Denigration of Yoga

Yoga is a “big deal”.

Let us get this straight. Yoga in it’s modern form is nothing like it’s origins. Which is fine, boxing is not like it’s origins either and fencing hasn’t resulted in deaths recently.

Yoga is in effect a series of stretching exercises, resistance training and callisthenics that build up the flexibility of the body. It’s not magic, it’s basic common sense. It is however a Hindu tradition and steeped in “Ideas” that are based on Hindu tradition such as meditation and the idea of exercise to bring calm and peace.

In a nutshell when we go to the gym rather than pounding rhythm, Yoga is about building your body through holding awkward poses that strengthen the muscle. In effect your body is your resistance and weights.

Now that’s a sensible scientifically sound idea about Yoga. It does not however bring you closer to any gods nor does it allow you to smack Col. Guile across the map or teleport or spit fire. That’s the woo aspect of it. Neither does it require any faith in gods any more than Tai Chi or Karate do. And yes there are Yoga schools for “fighting”. They bring you inner peace by solving your problems by killing your enemies. The “woo” in Yoga is the inordinate value placed on it for dealing with things but that’s relatively benign.

But Yoga is often at the forefront of Christian arguments that it is being used to push Hinduism in schools. Bear in mind, in Hinduism missionary conversion is considered anathema. You can be a Hindu if you like, but to try and have a god fight to see who’s gods are the awesomest (trust me it’s Hindu) is considered bad. There is no right way to Nirvana. There are many ways to enlightenment and to live a good life. So to say one is better than the other is considered arrogance. To each their own path.

Your gods will never be as rad as this

Judge John Meyer acknowledged that yoga “at its roots is religious” but added that the modern practice of yoga, despite its origins in Hindu philosophy, is deeply engrained in secular U.S. society and “is a distinctly American cultural phenomenon.”

This is in response to a Christian group trying to get school Yoga classes banned.

Now I understand that Yoga is like Karate or any other eastern martial art and has been divorced from it’s cultural roots. And I am in two minds about that. On the one hand it makes it secular, on the other hand it’s kind of denigrating a culture that most people know nothing about..

“If yoga is a religion and has religious aspects, it doesn’t belong in the public schools,” said Dean Broyles, who represents Stephen and Jennifer Sedlock, whose two children opted out of yoga for physical education. “There is a consistent anti-Christian bias in these cases and a pro-Eastern or strange religion bias.”

Anything that helps fight the modern obesity epidemic is good. Yoga is one of those things.

Yoga is not a religion. You can do yoga as an atheist. Meditation and calming yourself doesn’t require belief in the Atman or Eshwara or Krishna.

And it’s nice to see respect for other religions here. I am afraid the Sedlocks and Broyles come off not as champions of secularism but “religious bigots”.

The plaintiffs objected to eight-limbed tree posters with Sanskrit characters that they said were derived from Hindu beliefs, as well as to the use of the Namaste greeting in class and several yoga poses said to represent worship of Hindu deities.

Namaste is not a Hindu greeting any more and is universally used in the sub-continent in a variety of forms. It is a more formal version of “Hello”. It’s like bowing before a Karate match and referring to your teacher as Sensei.

And some of the poses in yoga are “religious” such as the Surya Namaskar but the positions don’t matter so much as the prayer in your head. You can still do the positions without a religious aspect.

But by the start of the 2012-2013 school year, the Sanskrit and Namaste had been eliminated from the program, and poses had been renamed with “kid-friendly” descriptions, poses now called gorilla, turtle, peacock, big toe, telephone and other terms, according to testimony. The lotus pose, for example, is called criss cross apple sauce in Encinitas schools.

Yeah this is kind of unacceptable.

If we took the rain dance of Native Americans and removed all of the cultural ideology behind it, it would be an insult to it.

This is like me celebrating Easter as Zombie and Chocolate day. The Lotus pose is “JUST” a pose. It’s a position that resembles the shape of a flower… It’s in no way religious and it’s how many people in Asia sit down.

Renaming the positions may make it more palatable for a western audience, but it does a great injustice to the actual history of the art. My Karate lessons were taught by a Kuwaiti man shouting Japanese instructions. To change that would be to dishonour the art. Yet why are we so happy to do the same to Yoga?

