Yoga passes the test of secularism in the West

Published: 06th July 2013 07:17 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th July 2013 07:21 AM   |  A+A-

As the world becomes more integrated, old-timers are only playing a losing game when they insist on keeping out certain aspects of life by labelling them as alien. It is a matter of satisfaction, therefore, that a California judge has described yoga as a “distinctly American cultural phenomenon” while dismissing the complaints of some parents who argued that teaching it to school children amounted to “an unconstitutional promotion of eastern religions”. The fact that yoga had originated in India had evidently persuaded the not-very-well-informed parents to deem it as an esoteric faith, presumably because the practice entails longish periods of contemplative silence and various formulaic bodily postures.

However, those with greater awareness of yogic movements would know that they are a form of exercise aimed at toning up the body and even relieving the mind of  tension. These were formulated by the sage, Patanjali, in 150 BC. As Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in The Discovery of India, 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”. It is the soothing effect which yoga has on the mind that explains its popularity in the consumerist West.

Hence, the popularity of yoga in America which now has 20.4 million practitioners compared to 15.8 million five years ago. From celebrities to corporate honchos, homemakers to the elderly, yoga is attracting a strong following with even the US military introducing it for the veterans, especially those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Studies have shown that yoga increases patience, attention span, competitive spirit and cognitive abilities of schoolchildren. It is after all these achievements of yoga that has enabled it to cross the seas.


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