While thinking and reading a good amount of articles about the Indian Prime Minister’s focus on Yoga and reactions of various politicians like Nitish Kumar over it, my mind was forced to excavate out of the subconscious some lines I had read in my favourite fairytale, ‘The Little Prince’, by French author Antoine De Saint Exupery.
Narendra Modi launches a campaign in India and around the world to promote Yoga and Ayurveda on International Yoga Day (June 21) and intellectuals as well as politicians come out to vehemently oppose it claiming that it’s a method of branding used by the Prime Minister for himself and that the Indian government wants to hide its shortcomings under the cozy blanket of an ancient spiritual and aesthetic discipline.
Media bursts out with criticism and some even label Yoga as a method to establish Hindutva – a political ideology that adheres to the customs and traditions of Hinduism. While all these high-pitched critics cannot be ignored in the practical world, I think they are the “grown-ups” mentioned in Exupery’s fairy tale. They are the ones who want to see a quantitative profit. They are the ones who fail to see the human element associated with Yoga and limit themselves to figures and social constructs like religion. Their inability to see that a spiritual discipline like Yoga can transform the entire world reveals how shortsighted they are. These pragmatic individuals are mostly indifferent to the power of the affective side of the human existence.
Yoga might not be something that could make a nation the world‘s finest military power or the leading global economy but it can certainly make its citizens better human beings.
It provides methods to unite the mind, breath and body, and create a bond with the innermost core of our being- the transcendent aspects of our lives. Yearnings, fear, desires and detestations grip the human mind, making it prone to misdeeds and hinder its efficiency. The cleansing of the form and the mind of the hoarded stress and negativity is what Yoga aims to achieve. Pranayamas relax the disconcerted mind.
The stability, elasticity and awareness that you attain on the yoga mat, reflects in your engagements and attitude off the yoga mat too. Learning to breathe through difficult postures can assist you to breathe through grim times. Stretching for the yoga poses to test your limit leads towards embracing an approach to give your best in any situation. This assertiveness helps in overpowering anxiety. Physical flexibility points towards mental flexibility. Similarly, being mentally flexible (‘I can do it’ mindset) leads to physical flexibility. Yoga provides an ample amount of mindfulness and allows for a greater mind control and control over thoughts. Thus, people who practice Yoga are always able to ward off negative thoughts and emotions more resourcefully than the ones who don’t. Keeping all these emotional benefits in mind, I want you to ponder over the question that whether our nation and its people need Yoga?
I think it is the need of the hour to make the youth of India more enthusiastic about Yoga so that they don’t kneel in front of the pressures and conflicts they come across. My optimistic self believes that popularising Yoga in the country and making it a trend for youths to follow, could greatly bring down the amount of suicides committed throughout the nation. Most criminal activities, like rapes and murders, are a result of disturbed and disoriented minds that are agitated enough to lose perspective and conscience. The stability and composure that Yoga offers could help curb some of these evils of society, making it much more pleasant and tolerant.
India has always been an exotic oriental destination. The West reduced India to a nation of yogis, hermits and snake-charmers. Even with the immense development of the country in terms of economy, infrastructure and education, most of the western population still sees it in the earlier light (Refer to Coldplay’s video of the song ‘Hymn for the Weekend’). Instead of ridiculing the West for this stereotyping, it is clever to embrace the image and use it for our advantage. United States has a thirty billion dollar Yoga industry but the mounting perception of yoga as a leisure activity catering to a high-end clientele does not help. Addressing a conference, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rebuked the misuse of the popularity of yoga for economic gains. The creative sanctity of yoga will be lost if we alter it into another tradable merchandise. However, if we promote India as a nation where yoga originated and where one can experience authentic yoga therapy and Ayurveda, then tourism industry would greatly benefit from it.
Even if Yoga isn’t commercialized like that in United States, it can still boost up the Indian economy through an upsurge in tourism.
While the physical postures associated with yoga continue to rise in the contemporary western culture, adequate knowledge of its spiritual and philosophical dimensions does not exist. Thus, it is here that India, with its remarkable history of yoga and spirituality, can outpace other nations.
One argument that is frequently surfaced in India whenever someone mentions yoga is that it is a Hindu practice. It is true that ‘yoga’ derives from a Sanskrit root ‘yug’, meaning to control and to contemplate and the origins of Yoga can be traced to pre-vedic period. It is also true that Yoga is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy and Hinduism planted the seeds of this spiritual exercise. Nevertheless, yoga cannot be categorized as belonging to one religion only. It is incredible to note that the very first translation of the Patanjali yoga sutra (the classical text of yoga composed of one ninety six verses) was in Arabic and none other than the notorious Mahmud of Ghazni commissioned it. The renowned scholar Al-Beruni translated it in Arabic and called it ‘Kitab Patanjali’ without robbing any credit from the original author. There is no greater ratification than this that yoga is truly compatible with every religion. The Sufi arm of Islam is considered to be influenced by Al-Beruni’s work.
To associate yoga with a particular religion is actually redundant as it isn’t a practice that would focus on which God you choose to worship to manifest its benefits. Physical and mental well-being is a universal concern and should not be taken lightly or influenced by flimsy constructs like religion. After all what is the point of beliefs if one doesn’t have a healthy mind or body. India is a nation that has faced communal disharmony a number of times as followers of many religions inhabit the land.
The only ground that can gain more prominence than religion in India is personal well-being as physiological needs and welfare form a part of the basic instinct of human nature. Efficient and non-biased revival and propagation of yoga within India can fill in communal gaps. Sadhguru Maharaj, one of the greatest (and probably not corrupt) guru in India, gave a statement regarding yoga that was insightful and also cracked me up: “If yoga is Hindu, then Gravity is Christian.”
Yoga is a great tool that can be used to bond people not only in terms of religion, but gender as well. It is a gender-neutral practice that doesn’t depend on anatomy to demonstrate its aids. It involves the same routine developed over years of intense practice, observation and contemplation, for all genders. There is equal opportunity, equal effort, and equal bliss to be achieved at the end. It does not distinguish regarding anything – class, age, community, gender or nationality. Anyone who indulges diligently in it, experiences its benefits.
Since yoga is a form of spiritual exercise, it encourages a connection with the natural world. If you know someone who practices yoga in his or her daily routine, you will notice that that person is much more conscious about the environment than others. He or she would have a deeper sensitivity towards the natural world and an intense appreciation of its beauty as well. This sensitivity on the other hand could help greatly as it gives birth to environment friendly behaviour and actions. Most people who practice yoga are also the ones who are profoundly concerned with the well-being of the nature and its elements. They are the ones who would be careful enough to ponder over their actions and label them as environment friendly or not before acting. This is very essential for a world that is in the grips of life-threatening pollution and where natural environment is contaminated each day. India as a nation needs greater awareness and love for the environment in its citizens and yoga can be one method to inculcate it.
After citing all the benefits of yoga I would like to clarify that this bias of opinion I showcase regarding yoga isn’t because of my political loyalties but because I myself am greatly influenced by this spiritual practice. I believe that our government has lots of issues that it needs to rectify (I don’t think I should mention the B word) and severely look into, like poverty and agriculture, but I would certainly not nullify its effort to promote yoga in the country and disregard it as an “event management exercise” (Congress’ claim) put up by the government. Even if it is a form of branding and concealment, I believe that if the people actually get motivated by these events it would benefit India and its residents. As the International Yoga Day comes to an end with various events organized world –wide to promote yoga, I strongly acknowledge the Prime Minister’s efforts to do the same in India regardless of heavy criticism concerning show-off and insensitivity towards various religions.