Writing about yoga in The Discovery of India, Jawaharlal Nehru says that this “typical Indian method of preserving bodily fitness is rather remarkable when one compares it with the more usual methods involving rushing about, jerks, hops and jumps which leave one panting … But the old asana method is perhaps more typical of India and seems to fit in with the spirit of her philosophy. There is poise in it and an unruffled calm even while it exercises the body”. It is because the calmness enables even the elderly to practise yoga that this form of exercise has spread in the West ever since Swami Vivekananda created an awareness of it at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.
Since then, its popularity has increased so much that President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama set up a yoga garden for children and their parents attending the Easter egg roll festivities. The White House invited hundreds of workaday American parents and their children to learn yogic lessons. Interestingly, the call has come at a time when a law suit is pending, seeking to ban yoga because of its association with Hinduism. Considering that yoga is one of the six systems of Indian philosophy, there is a grain of truth in the claim. But as a White House declaration on a lifetime active lifestyle award says, “Yoga has become a universal language of spiritual exercise in the United States, crossing many lines of religion and culture”.
Arguably, it is doubtful if many Indians are aware of yoga’s place in the world of philosophy, seeing it only as an effective way to keep fit compared to jogging or spending time on a treadmill. It is this realisation which makes competitive executives and bored housewives in the US attend yoga classes in increasing numbers, as the Bureau of Statistics has noted.