Another incidence of confusion and complaint about yoga being Hindu indoctrination has allowed the opportunity to offer these two pence: It’s not.
I mean, I could be too far in, and on my death bed I’ll suck my teeth and think, brainwashed de whole time. But for now, I’m taking the stance that the brain washing, the purifying of my mind stuff (the depression and hyperactivity that comes with continued exposure to car exhaust and HDTV), is precisely why I do the yoga, and every death bed practice (aka “savasana”) I get, I’m actually quite at peace by the end.
By the end, I’ve let go of confusion and complaints because, really, those only arise in the mind when we do not understand something, or we feel something is out of our control. Those are frustrating feelings. I empathize.
However, I do not sympathize. My experience of yoga is not rooted in Hinduism.
Does this discount those for whom it is? Not at all. It’s just that I learned urdhva dhanurasana (or as we called it, “bridge”) on the grounds of an areligious school. It was child’s play. Something the body could do, like running, skipping, dodging balls.
And, I learned my most deeply shifting spiritual lesson when I nearly drowned in the very areligious setting of nature. Just be calm, I thought, moments after my head hit the bottom of the ocean floor and the morning tide flipped me around so much that I lost track of which way to swim to find air. The calm helped me to surface.
During my first asana class, in college, there was no mention of Brahma, Vishnu, or Laksmi. In fact, the first time I learned about Hinduism, it was in a course offered at the Presbyterian high school I attended. And when I did begin to incorporate chanting into my yoga practice, the first time I learned “om,” it sounded like English to me, and I took it for what it was: a sound vibration that reminded me I am “home,” right here, in this body. So, by the time I made my way into a kirtan, where there was melodic chanting of the names of Hindu gods, I had the wisdom to take it for what it is – for me – sound vibration with a story connected to it – no different than the melodic stories I’ve sung about baby Jesus in a manger or Hov in Paris (I haven’t been able to personally verify any of it, but I get the message). I experienced the art of it.
As I further began to practice and study yoga, I learned the science of it. It has become – for me – a methodical practice of health. The Yoga Sutras, the foremost universal book of yogic knowledge, is also areligious, focusing on learning how the mind works so that we can understand and identify how to deal with the questions, comments, and concerns that arise when being human. It is, rather, applicable to any religion.