Yoga - Indian civilisation’s gift to the world: An HSS perspective
It is not by chance that the proposal for June 21 to be declared by the United Nations as the “International Day of Yoga (IDY)” was made by Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi. Modi faithfully engages in 20 minutes of Yoga every morning and credits his ability to maintain his gruelling schedule throughout his life, to this practice. June 2 (and occasionally June 20) is the “Summer Solstice” or “midsummer” in the northern hemisphere - when the sun reaches its highest point as seen from the North Pole.
The use of Yoga towards controlling the body as a preliminary step towards controlling and focusing the mind inwards had evolved in India as far back as 2700 BC in the Indus-Saraswati civilisation and it is not surprising that Modi dubbed it, “India’s gift to the world”. Yoga was systemised by Patanjali (around 200BC) into “eight limbs” (Astangas) of which the physical aspects is but the third - dubbed ‘asanas” or “postures” or hatha Yoga - after one has committed towards an ethical and disciplined life.
While the west was later to focus on exploring the nature of the universe and “reality” through science and the scientific method, the ancient people of India turned into the interior world of the mind and beyond (“Dhyana”), since it is here that even all the externally generated “knowledge” would have to be processed and given meaning.
There is nothing “religious” about Yoga in the sense of how “religion” has been understood in the west: with “holy books”, God, prophets and “beliefs”. Just as science is based on a methodology, Yoga is simply one step in another methodology for independently discovering the secrets of the inner landscape. The Indians who practiced Yoga invented the present decimal based numeral system that is now universally used - is that “religious”?
Modi has been a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh since he was a child and since this organisation is dedicated towards the revalorisation of the culture of Indian civilisation after it was suppressed and distorted over 800 years of foreign conquest, Yoga was always one of its central routine. When he became Prime Minister of India, he launched a Ministry of Yoga even before proposing IDY to the UN. In Guyana, Yoga is an integral part of the practices of the Hindus for Selfless Service (HSS) since it was officially launched in 1996.
But even though the practices of Indian civilisation were mocked as that of “snake charmers” and “fakirs”, Yoga spread inexorably in the west after it was introduced by early exponents such as Swami Vivekananda and Paramhamsa Yogananda in the later 19th century. Unfortunately, some have attempted to disconnect Yoga from its Indian roots and as an introduction to meditation, because this would link it to “Hindu Religion”, which the west continues to deride. The world “Hindu” and “Indian” are both derived from “Indus” - the name of the River in ancient Eastern India, now Pakistan. Both words simply refer to people living east of the Indus River.
In the derogation of India’s achievements, “Meditation” is now given other names such as “mindfulness” when stilling the mind, or “biofeedback” when used to control parts of the body that were thought to be only reached through the “involuntary nervous system”. But this as foolish as trying to avoid crediting the invention of modern scientific methodology to Europe because the latter was Christian.
But there is nothing wrong with practicing Yoga as a purely physical practice - even though it would be like using a Maserati for fetching wood! There are Yoga exercises for all the muscle groups of the body and there are specific routines that can stimulate internal organs of the body such as the kidney or pancreas that may be not functioning at their optimum. In India, for instance, a programme, “Yoga for Diabetes” has been successfully unrolled that has been shown to lower blood sugar when combined with diet and lifestyle changes.
The Hindus for Selfless Service (HSS) has proposed to the Government of Guyana that Yoga should be introduced in the public schools of our country to help build healthy bodies along with educated minds.