Yoga is a way of life — not just about postures

RSS spokesman-turned-BJP leader Ram Madhav’s audacious outburst against Vice President Hamid Ansari is a good example of what all can go wrong if politicians try to usurp the ancient science of yoga.

Never mind that Ram Madhav ended up apologising for having publicly pulled up Ansari for not turning up at Rajpath on the occasion of the first International Day of Yoga. The fact that he even thought that Ansari ought to have done the yoga exercises is an insult to yogic principles.

Yoga is not about physical exercises, nor should it be construed as a shortcut to better health. Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasises this repeatedly but it is clear many of his own supporters are not grasping it.

The goal of yoga science is to primarily calm the mind. In his celebrated “Autobiography of a Yogi”, the iconic Paramhansa Yogananda wrote: “Yoga is a method for restraining the natural turbulence of thoughts which otherwise impartially prevent all men, of all lands, from glimpsing their true nature of Spirit.”

Yogananda, India’s first yoga guru to spend over three decades in the US (until he passed away in 1952), learnt the hard way what yoga was all about under the watchful eyes of his strict guru, Swami Sri Yukteshwar.

As a mosquito one day rudely attacked Yogananda’s thigh, the young monk automatically raised an avenging hand. And he suddenly remembered one of the basics of the yoga aphorisms — of ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence.

Yukteshwar surprised Yogananda by remarking: “Why don’t you finish the job?” The student was perplexed. “Master! Do you advocate taking life?” No, was the reply, but hadn’t the deathblow been already struck in the mind? The guru explained that yoga opposed even the desire to kill.

Such is the purity of the yoga system as outlined by Patanjali – the father figure of the ancient science. It covers 10 negative and positive moralities including avoiding injury to others, untruthfulness and stealing as well as maintaining self-discipline, purity of body and mind, and devotion to god. They also deal with ‘asanas’ or postures, ‘pranayama’ or breath control, concentration and meditation.

What we saw at Rajpath was a fraction of yoga science: the ‘asanas’.

Yoga should indeed be promoted but it must never be forced on the unwilling. Doing so will itself be a violation of yoga science. None of our yoga gurus thrust the gems they held on anyone.

When the followers of Lahiri Mahasaya, one of the greatest yoga masters India produced, sought his permission to expand the appeal of Kriya Yoga, he forbade it. “Let the fragrance of the Kriya flower be wafted naturally, without any display.” His disciplines included Muslims too but this was never a subject of debate. Lahiri Mahasaya passed away in Varanasi, now Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency.

Even the ‘asanas’ must be done under supervision — because some yogic exercises can cause health issues to some people.

Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss psychologist who was an ardent admirer of yoga, said: “Yoga practice is unthinkable, and would also be ineffectual, without the concepts on which yoga is based.” It is a point emphasized by US-based David Frawley, whom the Modi government honoured with Padma Bhushan for his writings on Vedic studies.

In his classic work on Tantric Yoga, Frawley explained that yoga was no joke. “Unless we have controlled our sexual energy, unless our diet is pure yet nutritive, unless we have faith, equanimity and devotion, we do not have the foundation to undertake strong yogic practices like pranayama, mantra and meditation.”

All this does not mean that yogic ‘asanas’ cannot be followed for good health. What it means is that yoga should not become a divisive issue, and it is best left to people to decide for themselves whether they want to embrace it or not.

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