Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Yoga and Religion

This definitely is deserving of a discussion: is yoga a religion, and does it violate the first amendment in practice, in public schools? By suing the Encinitas School district, does the National Center for Law and Policy bring an important debate up for discussion, or does it make itself look ridiculous?
Then, there are Hindus themselves, some who want to keep yoga for Indians and Hindus only, who take offense at strip malls signs advertising Yoga, who launched a "Take Back Yoga" campaign, who also stir the pot. What's a person to do/think?

This debate comes up periodically, so lets talk this through.
Yes, many people who live in India are familiar with yoga, and many of whom are Hindu, practice yoga. And yes, it originate on the Indian subcontinent. Do all Hindus practice yoga? Hardly. Do Hindus forbid any non-Hindus from practicing yoga? No. Did yoga originate in India? Yes. Is there a Book of Yoga that outlines practices? Yes. Do practitioners in the US use this? Hardly.

Yoga is more than physical asanas, as we know this in India, and it is also simultaneously less than asanas, as we know it in the US. Yoga is the science of controlling your breathing, of gaining focus, and being physically comfortable, and yes, even healthy. It can alleviate panic attacks, attain calmness, which can make students do better at exams, etc. Is it any wonder that teachers want to use it in their classrooms?

Does a teacher, who believes in Yoga Ed, who uses this practice in her classroom to teach exercise, focus and concentration (that she likely learned in a non-religious class), violate the first amendment? Hardly. Are public schools in the US indoctrinating young minds by teaching them yoga? No. So why do people treat it as such a forbidden topic, or is it an Us v. Them issue, time and time again, in the US?

And that is exactly what it is, at its heart: it is the fears of many coming to the surface, that change is here, and they do not want it. It is a case of learning to live with differences. A society coming to grips with multiculturalism. It is society coming to terms with globalization.

Did/do we have such passionate debates about why did Europeans went/ go on voyages to other land...? (Going abroad, whether five hundred years ago, or now, is an excellent way to learn/study.) But can we restrict the exchange of ideas to only one way...? Do we believe that we in the West can establish evangelical churches in countries we go to over there, but we will not pick up some of their ideas and practices and bring them back...? This cannot be. Travel is a two-way process, and helps alleviate such fears. Our debates, legal or on a blog, embody our collective human history coming to grips with our post-colonial, global reality. It is the theory of Functionalism in action.

What's next? Should Caucasian Americans be barred from eating basmati rice? Should every American using 'cotton' pay a trademark/patent fee to India...? Should Starbucks should be sued next for serving "chai"?

Such a discussion about differences (including this debate) is what is so beautiful about the 'American experiment', that we can be so secure in who we are, that we do not fear others. In fact, we should celebrate our diversity. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantiha.

For a humorous piece on this topic by Mark Morford in the San Francisco Chronicle, see
For a serious tone, from the legal perspective by a noted scholar, see

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