Yoga is once again in the news. The American president , Barack Obama, is reported to have organized a yoga session on the Presidential lawns. That was enough for the radicals to criticize it on religious grounds as well as legal grounds. It is possible that the “market forces” are simply exploiting the vulnerability of social and religious organizations to protect their businesses running into zillions of US Dollars per year. After all such perennial gains can be beneficial in perpetuity. Is eradication of “disease” not one of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)? The only thing is it is real big business, thanks to a whole range of new diseases, which have been termed as “lifestyle diseases”. They are either undefined or marked by symptoms like fever, body ache, stomach ache, headache, weakness, sickliness, debility, infirmity, loss of appetite or interest in ordinary activities.
There are very few people in modern times who have not experienced frustration, failure, stress or depression, caused by family life or work-place life. Depression, high blood pressure, anxiety, diabetes etc have become endemic health threats. Individuals oscillate between extreme emotions of revenge or suicide. People are not at peace with themselves. Actually they have everything materialistically desirable excepting a few moments for themselves. If they feel “sickly”, the first thing that comes to their mind is to consult their doctor! They want to treat everything with medicine! However, the secret of happiness is the individual himself or herself. That is all what Yoga says- look after your own health, shut down your body & mind for a few moments of relaxation so that rejuvenation becomes possible. The purpose of sleep is also shut down of the body & mind, but while the body might obey, the mind refuses to co-operate. The result is disturbed sleep, which means more anxiety and the feeling of sickliness. Yoga is the answer to solve these problems.
Many people have coloured vision of Yoga, which is further clouded by several others by mixing their own venal ideas. Let us be clear about a few things at the start itself to understand the subject well. Yoga is not only physical exercise; it is more of mental exercise, an attempt to strike harmony of the body & the mind. Life is full of difficulties which affect our physical as well as emotional health. Most of our life style diseases are born of emotional imbalances caused by ill health. While it is good to nurse the ambition of becoming the President of America, not everyone can achieve that in life. Should that be allowed to affect one’s health? Only a Yogi, who practices Yoga, can answer it by demonstrating the technique of controlling negativity and restoring the emotional balance. Unless effective intervention is provided by the person himself, negativity can cause mental disease, heart disease or diabetes.
Yoga is an exercise in making the masses aware of the need for a healthy approach to life, a healthy way of living and a healthy way of thinking. In fact, I have added one more dimension that is healthy language (the name of my website Vaaniyog means the practice of Language Yoga). The goal of Yoga is “happiness”. We know it that pleasure is much below happiness. To be happy we need Yoga. It is totally “secular”. It is no religion. It is free of religion. Those who misunderstand Yoga as a Hindu religious practice are either ignorant or motivated. Either way, they are acting against public interest; they are promoting private interests, that too of a venal kind. Why would somebody consult a physician or take medicines if he/she can take care of health, maintain good health and enjoy good health? But that hits businesses: the reason for the campaign against yoga in the name of religion or otherwise. There is no need to be anything other than the religion one belongs to.
