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Monday, June 29, 2015

Yoga Conference at Vedanta Society

by S.

June 21 was declared as International Yoga Day by the United Nations General Assembly. On account of that declaration, events related to yoga were held all over the world. Vedanta Society also observed a 3-day Yoga Conference with workshops that was attended by about 60 people on each day.

A raging debate prevalent in every country: Is Yoga a Hindu technique? Arguments are presented in both ways:  Some non-Hindus say it is a Hindu technique and therefore, it should not be taught in public institutions, while some Hindus also say the same but only to glorify their own religion and many neutrals/agnostics/atheists claim that it is technique now completely divorced of Hinduism. The tenor of such a debate was presented non-confrontationally by the various speakers in the conference. The academicians/therapeutics presented the benefits of Yoga in one’s physical life while the “more religious” ones presented it from the perspective of Hinduism as a step towards Self/God-realization. 

 Usually, Yoga in the West (Hatha Yoga) is focused on physical well-being with very little focus on the mental well-being. In India, Yoga is usually seen as a spiritual technique, with Hatha Yoga seen as only a step towards meditation (Raja Yoga). In my opinion, a blend of both the approaches is needed for a wholesome life. While India needs to improve its focus on the physical component of Yoga to improve the general health of its populace, the West needs to understand that Yoga also plays an important role in improving the mental well-being of the people when its meditative part is included in its presentation. While it is easier in India to improve focus on the physical aspects of Yoga, it is more difficult to introduce the meditative component of Yoga in the West without bringing in any flavor of Hinduism so as not to raise the hackles of non-Hindus. Raja Yoga must be introduced to Hatha Yoga practitioners in the West as it is entirely scientific, in that it does not call for a faith in any super-natural being called God or for having allegiance to any particular religious practice or dogma or symbolism or iconography.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

On Yoga and International Yoga Day

By A Devotee of Vedanta

We may never again see an athlete dominate basketball for as long and as thoroughly as NBA Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul credits his stellar success to Yoga. When he started Yoga for fitness (1976) very few athletes knew about it. Today Yoga (with some adaptations) is an integral part of NBA training camps. And not just NBA or professional athletics. Yoga has now grown into a fitness favorite across urban population globally. In American cities yoga studios are mushrooming fast – BKS Yoga, Bikram Yoga, Hot Yoga, Dance Yoga, Chair Yoga… you name it.

The word “Yoga” emerging with all these fitness variations speaks volumes of its “commercial brand appeal.”  But is there something more to this popularity, beyond just the commercial aspect?

To trace the origin of Yoga, one has to travel thousands of years back in time to the recluses. This word literally means “to unite.” It is a technique to restrain the otherwise restless mind and body. Using this technique our faculties evolve. We begin to perceive the inherent harmony in all beings and experience universal unity.