Does Yoga belong to Hinduism?

There is no second question about it. Yes, Yoga belongs to Hinduism. More accurately, however, Yoga is Indic since the idea grew over centuries and was also developed and improvised by Buddhists, Jains, and lot of people in the subcontinent.

As noted in many of the previous articles, the term Hindu was given by Persians and Indians by Greek when they traveled across the Sindhu river. British called this subcontinent as Indian subcontinent while the Americans labeled it as South Asia. But, in the old Puranas, this is supposed to be known as Jambudvipa, the land of jambul (Indian blackberry) or jambu (rose apple) tree.

Because of political boundaries, the question “Is yoga Hindu?” has been constantly raised in the west because some people argue that the term itself has been appropriated by the Americans and made commercial. Others argue that the appropriation of the term is not significant. And thus, there arises this fight over who yoga belongs to.

Even with that fight, there is no argument that yoga originated in this subcontinent of Asia, and was improvised and nurtured by thousands of people over hundreds of years. What it is today is the complete package created by Hindus in India that took a major overhaul during the 20th century.

The reference of the word yoga can be seen in the 4000-year-old Vedic traditions, and used in the sense of yoking or “harnessing an ox to a cart”. More so, its colloquial “jog” is used as an indication of various forces, for instance, the planetary forces. The word “jugaad” is also rooted to the word “jogi”, according to some linguists, which means the resourceful man who can create “jog” where nothing existed before. Thus, we can see yoga has Vedic roots.

Shramana, or hermit, traditions also brought various propositions regarding yoga, including the psychological discipline of ‘dhyan’ or ‘dharana’ or ‘pratyahara’ and even ‘pranayama’. These traditions date 3000 years back and were proposed by tapasvins who perform tapasya, or the churning of spiritual fire known as tapa. This is supposed to give psychological powers (siddhi) to the tapasvins. This today is known to be yoga and Buddhism and Jainism are the Shamana traditions.

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There are also Vedic rituals and eventually Shramana traditions during the Puranic age that talks about the manifestation of Shiva, Vishnu, and Devi. It was Shiva who revealed Yoga to his student Patanjali, a serpent, who then shares it to the world. Vishnu was the one who shared it, Krishna shared to Arjuna and Ram shared to Hanuman. From there, we start seeing the division. Some focused on the psychological aspect, while some focused on the physical.

The focus on Samadhi, the psychological and spiritual, is said to be Vedic, and the focus on Siddhi, the physical, is said to be Tantrik. But this fact is different in different texts. In Bhagavad Gita, a part of Mahabharata, it talks about some psychological aspect of yoga and pranama, but anything about asanas. But the Patanjali yoga sutra does talk about pranama, but minimally, and says that there shouldn’t be any obligation to be overly theistic, except functionally.

The texts provided in 1000-years-old Nath tradition does refer to physical aspects of yoga, different postures, and breathing techniques. These aspects of yoga were used by ash-smeared mendicants who prayed Matsyendranath and Gorakhnath. It was also picked up by the radical ones who were craving for erotic satisfactions.

It was during the British ruling in the 19th century when local gurus of traditional physical culture such as Krishnamacharya ideated yoga that we know today, after being exposed to the European gymnastic styles under the patronage of Wodeyar kings of Mysore. After that, yoga spread across the country, and now the world. We can see translations and descriptions of the ancient yoga texts such as Patanjali’s yoga by scholars and professors, which includes Vivekananda.

This spread has created doubts among the Christian and Muslim isolationists, on one hand, who see it as missionary activity, and among the Hindu isolationists and supremacists, on the other hand, who see it affecting the appropriation of “pure” faith and culture as they put it. Then again, there are certain atheists and secularists who have problems when anything associated with religion.

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Then there are ideas from the Left-wing and the Right-wing that we need to be weary of. The Rights believe that it is completely pristine and dates back to really old times, even before Indus Valley civilization. The Left disagrees with anything old.

But what is certain is that Yoga has a strong and special relationship with India and with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. But at the same time, it is unfair to say that the West stole Yoga from the east because civilization is all part of cultural exchange.

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