March 12, 2012

The Origins of Yoga, Debated. ~ Anurag Lohia

What about the millions who have taught with pure intentions?

William J. Broad recently published his second incendiary New York Times commentary on the state of the modern yoga world, this one titled “Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here.” He claims that Hatha yoga as practiced in the modern Western world can trace its origins back to medieval Tantra and, in fact, that “the discipline began as a sex cult.” He then proceeds to point out the nefarious and shady aspects of Tantric ritual, which, he believes, led to the shaky moral foundation which allows certain modern yoga masters to get away with sexual indiscretions.

As a longtime yoga student, native and resident of India, I beg to differ. My training and education has consistently reported that yoga began as a philosophical belief system aimed to unite the soul with a healthy body and mind. Hatha yoga—the yoga of physical postures, or asanas—was developed as one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga to prepare the body for long stretches of time spent in seated meditation.

Broad does not cite specific references for his point of view, so it’s challenging to understand where he is coming from. And although he paints a dramatic and intriguing picture of yoga’s nefarious past (and it’s questionable present), I feel as though he neglects to respect the thousands and millions who teach and practice yoga with pure intention.

Yoga, like an eternal river, flowing through the ages and across many bridges to reach different cultures with nuanced variations, is now in a worldwide state of popular saturation. The living tradition of handing down knowledge and training from master to disciple has allowed yoga to flourish and adapt over the years and centuries in order to get where it is now.

Yes, there have been yoga sex scandals here and there throughout the years. And yes, those who teach and practice yoga are not always ethically perfect creatures. Yes, this guru/student relationship leaves room for moral straying. This moral straying, incidentally, is not unique to yoga. It happens with all forms of person-to-person collaboration including in the field of education, in the music industry, and in religious cultures.

To say that the foundation of yoga is covertly sexual and misogynistic does a great disservice to a practice born from the very idea of spiritual purity. Broad seems intent on throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This is a shame. Yoga is a practice that can and has helped millions of people in ways physical, mental, emotional and spiritual throughout the centuries. To vilify the entire practice in the interest of creating controversy (which, of course, sells papers and books) does no justice to yoga’s beneficial powers.

While a lot of Mr. Broad’s facts are indisputably true—the philandering gurus he mentions throughout the last century are on record with their various indiscretions and later apologies—his opening commentary about yoga’s roots in Tantra seem to be unqualified and, in any case, lack citations. It’s no surprise then that the yoga world is rallying together to dispute these incendiary accusations.

Editor: Kate Bartolotta

Anurag Lohia is the founder and chief promoter of Divine Wellness,  the latest unique initiative of the Lohia Group, a well-known business conglomerate headquartered in North India. Coming from one of India’s premier business families, Anurag’s entrepreneurial vision and penchant for modern technology is evident in all his endeavors. His current initiative, Divine Wellness, offers the world’s first live, interactive, one-on-one private yoga classes and Ayurvedic consulting via internet webcam.

A staunch believer in Hindu scriptures, Anurag started practicing yoga at the age of 15 and has spent two months at the Nalanda Yoga Centre near Hrishikesh in India, where he learned about the true power of India’s ancient health sciences. He has also published a translation of Sri Adi Sankaracharya’s Sanskrit commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Anurag blogs about health, wellness, medicine, reforms in healthcare, yoga, Ayurveda and related topics. He can be reached at mailto:[email protected].


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