Take Back Yoga

Bringing to Light Yoga's Hindu Roots

HAF's Take Back Yoga campaign truly went national on November 27-28, 2010 when the New York Times ran a piece entitled "Hindu Group Stirs a Debate over Yoga's Soul" on the front page of its Sunday print edition and online (registration with the New York Times may be required to access the story).  The Times piece has catapulted the Foundation's campaign to new levels and has resulted in a flurry of debate, discussion and dialog over the Hindu roots of yoga. 
And on January 23, 2011, CNN aired its coverage of HAF's campaign in a piece entitled What is Yoga? thereby infusing new life to this dialog. 
HAF's campaign has been featured on NPR, Huffington Post, and the UK's Guardian, and HAF Directors have spoken on radio programs such as Your Call and Where's My Guru?
Of course, there have been those who disagree with the goals of the Take Back Yoga campaign.  OPEN magazine featured two pieces by Meera Nanda who suggested that HAF should "get over it."  The magazine provided HAF opportunities to rebut both of Ms. Nanda's pieces.  The first piece, The Audacity of Ignorance, was published on Feb. 25, 2011, and the second rebuttal, Disguised Hinduphobia, was published on March 7, 2011.
The popularity of yoga continues to skyrocket in the Western world as yoga studios become as prevalent as Starbucks and the likes of Lululemon find continued success in the mass marketing of $108 form enhancing yoga pants.  As this $6 billion industry completes one Suryanamaskar (sun salutation) after another, there has been growing concern from the Hindu American Foundation about a conscious delinking of yoga from its Hindu roots. 
From asanas named after Hindu Gods to the shared goal of moksha to the common pluralistic philosophy, the Hindu roots of yoga seem difficult to deny.  Yet, more often than not, many Western yoga practitioners are aghast at the very suggestion that the cherished "spiritual practice" of yoga is firmly grounded in Hindu philosophy.  In fact, in a letter to Yoga Journal magazine, HAF noted its disappointment at finding countless descriptions of the Upanishads or Gita as "ancient Indian" or "yogic", but rarely "Hindu".
Shortly after being told by Yoga Journal  that "Hinduism carries too much baggage," the Foundation formulated its stance on this important issue with the release of its paper Yoga Beyond Asana: Hindu Thought in Practice, quoting extensively from both the legendary yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar as well as his son, Prashant Iyenagar.  The stance paper highlights not only the delinking of yoga from its Hindu roots, but also the erroneous idea that yoga is primarily a physical practice based on asana.  Yoga covers a wide array of practices, embodied in eight "limbs," which range from ethical and moral guidelines to meditation on the Ultimate Reality.  Asana is merely one "limb" which as become the crux of Western yoga practice.
In December 2009, HAF's Suhag Shukla had the opportunity to bring light to yoga's Hindu roots at the Parliament of World Religions in Australia during a panel discussion.  Shukla spoke out against the commercial appropriation and misappropriation of yoga which purposefully delinks yoga from its roots in Hinduism.
A piece in the LA Times, Bending yoga to fit their worship needs, quoting yet another yoga instructor denying any and all religious roots lead not only to a Letter to the Editor, but also to the publication of The Theft of Yoga, the beginning of what eventually became know as The Great Yoga Debate: Shukla vs Chopra on the Newsweek/Washington Post On Faith site.  As HAF's Dr. Aseem Shukla proudly brought to light yoga's Hindu roots, Dr. Deepak Chopra penned his disagreement.  Shukla's reply, Dr. Chopra - Honor Thy Heritage, was met with continued resistance from Chopra.
The Great Yoga Debate received hundreds of comments from readers across the board. Within days, the Pioneer requested HAF to provide a piece of a similar strain, leading to yet another opportunity to take yoga back. 
The interest of the Interfaith Alliance was also piqued and lead to a radio interview with HAF's Sheetal Shah (the yoga interview begins approximately 13 minutes into the recorded segment).
Even months after the initial launch of this campaign, the issue remains very much alive.  On September 23, David Waters, the former editor of On Faith, quotes heavily from HAF's stance paper in his piece "Should Christians practice yoga? Shouldn't everyone?" And on October 3, Ms. Shukla once again voiced HAF's stance in the "yoga debate" on air in a segment on Common Threads (click here to listen to Part 1 of the recorded segment and click here to listen to Part 2).
Most recently, the Hindu Student Association (HSA) released a short animation entitled What is Yoga?, that succiently explains the four yogas of Hinduism.  Click here to watch it.   The last 2011 issue of Hinduism Today magazine also takes up the subject.  Click here to read their answer to "Is yoga a Hindu practice?"