However, the plaintiffs’ expert, professor of religious studies Candy Gunther Brown, testified that yoga practice indoctrinates Hindu religious practices whether the individual knows it or not.

Brown cited research suggesting yoga practice changes the user’s brain and thoughts, a sort of gateway drug to the occult, Meyer said.

Then we must ban Christmas from schools. After all, celebrating Christmas holidays indoctrinates Christian Religious Practice whether the individual knows it or not?

Want proof? I used to believe in Santa Claus.

Wait what? Yoga changes the user’s brain? And this is a professor of religious studies? I smell bullshit.

And to class the world’s oldest religion as “occult” is to denigrate the faith of a billion people. Which is a right laugh coming from an umbrella faith that includes people who believe in handling snakes and making random noises.

Remember your “faith” may seem bullshit to everyone else.

I don’t mind removing the “religious” aspect of Hinduism from Yoga. I do mind removing the INDIAN aspect from Yoga. If we are willing to give martial arts the level of respect they deserve without gigantic rants about the inculcation of our children in Shinto, then we can have Yoga without the gigantic rants about the creeping missionary work of Hinduism. To claim otherwise is a complete misunderstanding of an entire MAJOR faith which is unbecoming of a professor of religious studies. It’s dishonest, self serving and ultimately stupid.

I think Candy is jealous. Carpenter on Cross is hardly fun when compared to a dark child defeating a snake in a dance fight.


  1. says

    Actually I’ve read elsewhere that there are changes to your brain from yoga and meditation which show up on brain scans (the sort that shows which regions are metabolising glucose, I think). Which figures – the improved concentration and slower anger response presumably reflect underlying changes. I’ve also read that fundamentalist christianity changes the brain too. Tell a fundamentalist that he’s listening to a famous faith healer, and the frontal cortex – including the bullshit detection circuits- switches off.

    I’ve been doing yoga for about 5 years. I’m no thinner, but I’m more flexible and I’ve got more energy and patience.

  2. says

    Sheila – A lot of the yoga I learnt as a kid involved laps and star jumps… I figure it’s Callisthenics with spirituality thrown in. Ditch the spirituality and you have a pretty solid work out.

    Just I don’t see the point of actually changing the historical and cultural names of things to do it.

  3. Guess Who? says

    I am a USAian who took up yoga about 10 years ago, after knee surgery. I started with a very gentle class and have worked my way through various classes and various teachers (in my area, yoga teachers are an itinerant lot). I found yoga useful for building strength and flexibility without encouraging more injury. In the decade I’ve been practicing, I’ve never yet encountered a religious bent to it. However, where I live (in the south) there are places that advertise themselves as “Christian” martial arts–“Christian” karate, “Christian” tae kwon do. It’s very tiresome.

  4. M can help you with that. says

    I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with practicing yoga, specifically for some of the cultural-appropriation reasons you touch on. For the most part, I get the impression that the “stretches and poses” sorts of yoga are effectively a secular practice with names and descriptions that made sense in the cultural and religious context of the people who came up with it…and I’m OK with that. (Blame my comparative literature background; I sometimes get the feeling that strange-to-me descriptions, etc. make perfect sense in a poetic or aesthetic context I’m not familiar with, so I can just go with it until I figure things out.) I worry, though, that I’m not quite right about this and am doing some appropriation-by-whitewashing of my own. (I haven’t stopped yoga classes entirely…with a good teacher it’s still a damn good workout that my body responds well to. I just try to work with teachers who aren’t too woo-soaked, too blatantly appropriative, too whitewashy, or all three.)

  5. otranreg says

    But by the start of the 2012-2013 school year, the Sanskrit and Namaste had been eliminated from the program, and poses had been renamed with “kid-friendly” descriptions, poses now called gorilla, turtle, peacock, big toe, telephone and other terms, according to testimony. The lotus pose, for example, is called criss cross apple sauce in Encinitas schools.

    Pft, good-old xenophobia is what it is.

  6. Anthony K says

    Is there anything, anywhere at all, that does not change the user’s brain?

    I think the idea is that Christianity does not change the user’s brain, but rather keeps it frozen in a childish state of naiveté and incomprehension.

