The Covid-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented situation across the world, bringing entire humanity to a standstill. Some of the world’s leading military and economic powerhouses have found themselves almost on the brink of a collapse in front of a microscopic little virus. In this respect, we must acknowledge that India has done exceptionally good work in containing the situation, as compared to other big nations of the world, keeping in mind the huge size and density of the Indian population. This is the time when India needs to look inward, and carve out its own original path of sustainable economic management and welfare of the people, so as to emerge as a Vishwaguru in the years to come.
Origins of Yoga – An Indic way of life
A mere mention of the word ‘Yoga’ in our day-to-day conversations evokes all sorts of different images in the popular mind. While some associate it with recluses having an ash-smeared body, wearing a saffron robe, carrying a begging bowl in hand, and wandering from one place to another, others imagine a sage sitting cross-legged atop a mountain or on the banks of a sacred river. Hinduphobic cartoons have often smelt of bias in depicting a Yogi sitting on a bed of sharp nails, performing a difficult rope trick or even walking on water. He is being projected as some kind of a magician drinking poisonous fluid or swallowing pieces of glass at ease.
Thus, a confused notion exists in people’s minds about Yoga and the long-term health benefits associated with it. In order to have an unbiased and comprehensive understanding of this traditional, ancient form of living, we need to dwell upon the spiritual and philosophical aspects of the origins of Yoga, besides its importance in building healthy lives and relationships in today’s mechanistic and technology-driven world.
The word ‘Yoga’ has been derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning a union or communion, i.e. the true union of our will with the will of God. Hence, Yoga is the union of the soul with the eternal truth, a state of unadulterated bliss arising from the conquest of dualities. Yoga helps sharpen the power of discernment, thereby leading the individual towards a better understanding of the true nature of the soul which cannot completely be comprehended by the senses or the intellect alone.
The evolution of the art and science of yoga is implicitly associated with the growth and spread of human settlements in South Asia. Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhawani says, “Yoga is as old as the Universe, for it is both the Path and the Goal”. In the Indus Valley region, soapstone seals depicting anthropomorphic figures seated in yogic postures have been found. The term ‘Yoga’ first appeared as a textual reference in the Rig Veda around 1500 B.C. However, here its meaning was closer to ‘yoke’, i.e. its Indo-European cognate.
In the Atharva Veda, there are innumerable references of ‘Prana’ and the eight chakras of the human body. The first use of the term ‘Yoga’ as equivalent and synonymous of its modern usage appeared in the Upanishads – the most important spiritual and philosophical treasure-houses of ancient Hindu mystic thought. There are 20 Yoga Upanishads out of the 108 Upanishads.
A well-known episode from the Ramayana describes the farewell of Rama when he was banished for 14 years from the kingdom of his father Dasratha to live in the forest. His mother Kausalya was deeply overcome with grief and knew that any blessings that she would bestow upon her son at that time with tear-filled eyes would be inauspicious. Hence, she started practising asanas and pranayama to gain a firm composure of the mind and the body. This also gradually helped her recover from the shock and it was only then that she came before Rama to give him her blessings. Indeed, the Ramayana can be considered to be a practical ‘Yoga Manual’ that guides people to lead a spiritually satisfying life.
Yoginis flourished in several regions across the country during the ancient times. In the Mahabharata, there is a reference to Sulabha, a recluse and the daughter of King Pradhan. She studied and became proficient in the knowledge of Yoga so much so that Janaka, the King of Mithila, was vanquished at her hands during a debate on Yoga. The legend of Madalasa from our historical texts stands out as yet another epic example of women Yoginis from Bharatvarsha. Madalasa, the faithful and devoted wife of King Rtudhvaja, burned herself as sati after learning that her husband was dead.
But, she was brought back to life by Asvatara Nagaraja, since Rtudhvaja was alive. Although at first, Madalasa, having lost all knowledge of her former existence, did not recognise her husband, she regained her knowledge after her initiation into the art of Yoga. She not only recognised her husband but also became supremely adept in Yoga. In the 14th century, Lalla, a woman saint from Kashmir, propagated the Yogic system throughout Bharatvarsha. Bahinibai, Sarada Devi (consort of Ramakrisna Paramhansa), etc. were some of the other prominent women Yoginis during the medieval period.
In Indian thought, it is believed that everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal Spirit (Parmatma) of which the individual human spirit (jivatma) is a part. The system of yoga is so called because it teaches the means by which the jivatma can be united to, or be in communion with the Parmatma, and thus secure moksha. In other words, the art of Yoga, which is as old as the Vedas, enables one to attain a pure state of consciousness in order to realise the Inner-Self. For instance, it is widely believed that Maitreyi, wife of the great Yogi and philosopher Yajnavalkya, attained liberation through the practice of Yoga. She was instructed in this art form by her husband himself, whose teachings are contained in the book Yogayagnavalkya.
