Is yoga being redefined?
Politics...we all know is about creating policies and laws that can both divide, create stability, labels to categorize and discriminate. Now if your political view differs to that of another person or group, it can create further dis accord and sometimes leads to excluding people and communities. When a governing body in power was not of your choosing, then disappointment and frustration takes place within the social fabric of our society. Simply put, when the outcome is not in your favor… then there is hurt, chaos, disappointment, judgments which leads to a cancel culture, calling out, shaming and bullying.
When we cling to actions stemming from our identity or attachments to opinions, beliefs and perspectives then we are in a state of conflict, encouraging ahmkara (ego) to rise and in this process, we move further away from the focused goal of creating change that is Dharmic for social and personal growth.
Performing one’s Dharma
The Bhagvad Gita is the dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjun who is a warrior on the battle field from The Mahabharta (a war between 2 families; the Pandavas and Kauravas). Many say that the Gita revolves around politics and therefore this makes yoga political! This is deeply flawed, as many fail to understand the nuanced relationship between the two. The grief and emotional turmoil that Arjuna faces on the battlefield is significant, his journey from despair to wisdom is so deep that it requires a deep and patient understanding of his position.
Take for example the verse below, before Arjuna can perform his duty as a warrior he goes through inner struggle on the physical, subtle and causal body. Lord Krishna shares the knowledge and wisdom of svadhyaya (self-inquiry) that would guide him from a state of utter turmoil to arrive into a balanced state on all levels or ‘yoga’ to perform his actions without any expectations or attachment to the outcome or results of his actions even when ahimsa is involved. To simply say that Yoga is political because of Arjuna's actions is not only careless but is a western perspective and disrespects a community and their culture.
Bhagvad Gita Chapter 2 verse 48
yoga-sthaḥ kuru karmāṇi saṅgaṁ tyaktvā dhanañjaya siddhy-asiddhyoḥ samo bhūtvā samatvaṁ yoga uchyate
Despite extreme circumstances like birth and death, pleasure and pain, respect and disrespect, or within the current atmosphere maintaining a balance state of mind is yoga.
Yoga’s philosophy is vast and deep and this is severely missing in how yoga is being viewed, practiced and taught in the West. To view the ‘philosophy of yoga’ from a western lens is not only harmful, but strips away the most important teachings; performing one’s dharmic actions even when violence is involved.
Context and Objectivity
Which brings me to ‘context and objectivity in practice, teaching and philosophy. You cannot cherry pick what suits your perspective/agenda and teach from that, as this goes against the core of yoga and leads to further whitewashing or brown washing yoga’s roots and traditions. An example of this; the first sentence below was popularized by Mahatma Gandhi and today teachers use it to speak about ahimsa without realizing that not only is it out of context but it is incomplete and incorrect.
Ahimsa Paramo Dharma
Dharma himsa tathaiva cha
Non-violence is the ultimate Dharma
So too is violence in service of Dharma
How simple it is for yoga teachers and activists to voice and claim that ‘yoga is political’…. ask those who are on the battlefield or at the forefront protecting your borders, the nurses and doctors who are striving to keep your loved ones alive, the teachers/educators educating your children or those that dedicate their lives in Seva of others despite theirs or your political views…. many will respond “because it is my duty, oath, commitment and dharma.”
I asked an uncle of mine (a retired Brigadier General) who has been in 4 wars if the practice of yoga was political?
His response; "Yoga is a tool that keeps my body healthy and mind sharp to enable me to fulfill my commitments as a person towards society. Bhagvad Gita on the other hand, is a treatise, a craft to enable me to perform my dharma and duties as an officer at war with complete clarity and focus."
The Yogic Lens
Yoga is huge in the West and while many are working on ‘decolonizing’, I use the term ‘bringing awareness’ as When or was yoga ever colonized? It is not possible to exclude the yogic philosophical lens as the teachings become disjointed, incomplete, taken out of context and will lack objectivity. Sadly many teachers that hold positions of privilege, influence and power are redefining yoga and in doing so are reinforcing that same colonized mindset.
So, on one hand teachers in the West want to honor yoga’s roots but on the flip side do not value voices or observe the teachings from the yogic lens. When history / philosophy is taken out of context or focuses only on the narratives that suit a modern lens or is used to promote personal agendas and activism then this leads to further misappropriation of the practice, exclusion and plenty of confusion!
What is missing within the western yoga community is an understanding of Sanatana Dharma and what it means to every Hindu. Each stage of life carries different responsibilities and the importance of the purusharthas has on every individual. Without this basic knowledge the teachings of yoga is lost in translation.
I write this not to change your view or opinion but to highlight the importance of many Hindu voices and teachings that are continuously being silenced or sidelined because it does not fit the current trend in yoga land. To redefine a practice to suit a colonized mindset is asteya in action.
Yoga is a discernment tool, an internal practice, a means of questioning our own inner critique, beliefs and judgments. It is a practice that guides us as we evolve. It is our inner compass that gives us direction, enabling us to perform our dharmic duty that empowers and uplifts our social structures while respecting humanity.
Panch Mukha Shiva
Artwork by: Kailash Raj