Yoga: A Controversial Practice in Modern India

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Introduction

Yoga, an ancient Indian practice, has sparked controversy in recent years, particularly since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014. While its physical and mental benefits are undeniable, certain religious groups object to its perceived connection to Hinduism.

Christian Objections and Adaptations

Some Christian denominations, such as the Catholic Church, have opposed yoga due to its occult content, particularly in the Hatha and Tantric branches. However, it is notable that Pope Paul VI secretly received yoga lessons from BKS Iyengar, a renowned yoga master. Iyengar’s disciples also included prominent figures such as Queen Elisabeth of Belgium and Yehudi Menuhin.

In response to Christian concerns, “Christianized” yoga practices have emerged in the United States and Europe. These practices attempt to remove any perceived Hindu elements from the discipline.

Other Religious Perspectives

Muslim groups in India have also expressed concerns about the BJP’s promotion of yoga. They fear that it is part of a hidden cultural nationalism agenda and that it may erode the religious identity of Muslim students. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board has opposed the BJP’s efforts to make yoga compulsory in Muslim schools.

Political and Social Implications

The controversy over yoga has taken on political and social dimensions. The BJP’s Hindutva ideology and ultra-nationalism have further polarized the issue. The United Nations’ declaration of June 21 as International Yoga Day has also drawn criticism from certain quarters.

Variations and Benefits

Yoga encompasses various branches, including Rajyoga, Bhakti yoga, Karma/Kriya yoga, and Jnana yoga. While some branches emphasize spiritual and mental development, others focus on physical fitness and well-being. Despite the controversy, yoga has become a global phenomenon, gaining popularity for its proven health benefits.

Elitism and Accessibility

It is important to note that yoga is not inherently elitist. While it is true that those who sit for extended periods or engage in sedentary lifestyles may benefit more from yoga, it can provide benefits to people of all ages and backgrounds.

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