Yoga became a distinctive and organised system of knowledge with the publication of the Yoga-Sutras, written by Patanjali. Meanwhile, the proliferation of ascetic heterodox sects such as Ajivikas, Buddhists and Jains also accentuated the further dispersal of yogic practices across the length and breadth of the country. Hatha-Yoga, on the other hand, is believed to have originated from Tantric and more esoteric forms of Buddhist rituals.
It was in the 19th century that yoga as a distinct form of knowledge system was revived by Swami Vivekananda, as a corollary to his revivalist Vedic discourse. During this time, Theosophists and Indophiles in the West had started embracing this new cultural import from India. Since the 1920s, the arrival of Indian Yogis in the West provided a further impetus for a wholesome espousal of Indian physical exercises and meditative practices.
According to the Bhagavad Gita, yoga represents that state of the mind which results from a detachment with motion and serenity at rest. It demands the performance of duties in cooperation with society – but without being ‘contaminated’ by attachment to profitable results, and without yielding to depression by reason of failure or to egoistic elation by reason of success. As Krisna says to Arjuna in the Mahabharata, “Samatvam Yoga Uchyate”, meaning, equanimity in the mind is a state of yoga. The conversation between Krisna and Arjuna gives deep insights into Yoga-Bhava or adopting a ‘Yogic Attitude’ when faced with any human crisis.
The greatest single figure in the history of Yoga is Adi Sankaracharya, who is universally accepted as the greatest exponent of the non-dualistic philosophy of Advaita Vedanta inspired by the Upanishads – which constitutes the concluding portion of the Vedic revelations. Sankara wrote several commentaries on the Brahma Sutra, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Besides Sankara, the name of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa who was the guru of Swami Vivekananda stands out in the contemporary Yoga tradition.
The period between 1920-1960 saw prominent Yoga Gurus like Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh who inspired scores of young sanyasins around the world to set up Yoga Vedanta Centers in nearly every country across the world. The disciples of Swami Sivananda have today fanned out globally, building sprawling ashramas and global yoga networks which have been imparting invaluable lessons on Vedanta, pranyama and yogasanas.
Sri Aurobindo, another noted scholar and poet, wrote numerous analyses and commentaries on the ancient Sanskrit texts which contain valuable insights on the philosophy of Yoga. It was at this time when the world-famous Kaivalyadhama at Lonavala in Maharashtra, founded by Kuvalayananda, emphasised on the importance of modern scientific validation for the ancient yogic practices of asanas, pranayama, kriyas, and shat-karmas.
Understanding the Philosophical & Spiritual Dimensions of Yoga
One of the six schools of Indian philosophy, Yoga represents a divine path through which human beings can acquire the potential to function in a more effective, organic and integrated manner in harmony with nature. Patanjali had defined Yoga as yogascittavrtti nirodhah, which means controlling and disciplining the mind, the intellect and the ego for self-realisation through eight different steps, popularly described as Astanga Yoga. These include Yama (social discipline), Niyama (individual discipline), Asana (practice of Yogic posture for physical discipline), Pranayama (breath-control for mental discipline), Pratyahara (withdrawal or discipline of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (self-realisation). Once these interpenetrating and interdependent dimensions are harnessed, integrated and aligned in differing degrees in each individual, the human being then becomes endowed with the ability to be transformed into a tremendous spiritual possibility.
The most basic form of yoga till this day is bhuta shuddhi, i.e. cleansing of the five elements (Pancha Bhoota Sthalam) of which all life in the universe is made – earth (bhoomi), fire (agni), water (jal), air (vayu), and sky/space (patal). This determines several aspects of the individual, from health and longevity to psychological balance, spiritual growth and mystical capability. In practice, however, only four elements out of these five need to be worked at, for patal is an element that does not require any form of purification. An advanced practitioner of yoga seeks not merely to cleanse these elements but also to master them, which eventually enables the yogi to integrate and dismantle the body at will. Many great rishis and yogis of Bharat, referred to as nirmanakayas, have demonstrated this ability down the ages.
The yogic tradition of Bharatvarsha is full of accounts of great beings who have been able to dematerialise their bodies at the time of death, leaving behind no sign at all of their material existence. However, these accounts have been denigrated by the outside world as outlandish rumours or cheap magic tricks by babas, who have mostly been portrayed in a negative light by a seemingly one-sided narrative of the media. Ordinary people who are not much inclined towards the spiritual aspect of Yoga can embrace it for its assured physical benefits; because, the health of the body and the mind both is important to all, whether they wish to succeed in their worldly pursuits or seek to attain self-realisation. Yoga (Pranayama and Asana) gives an equal sense of gratification and fulfilment to the believer and to the atheist and the agnostic alike.
