Yogaphobia Is Real: Debunking Myths And Embracing Mindfulness In Modern Practice

Yogaphobia Is Real: Debunking Myths And Embracing Mindfulness In Modern Practice

Yoga, a preliminary stage of meditation, entails the mindful integration of mind, speech, and body that helps close numerous mental tabs and enhance mental and emotional wellness.

Pragya JainUpdated: Thursday, June 20, 2024, 08:21 PM IST
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In the 2012 spiritual comedy, ‘A Thousand Words,’ Eddie Murphy's character, Jack McCall, is afflicted with logorrhoea -- incessant talking -- until an unusual tree silences him. The movie attempts to bring out the importance of reflection and mindful speech. Po, in the recent adventure comedy ‘Kung Fu Panda 4,’ tries to cultivate ‘inner peace’ but his mind keeps drifting to ‘dinner, please.’ This humorous moment underscores the challenge of maintaining focus and the importance of mindfulness.

Yoga, a preliminary stage of meditation, entails the mindful integration of mind, speech, and body that helps close numerous mental tabs and enhance mental and emotional wellness. Keeping this in mind, the United Nations decided to commemorate June 21 as the International Day of Yoga. The Permanent Mission of India to the UN, along with the UN Secretariat, has organized a mega event at the UN Headquarters that aims at underscoring women's well-being and promote global health and peace, women empowerment being the theme for this year’s event.

Although yoga is supposed to balance opposite energies, many people discourage the practice by calling it names, and most essentially calling it Hindu. While there is no doubt that yoga is a significant contribution of India to the world, affiliating it with religious contexts reflects a limited perspective and undermines the scientific aspects of yoga due to religious bias. This yogaphobia -- fear of yoga -- is real and the journey of yoga from India to abroad made it fierce. In 1960, Arthur Koestler, in his banned book ‘The Lotus and the Robot,’ calls Zen meditation a bare practice of just repeating a-rose-isarose-isarose, akin to self-hypnosis. In 2010, a US pastor said that yoga has demonic roots and the yoga postures were designed to introduce one to demonic powers. Eastern mysticism, eccentric practices, and supernatural are some other adjectives tagged with yoga.

The problem may lie in various connotations and different interpretations of yoga. The Bhagavad Gita calls yoga a ‘balanced state of the mind;’ Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga (ashtanga yoga) call it a process of ‘stilling the fluctuations of the mind; Jainism calls it ‘the activity of mind-body-speech.’ All these definitions offer the original purpose of yoga to prepare individuals for meditation which led to liberation.

When spirituality departed from meditation, modern mindfulness took its place. Balancing the sun and the moon, yin and yang, ha and tha (of hatha yoga), masculine and feminine energies in the body came with aninfluence of pranayama or mindful breathing. Notably, while ancient texts don’t include asanas like ‘downward dog’ or ‘sun salutation,’ these physical postures are now integral to yoga worldwide.The internet is full of contemplative practices like dancing meditation, sleep meditation, walking meditation, mindful reading, mindful eating, and whatnot, speaking of which, one may take the help of artificial intelligence for effective meditation.

The Samkhya, Buddhist, and Jain philosophies claim the origin of yoga, but the transformation of yoga by forgetting its roots and limiting it to stretching and focusing exercisesis scary. —The writer is Research Associate, International School for Jain Studies

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