An NPR contributor did a piece about the fact that Indians don’t do yoga. This is a question I’ve pondered. The contributor, I believe, goes to a Rusty Wells class. The remarkable confluence of Rusty Wells (the man whose studio inspired this blog) and the question of why Indians don’t do yoga (one of my first posts) means I must be onto something. Or at least I am compelled to write about it.
In any case it the reporter’s friend makes a good point:
“The vast majority of yoga teachers have studied more Hinduism than I have or my parents have,” says Chandra. “I am learning more about the meanings of the shlokas and the intention of Hinduism than I ever knew as a kid growing up, being taught from my community.”
The piece mentions an attempt by some Indian Americans to take yoga back. The NYT wrote about the effort not so long ago, saying that “Take Back Yoga” campaign does “not ask yoga devotees to become Hindu, or instructors to teach more about Hinduism. The group behind it, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), suggests only that people become more aware of yoga’s debt to the faith’s ancient traditions.”
The HAF’s efforts suggest that Indians don’t do yoga due to my theory #2 (yoga as it is taught in the West is one sided (asansas) , nowhere resembling the more spiritual discipline that Indians recognize). The HAF says something similar on their website, pointing out the “erroneous idea that yoga is primarily a physical practice based on asana” saying that “yoga covers a wide array of practices, embodied in eight limbs, which range from ethical and moral guidelines to meditation on the Ultimate Reality.” But, it doesn’t seem as if these people want to change the teachings. It’s more of an awareness campaign. So why bother to take it back? Hindus aren’t prominent teachers of yoga in the U.S. Plus, Americans don’t want to become Hindu, they want their necks and backs to stop hurting so damn much.
Anyway, I think the HAF is not entirely right. Some teachers do touch on the very basics of Hindu philosophy–letting go of the fruits of one’s actions, focusing on intention–alongside the asana. The teachers call it yogic philosophy rather than Hinduism. The HAF should be ok with and even want Westerners to be taught and benefit from Hindu beliefs even if it’s by stealth. This strikes me as a very Hindu philosophy, e.g. the intention is what matters, and labels are unnecessary.
These two articles make the same point that Indians know yoga to be broader than just the physical practice–and ignorance of this by most (Western) yoga students may be one reason Indians stay away from Western style yoga classes. Plus Indians are so not into working out.