  7. says

    Day by day ‘Yoga’, the ancient discipline is getting popularity around the world and it has been transformed in many types of techniques. Personally I think the ancient process is more systematic and effective than the modern altered techniques.

    Nayeema Akter
    Anamaya Yoga

  8. Pen says

    This is like me celebrating Easter as Zombie and Chocolate day.

    Hmmm?… But if I do it’s OK? Because I’m descended from people who practiced Easter in some form for about 1400 years? So I ‘own’ a share in it and can decide how to evolve it? For how long do you have to eat rabbit shaped chocolates before you get to decide you want zombies instead? How long after Christianity reached my ancestors before they ‘owned’ it as opposed to misappropriating a Mediterranean religion and making lots of mistakes with it? How long before America ‘owns’ their own secular version of yoga? I don’t know the answers to these questions – cultural property is an awkward territory isn’t it?

  9. says

    How do you feel about straight translations? Tree pose and downward facing dog and salute to the sun rather than (umm iirc) vrikshasana & ??? & Surya Namaskar. Mostly my yoga teachers have used a bit of both but the translations more commonly. Though shavasana (sp?) is rarely translated :)

    (BTW I did try to google for spelling, but there’s too much variation out there on the innernetz.)

  10. smrnda says

    I did a few yoga classes where the original and translated names for poses were used. I felt that was good since there was some connection to the tradition but easier terms available for people who might have had difficultly. Language is an aspect of culture, and the original terms can provide a connection.

    Speaking of athletics from non-Christian origins, let’s think about the original OLYMPICS, which were named after a mountain where Zeus and co. were supposed to hang out. Must Christians avoid the Olympics?

    Worst is that for some Christians, the answer is yes. There are American Christians who oppose anything with any hint of any other culture, and they aren’t fun people to be around.

  11. Kilian Hekhuis says

    “I do mind removing the INDIAN aspect from Yoga.”

    Yoga, as practiced in the West, is a form of work-out. As such, who cares where it came from culturaly, or what names to give the poses? Remove any aspect of anything as you feel like, there is no sacredness in culture. There’s no copyright in culture.

    “If we took the rain dance of Native Americans and removed all of the cultural ideology behind it, it would be an insult to it.”

    No, it wouldn’t, unless it was being used to mock. If it were used as a work-out, there’s no insult. Again, culture is not sacred. The fact that over a process of hundreds, or even thousands, of years some people came up with, and refined, some cultural phenomenon, doesn’t mean that some other people can’t use the underlying techniques for something else. Sure, credit given where credit’s due, but I don’t see why a culture should be given credit – it’s not like the people born into that culture are somehow responsible for the culture’s inventions.

  12. Corvus illustris says

    The lotus pose, for example, is called criss cross apple sauce in Encinitas schools

    This “criss cross” business is obviously “Christ’s cross” and they is trying to brainwash our Encinitas children into some heresy and I want it stopped immediately! also what is this foreign “kindergarten”? Don’t they know no words in English? Come to think of it, “Encinitas” sounds pretty foreign to me. Isn’t that some Aztec idol or other? \endBush

    FWIW, Candy Gunther Brown is an assoc prof at Indiana U (I expected an Institute of Bible-Thumpery). The usual three degrees are from Harvard. Apparently none of this inoculates her against spouting nonsense in court.

  13. francesc says

    Some christians -I know about catholics in particular- really do believe in magic. Exorcists. Hand-waving in a particular way when you enter a church. Baptizing by proxy (mormons). Saying precise words to pray, as an incantation. One of the 10 commandaments forbids saying out loud the name of Voldem… God. PZ and the cracker…
    It’s no wonder that they believe that saying words in another language or doing some poses, even if you don’t want to, are like praying a “false” god. Well, not really false, sometimes I think that they act as if there were rival gods.
    On the contrary asking a particular saint for good weather while harvesting is really different from asking the god of rain, tough.
    Really, sometimes I think they may forbid taking photos of them because you are stealing their souls.

  14. Jenora Feuer says

    And the moment I saw the ‘Your gods will never be as rad as this’ I had a flashback to Peter Milligan’s ‘Rogan Gosh’ comic book story. It was… surreal. (Then again, Peter Milligan did a lot of surreal stuff.)

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