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History of Modern Yoga

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Ana Funes

on 7 September 2015

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Transcript of History of Modern Yoga

History of Modern Yoga: Two Debates

- Yoga - Christianity
If yoga is a religion then, is it right/allowed for Christians (Catholics, Protestants, etc.) to practice it?
Can there be a Christian yoga?
Is Yoga a Religion?

- Yoga – Schools: If Yoga is intrinsically religious, should it be practiced at (secular) schools? Can Yoga be taught without its “religious” elements? Is Yoga without its “religious elements” Yoga?
Aseem Shukla, “The Theft of Yoga”, New York Times, November 2010.

The severance of yoga from Hinduism disenfranchises millions of Hindu Americans from their spiritual heritage and a legacy in which they can take pride[…]
 Once yoga was no longer intertwined with its Hindu roots, it became up for grabs and easy to sell. These journals abundantly refer to yoga as "ancient Indian," "Eastern" or "Sanskritic," but seem to assiduously avoid the term "Hindu" out of fear, we can only assume, that ascribing honestly the origins of their passion would spell disaster for what has become a lucrative commercial enterprise […]
Yoga is Hinduism's gift to humanity to follow, practice and experience […]
Hindus must take back yoga and reclaim the intellectual property of their spiritual heritage--not sell out for the expediency of winning more clients for the yoga studio down the street.”

Yoga Practice: Ancient Wisdom or Modern Gymnastics?

Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. Nostra Aetate, October, 1965. Prolaimed by His Holiness Pope Paul VI
“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions [Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.]. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.
[…] The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men (2).”

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation. October 1989, J.C. Ratzinger
Just as “the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions,” neither should these ways be rejected out of hand simply because they are not Christian. On the contrary, one can take from them what is useful so long as the Christian conception of prayer, its logic and requirements are never obscured (16).”

Robert Hurteau, Director. Center for Religion and Spirituality, LMU
“Catholics are allowed to do Yoga as a way into probe the depths of the human journey and is not, for Catholics, a spiritual pathway.”

Sedlock v. Baird: A Case about Yoga

- May 2013. Encinitas Union School District accepts funding to develop a yoga program in the schools from Jois Foundation.

- A group of Christian parents sued the local school district for advancing a practice, i.e. Yoga, which is “inherently religious” which goes against First Amendment Law.

- Expert in Religious Studies (Indiana University) Dr. Candy Gunther Brown testified that Ashtanga yoga is inherently religious. According to her sworn declaration, “Ashtanga yoga, as endorsed by the EUSD yoga curriculum, in my expert opinion, promotes and advances religion, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Western metaphysics.”

- “If prayer and Bible reading do not belong in public schools, neither do religious yoga and meditation.”
 July 2013. San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer ruled in Sedlock v. Baird/Encinitas Union School District that the District's twice-a-week yoga program for students passes constitutional muster and is exercise, not religious indoctrination.
Timothy Baird testified the program was modified so that all cultural references were removed, Sanskrit words were omitted, and students could opt out of the yoga program and participate in other physical education activities in order to meet minimum physical education requirements. 

- April 2015. Final decision was made to keep yoga in American public schools.

- A Hindu opinion:

Subhas Tiwar, “Yoga Renamed is Still Hindu”, Hinduism Today Magazine, 2006.
"The simple, immutable fact is that yoga originated from the Vedic or Hindu culture. Its techniques were not adopted by Hinduism, but originated from it. These facts need to be unequivocally stated in light of some of the things being written to the contrary by yoga teachers. The effort to separate yoga from Hinduism must be challenged because it runs counter to the fundamental principles upon which yoga itself is premised[…]. Efforts to separate yoga from its spiritual center reveal ignorance of the goal of yoga.”

- A Babtist opinion:

Rev Tim Jones, the vicar of St James's, The Telegraph, August 2007: "Any alternative philosophies or beliefs are offering a sham - and at St James's church we want people to have the real thing.
"Yoga has its roots in Hinduism, and attempts to use exercises and relaxation techniques to put a person into a calm frame of mind - in touch with some kind of impersonal spiritual reality.
"The philosophy of yoga cannot be separated from the practice of it, and any teacher of yoga (even to toddlers) must subscribe to the philosophy.
"As Christians we believe that this philosophy is false and not something we wish to encourage. Yoga is encouraging people to think that there is a way to wholeness of body and mind through human techniques - whereas the only true way to wholeness is by faith in God through Jesus Christ."

Things to consider from the academic point of view (De Michelis):

- Christian influence on Yoga in India (19th Century)

- British colonization and the Bengali Literati.

- Rammohan Roy and progressive secularization in Hindu orthodoxy.

- Relations with the Unitarian Church and the social reform to purify Hinduism.

- Theosofy, Spiritualist movement, trascendentalist.
“Take Yoga Back” Campaign by the Hindu American Foundation founded by Aseem Shukla.

The Shukla – Chopra Debate (Washington Post, 2010):

Yoga predates Hinduism and is a universal eternal wisdom.

Yoga is Hinduism and derives from it. The Hindu heritage of Yoga should be acknowledged.

Things to consider from the academic point of view (Mark Singleton):

- Neither Shukla nor Chopra.

- Yoga is a modern phenomenon and this process of modernization happened in India.

- Yoga is a historical construct and has been considered as "trascendental" by the transnational imagination (Alter).

"Unless Yoga itself is recognized as a orical construct that has no meaning as a thing apart from the contingency of human experience, and unless everyone who claims to practice it is taken seriously... everyone other than the sage himself ends up looking a fool, and anything other than the 'standard canon' has to be read as pulp fiction."

Yoga in Modern India
, p.25.
Scholars vs. Practitioners
To consider:
(From: Mark Singleton, "Yoga in the Modern World. Contemporary Perspectives"
Can we dismiss practitioner's testimony merely on the grounds of divergence from tradition?

- How to understand the term 'modern'? Is it a historical term or does it refer to the complex of socioeconomic, religious, political, and psychological cicumstance often labeled 'modernity'?

- To what extent is modern yoga a participant in, and product of, the forces of modernity?

-How are we to situate the practices and belief frameworks of transnational yoga in 20th and 21st centuries in relation to the intellectual, religious, scientific, and cultural histories of post-Enlightenment, industrialized Europe, or 'modern' India?

- How has secularized individualism interacted with and altered the structural universe of Indian yogas?

-How are we to understand the current 'postmodern condition' of 'Western' society, with its dislocations of identity, distrust of 'grand narratives' in relation to the practices of yoga?
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