As argued by YogaGuru B.K.S. Iyengar Ji, “Yoga is the dedicated votive offering of a man who brings himself to the altar, alone and clean in body and mind, focussed in attention and will, offering in simplicity and innocence not a burnt sacrifice, but simply himself raised to his own highest potential”. It is a technique ideally suited to prevent physical and mental illnesses, and also to protect the body by developing an inevitable sense of self-reliance and assurance. Long-term practice of yoga has a tremendous effect on a person’s character – humility and simplicity takes over pride and egoism, and the approach to life becomes more positive and accepting. It makes one morally and mentally strong, more thoughtful and discriminative, which helps him/her acquire intellectual clarity and eventually reach a contemplative state of mind.
A true sadhaka is unaffected by the emotional turbulences of the mind. It is because as a philosophical system, Yoga equips one to attain calm and poise, and face all the joys and sorrows of life with equanimity. At the same time, it is also a science which aims at attaining a state of equilibrium between the body and the mind in a skilful and systematic manner. Hence, as a distinct school of Indian philosophy, Yoga has both a spiritual/philosophical and physical dimension to it.
Yoga & Ayurveda: A Holistic Path towards a Sustainable Lifestyle
Good health encompasses all aspects of our physical, physiological and psychological well-being. It is based upon the maintenance of external and internal cleanliness, dietary control, proper and regular exercise of the physical body, and adequate rest. Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine, describes health as the perfect harmony of bodily functions, a well-balanced metabolism and a happy and poised state of the mind and the senses. It has categorised the physiological functions of the body as falling under three heads, viz. Clana (movement), Pacana (digestion or assimilation of food), and Lepana (respiration), which correspond to the three dosas (humours) of Vata (wind), Pitta (bile), and Slesma/Kaph (phlegm). These dosas maintain a harmonious ratio of their own when the body is in a good state of health performing the above three functions. An imbalance in the three dosas results in an improper flow of blood in the blood vessels, which adversely impacts the overall metabolic functioning of the body.
Similar to the fluctuations of the physical body brought about by an imbalance of the three dosas, the fluctuations of the mind are caused by the rajas and tamas gunas overshadowing the sattva guna. Rajas is one of the constituent qualities that determines the activities of human beings in the form of uncontrolled passions and emotions. Tamas is the other constituent quality that is responsible for causing inertia or inaction which leads one into the tunnels of darkness, sorrow, grief, ignorance, etc. It is when the rajas and the tamas gunas start dominating over the sattva guna, i.e. the quality of goodness and purity, that the mind becomes an abode of disease and unwanted, undesirable thoughts. Hence, both the body and the mind requires intelligent care and Yoga comes in as the most suitable lifestyle choice that one can adopt not only for good physical health, but also a strong mental health.
Just like Ayurveda, Yoga too, recognises the threefold afflictions, viz. adhyatmika (concerned with the body and the mind, i.e. somatic and psychic diseases), adhidaivika (epidemics, unnatural deaths at the hands of beasts, water, accidents and the like), and adhibhautika (environmental afflictions such as cyclones, floods, heat waves, pest attacks, etc). Here, Yoga adds something more substantial to the definition of health, thus making it more comprehensive. According to the Yogic tradition, any obstacle or impediment (e.g. sickness, inaction, doubt, delusion, carelessness, restlessness, etc.) that prevents the realisation of the self is an indication of physical indisposition causing a modification in the mental state (chittavrtti) of individuals. They originate either in the body or the mind, and the aim of Yoga is to achieve a perfect balance of both, leading to complete freedom from physical and mental afflictions in order to attain a higher spiritual plane. Modern medical science, too, agrees with the fact that there exists an intimate relationship between the human mind and the body, and if life has to be protected and nurtured, health must be maintained along with the proper functioning of the vital organs of the body, especially the central nervous system.
In the contemporary era of ever-expanding scientific and technological advancements, man has landed on the moon and is now ambitious to reach other planets too in search of a habitable space for humanity. Daring experiments have been undertaken in the field of surgery and medicine such as heart and kidney transplants, besides artificial insemination and test-tube babies, etc. However, with increasing technological developments knocking at his doorstep – man has lost one of his natural birthrights – the right to a healthy, sound sleep. It would not be wrong to say that insomnia has indeed stood out as the curse of the modern civilisation, which has increasingly divorced man from nature and vice-versa. This can be gauged from the fact that the modern allopathy medicine market is today flooded with numerous patent drugs such as sleeping pills and sleep tranquilisers to induce sleep.
