Editorial: Don’t Make Yoga A Farce

Editorial: Don’t Make Yoga A Farce

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Saturday, June 22, 2024, 03:14 AM IST
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Since yoga, an ancient Indian practice of realising the self through body-mind-soul exercises, went global in a major way, honest practitioners marvel at how the deep practice has turned into spectacle. Every year, on June 21 which was declared by the United Nations as the International Yoga Day at the behest of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, all those who would otherwise run faster than the hare from any form of exercise assiduously shoot photographs and videos of themselves attempting yogic postures; a few are happy to merely sit cross-legged on the now-ubiquitous yoga mat and pretend to deep breathe. Yoga is not important here — the photographs and videos are. So, ministers attempt to bend their legs but are unable to, and the Indian Navy tweets photos of a yoga session on board an aircraft carrier.

Yoga has, in these nine years, become more performative and reductive than it has ever been. The West had ‘discovered’ it during the wild-child and hippie decades but it was a cultural niche export. Yoga is now included in the basket of India’s soft power in the world and has sprouted several variants too. However, the engineered popularisation and mass consumption in India and abroad, backed by an increasing commercialisation through boutiques and studios, is chipping away at the essence of the ancient practice. Yoga is not merely physical stretching and flexibility exercises.

It is, at its heart, a route to align the self physically, mentally and spiritually into a whole, to be one with the natural energy of the universe or a higher power, to transcend one’s limitations and find peace. As accomplished yogis have shown, it takes years of dedicated practice in the quiet to achieve that. When done performatively, for the camera or an audience, it gets reduced to a spectacle which it is now in danger of becoming. Honest yogic practice would have led to the realisation among Modi’s fan club that their hate for minorities — on display nearly every day now — is not compatible with the teachings of yoga. Merely performing yoga-like postures while harbouring hate within is hardly yogic by any stretch of imagination. This self-reflection must start at the very top.

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