In a landmark judgment recently, an appeals court in California ruled that yoga is secular, “devoid of religious or mystical trappings”, and can be taught in schools without violating students’ religious freedom. The ruling was in response to a 2013 lawsuit filed in a trial court by worried Christian parents of Encinitas town, who claimed that Ashtanga yoga classes introduced in a local elementary school were promoting Hinduism among their children.
After a careful review of the extensive evidence presented in the trial court, the judges concluded that “the yoga programme is secular in purpose and does not have any primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and does not excessively entangle the school district in religion. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court properly determined that the district’s yoga programme does not violate our state constitution”.
The ancient Indian system of yoga is a holistic science whose function is to integrate personality at all levels of existence. It unifies and restores balance and harmony. Yoga is held as a way of life that has evolved over centuries. The main philosophical logic behind yoga is that through it our body and soul learn to coexist with nature. Now, yoga is even considered a cure for many ailments and a rehabilitation strategy for alcoholics. It has the potential to transcend all ideologies and philosophies with its ability to unite people. Yoga, coordinated and systematised by Patanjali in his yoga sutras, is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy. It is an eternal and practical science evolved over thousands of years aiming at the physical, mental, moral and spiritual well-being of man.
The word “yoga” derives from the Sanskrit root yug, meaning to control and to contemplate. It is a technique of attaining samadhi—a state of super consciousness. According to Patanjali, yoga is the cessation of all mental modifications or fluctuations. Developed and popularised by K Pattabhi Jois, Ashtanga yoga prescribes eight limbs or steps. They are yama or moral codes to be followed by everyone, niyama or self-purification, asanas or steady postures, pranayama involving inspiration, holding the breath and expiration, pratyhara or withdrawal of senses, dharana or concentration, dhyana or meditation and samadhi or union with the divine.
Anti-yoga activists fail to see the spiritual aspects of yoga. To many, the benefits of yoga are only at the body level. They fail to realise its potential benefits in uniting the body, mind and breath. Besides physical benefits like a strong and confident body, regular yoga provides us mental, psychological and neurological benefits. Yoga enhances our intuitive and creative capabilities.
The renewed global interest in yoga is mainly because of its health potential. It is time to understand the spiritual dimensions of yoga. Yogic spirituality is not just about healthy living. As Rev Joseph Pereira, a Mumbai-based Catholic priest and proponent of Iyengar Yoga, says, most people, however, have reduced yoga to acrobatics, but yoga is not just a work out, it is a work in.
Accepting a proposal by prime minister Narendra Modi, the UN General Assembly on December 11, 2014, adopted June 21 as International Day of Yoga. This is in recognition of the capability of yoga to provide a holistic approach to the health and well-being of the global population. Following the UN resolution, it is expected that this 6000-plus-year-old physical, mental and spiritual practice will be gaining support from the governments of various countries.
The day will be marked by practising yoga, meditation, debates, meetings, discussions and cultural performances. Programmes should be held to make people understand the positive changes in lifestyle that yoga can bring about and how it can improve their well-being.
The government and education planners in the country can seriously think of making yoga a compulsory subject in the curriculum. The subject area consisting of health education, physical education and yoga must be integrated. Students must understand how asana, pranayama and meditation affect the systems of the human body and mind. Since yoga emphasises practices of ethics, movement and meditation that have been applied in several religious traditions, there is more scope for developing a universally acceptable yoga curriculum for our schools and universities.