How did Yoga suddenly become popular in the 20th Century Europe and America? The World War II can be given the credit for it. It was the most devastating experience of the western world- industrialized, rich, modern, powerful, imperial, democratic, civilized, and cultured. Modernization created classes, especially the industrialist and the labour. Socially it created the middle class that promoted fashion in life. Foibles followed, triggering satire in the 18th & the 19th Century. The economy was changing and so were the living standards of the people. Poverty became so telling that romanticism in literature attempted to lift the mood of the times. But economic distress would not allow romanticism to endure for long. Questions about the purpose of life egged thinkers to provide answers. The world was ill prepared for the approaching First World War. Questions of war & peace started bothering people. Was war necessary? Can peace be the better alternative? What was the way of settling disputes, such as boundary disputes between nations? Nobody knew the answer. But one man was attracting attention of both the Americans and the Europeans. It was Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi of India (M.K.Gandhi). He was not yet the Mahatma, a title that would be bestowed on him by the world. This man was preaching peace and non-violence in a world where war was considered “manly” and the proof of a nation’s superiority. Gandhi was no religious preacher- he was in politics. He was determined to re-define politics and lay down new rules of political engagement. He believed that political goals could be achieved without shedding a drop of blood, in a non-violent manner and that peace was superior to war. India was under the British Rule when Gandhi launched his Freedom Movement based on these principles. The world was watching these developments curiously. The world press, print & radio, (there was no TV/internet then)was in India covering Gandhi’s movement, suffering all the heat and dust of India of those days when the world opinion considered India a country of rope tricks and snake charmers. Neither the Americans nor the Europeans had witnessed such huge public processions in their own countries earlier. It was influencing them in a way. Questions like “what is the purpose of existence” started cropping up. War or peace were weighed as options. Earlier it was thought that war had no alternative in situations sometimes (it was the gravest blunder the British rulers committed in India when they opened fire on peaceful unarmed gathering at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, which cost them their Empire for ever). However, M.K.Gandhi was assertive enough that there was an alternative to war if nations gave peace and non-violence a try. And Gandhi proved himself right. The British rule came to an end, India regained her Independence and the world got an alternative to war. The efficacy of the Gandhian political philosophy was successfully employed in the recent Jasmine Spring and the Arab Revolution. It was also employed in the OWS (occupy the Wall Street) campaign. But nearer to the subject of this article, Yoga was imported into America post World War II. The WW-II was a shattering experience which devastated and disillusioned a whole generation. The atomic bomb created terrible disgust all around. Civil rights processions in America bear witness to public disillusionment and influence of Gandhi. If Hippies emerged on the scene in such a situation, it was only natural. If people started hating war, it was logical only. If recruitment into the armed forced started dwindling, it was bound to be so. If the state still pursued the policy of war, it needed harsh measures like conscription for recruiting the young in to the army, navy and air force. What used to be a matter of national pride earlier, which attracted the youth to the armed forces, was now reduced to an instrument of foreign policy and hence no more charming. To lift the spirit of the youth out of this gloom (rather disillusionment), LSD was freely provided and promoted. So was marijuana etc. Yoga was the only harmless option promoted in America. Yogis from India were encouraged to open centres in America and teach Yoga to the Americans. It was meant to uplift their spirits, as the discourse answered many questions of existentialism in easy to understand language in a convincing manner. So the Hippie culture succeeded in providing a healthy alternative to the whole new generation of Americans, who lost faith in the established way of American living and were thoroughly disillusioned. The decade of the 1960s saw the spread of Yoga in America and thereafter in several countries of Europe. Incidentally, a valuable treasure of Indian thought had already reached Europe, where scholarly commentaries on the Vedas, Puranas and the other treatises were brought out. Thus the philosophical content imparted the necessary respect for the Indian practices like Yoga and M.K.Gandhi established successfully the efficacy of it. It is this way that Yoga schools came up in America and were adapted, modified, and set up by American citizens in large numbers. Those who suspect anything religious in such wellness activity need to correct themselves fast.
Let it be clear that our health and happiness is in our hands only, as is the case with our wealth. We are made different chemically. Our neurons differ. Some of us are dominated by the chemicals falling in the category of “satva” or cool, while others may experience the prominence of “raj” or ruler ship or administration tendencies, and yet another set be “tam’ or hot-headed ones prone to violence. This is the composition of individuals. We can’t do anything to change it. Neither blood transfusion nor organ transplantation can change it. Yoga helps us become aware of ourselves. Once we know our composition, we can manage them better and avoid useless conflicts in life. All our conflicts emanate because of these tendencies interacting in conjunction with our basic elements of carnal desires, anger, hubris, attachment and greed (kaam, krodh, mad, moh and lobh respectively). If we can strike some balance in these conflicting elements, we can attain peace and happiness. Yoga helps us to be conscious of our own mental status and secure a healthy body- mind equation. If that leads us to a communion with the Creator, why grudge? Rest assured it won’t be a Hindu God alone. The Creator is unto each one of us as we imagine Him or Her to be. So exercise vaaniyog every moment and Yoga regularly every day. Be your own physician, your own master, your own guide. It is all free, like the air we breathe or the sunshine we enjoy. It is wellness. Take the Webster’s expressions for wellness like these seriously.