancient Hindu worship and continues to be relevant. . . "

She admits that TBY's quest to educate the public about the spiritual roots of yoga may cause people to steer clear of it because of its religious underpinnings, but that's okay.

"Ironically, while much of the yoga industry and mainstream media perpetuate the yoga is asana formula with an occasional nod to pranayama, the leadership of a number of the world's religions, such as the Vatican, warn their flock that yoga may lead one into exploring and experiencing Hindu belief and practice," she writes.

"I have to say, I concur. True yoga will not wreck your body or make you fat, but it may just open your heart, increase your capacity to see and be divine, and lead you towards a more pluralistic, Hindu view of life."