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Yoga: The ancient scientific discipline’s commercial, political evolution – ET HealthWorld

Mumbai: sum One Ancient scientific discipline Harmonizing body and mind. ‘Yoga’ in Sanskrit comes from ‘yuj’ which means ‘to join’ or ‘to connect’ or ‘to unite’. According to Yoga scriptures, practicing yoga leads to the union of individual consciousness with universal consciousness, thereby establishing a complete harmony between mind and body, man and nature.

The person who experiences this unity of existence is said to be in yoga and is called a yogi, one who has attained a state of freedom, called liberation, nirvana or moksha. The purpose of practicing yoga is self-realization, overcoming all obstacles and suffering.

An ancient scientific discipline that is constantly evolving

On this International Yoga Day In 2024, ETHealthworld spoke to some individuals who have been practising this ancient scientific discipline for many years and learnt about its impact on their lives. They also spoke about how the acceptance of yoga has evolved over the years.

Rachana Shethia, Founder, Bliss The Yoga Studio, said, “The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which signifies unity between the individual self (atman) and the universal consciousness (brahman).

Dr sanjay ranadeFormer Head of the Department of Communication and Journalism, Mumbai University, Dr. Visit And the process has been a rallying point on innumerable occasions in India’s civilisational past. He said, “In fact, there was a combination of world views called Samkhya and Yoga Darshan that challenged the prevailing world views of their time some 2000 or more years before the common era. From the Aranyakas, Upanishads and later philosophies to the later Puranas and the great epics, each has redefined Yoga as a philosophy and a process. In modern times, Swami VivekanandaSri Aurobindo, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Paramahansa Yogananda, and others continued Yoga’s inclusive philosophical tradition and history.”

Dr. Ranade further said that Patanjali provides a concise definition of yoga – Yoga is Chitta, Vritti Nirodha. All human beings can do yoga. It is about overcoming the tenacity of the human condition and existence.

Elaborating further, Shethia said that the history of yoga can be divided into Vedic, classical and modern eras, with the classical period being the Yoga Sutras of Sage Patanjali which described eight limbs of yoga, including ethical guidelines, physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama) and meditation techniques. Yoga has been used for centuries as a tool for mass movement through its ability to foster community, enhance physical and mental health and instill a sense of collective purpose.

“In ancient India, yoga was an integral part of spiritual and community life, taught in ashrams and temples where people gathered to learn and practice together,” Shethia said. “In modern history, figures such as Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi harnessed the unifying power of yoga. Vivekananda’s promotion of yoga and Vedanta in the late 19th century helped foster Indian nationalism and pride in cultural heritage. Gandhi adopted yoga and its related principles of nonviolence and self-discipline in his campaigns for Indian independence.”

Yoga as a mass movement tool

In contemporary times, international events such as International Yoga Day see millions of people participate in yoga sessions around the world, promoting global unity and well-being.

“Yoga was refined and developed by rishis (sages) who recorded their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads, a massive text containing more than 200 scriptures. Yoga is one of the six schools of philosophy in Hinduism,” Sethia said. Although it is not a religion, anyone can practice it.

“Over time, traditional yoga practices have been combined with modern fitness trends to create different brands of yoga that focus on specific aspects, such as strength, flexibility or mindfulness. Influential teachers have developed unique styles and methods, often trademarking these approaches, to cater to different preferences and fitness levels,” he said.

Sethia explained how some popular brands of yoga have evolved, such as Bikram Yoga, Ashtanga and Vinyasa, each emphasizing different sequences, tempos or philosophical underpinnings.

He said, “Ever since our Prime Minister Narendra Modi introduced a resolution at the United Nations General Assembly and proposed to celebrate International Yoga Day in 2015, there has been a significant increase in awareness and participation of yoga globally. Many countries now officially recognise the day and promote the health benefits and cultural significance of yoga.”

Sharing his views Dr. Ranade said, “Like all philosophical ideas yoga too has been commodified and commercialised. Euro-Americans are masters of this game. Yoga as a process is now being broken down into marketable/sellable components like exercise, disease prevention, healthy living etc. It has nothing to do with philosophy or world view.”

He further explained that International Yoga Day is an exercise to get over 170 countries in the United Nations to co-sponsor the resolution presented by India. It is a diplomatic brownie point in international affairs. A lot of diplomatic work had to be done to make it happen. It was a good exercise to test our capabilities on the international front. That is all. Yoga has always been practised, is being practised and will be practised by human beings, some knowingly, some unintentionally.

There are chances that yoga has been practiced by humans even before crops, livestock and civilisations existed. Over the centuries there have been many evolutions, with different brands of yoga practiced and preached as well as how it is accepted and perceived. The basic philosophy remains the same ‘union of mind and body; man and nature’.

Though commercialization and politicization may detract from its philosophical underpinnings, yoga still remains a symbol of India’s rich cultural heritage and its global influence. As this changes, yoga will not only promote personal well-being but will also be politicized for cultural diplomacy as well as political strategy, making it imperative for both personal and societal aspects.

  • Published on June 21, 2024 at 06:26 PM IST

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