Life cannot be satisfying if human beings lose this most natural and basic function of sleep. Irregular working hours and unhealthy eating habits, lack of exercise etc. have further exacerbated the issue. Often ignored in our regular drawing-room discussions of a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, insomnia has been one of the primary factors behind the increasing cases of mental health problems among both the old and the young alike. Sleep induced by tranquilisers cannot be compared to natural sleep that happens only in a tranquil body and peaceful mind. The conscious mind ceases to function and the nervous system comes to rest.
It is in this context that the physical aspect of Yoga becomes incredibly important. Regular practice of pranayama and meditation, besides a few asanas such as Halasana, is rightly recommended for people of all age-groups. It has the potential to relieve both the mind and the body from the regular monotony of our modern-day lifestyles, without depending on allopathic medicines and their negative side-effects in the long-run.
Thus, in mastering the yogic posture lies a secret sauce – the conquest of the body. It is through this essential step that the sadhaka is gradually carried onto a higher spiritual plane of thought and belief that culminates with self-realisation. In this sense, Yoga is inextricably associated with the universal laws of respect for all forms of life, truth, and patience – all of which are indispensable factors that emerge from the inhalation, exhalation and retention of a quiet breath involving the heart, lungs and the nostrils. It perfects the art of calmness of the mind, firmness of will-power, besides helping one attain tranquillity over the nervous system. Practising regular pranayama (Pran meaning air/breath – the very life-force that keeps all beings alive; ayama meaning expansion of the length, breadth and volume of one’s breathing) makes one’s pulse steady and also brings suppleness to the body and radiance to the facial complexion.
Yoga and Ayurveda are the two ancient Indian systems of holistic well-being that are in sync with nature, and thus based upon maintaining a fine balance between the spiritual and the material realms of nature. The pursuit of one at the cost of another leads to the eventual downfall of ethics and morality, besides the continuous build-up of bad karma – the coronavirus pandemic being just a case in point. It is because material knowledge, undoubtedly, enables one to face life’s problems with maturity, whereas spiritual knowledge helps one to realise oneself and one’s true nature.
It is not the body but the mind which is the root cause of many diseases affecting people globally, including mental depression, unexplained anger and grief, uninhibited sexual indulgence, anxiety, discontent, distrust and various other psychosomatic conditions. This has resulted in many people today suffering from unknown diseases of their own imagination, which in many cases have also proved to be fatal. Holistic well-being means the attainment of complete freedom from both physical and mental afflictions in order to achieve the higher goal of self-realisation.
Both Yoga and Ayurveda have assumed more significance especially with respect to the current scenario when modern allopathic medicine has failed us in finding a cure for several deadly viruses witnessed by humanity from time to time. The science of Ayurveda has divided the human body into six different parts – the head (seat of knowledge/gyana), the heart (seat of devotion/bhakti), the two arms and the two legs (seats of action/karma). Yoga represents a unique combination of these three aspects – body, mind and soul – that helps one attain new frontiers of knowledge, besides inculcating the spirit of responsibility and respect towards all forms of lives.
Remarkably, ancient Ayurvedic systems of medicine complement Yoga and have today emerged as one of the cutting-edge forms of mind-body medicine. Famous Gurus like Paramhansa Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Satya Sai Baba, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Mata Amritanandamayi, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, et. al have become names to reckon with in numerous countries across the world. For their students, Yoga has stood out more as a spiritual path of achieving the unachievable, of curing the incurable, rather than a form of physical exercise only.
As a matter of fact, it may be mentioned here that in the Japanese island of Okinawa, Yoga is a very popular form of exercise, besides other Oriental forms of holistic exercises like the Chinese Qigong and Tai-Chi. Researchers like Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles during their extensive field-studies there had noted the fact that instead of hitting the posh gyms and fitness centers, these exercises are more preferred by people here, including the centenarians and super-centenarians for ensuring health and longevity.
Physical Importance of Pranayama & Asanas for a Disease-free Body & Mind
Asanas are a distinguishing feature of Yoga, that take one from the physical to the spiritual plane. They represent the beginning and as well as the foundation of Yoga Vidya or the Science of Yoga. Asana means holding the body in a particular posture with the bhavana (thought) that the Parmatma (Supreme Being) resides within. In the Hathyoga Pradipika, it is mentioned that the asana should be held firm or sthira so as not to shake that divine consciousness. Thus, Asana-Jaya or the conquest of asana comes when effort ceases and stability sets in the body that eventually brings about a state of sukhata or bliss in the Yogi’s mind. Any asana held in that state is no longer considered to be performed by the physical or physiological body but by the Inner-Self (jivatma).
It is in such a state that the body can be said to be conquered, leading to the disappearance of dualities, thereby achieving a fine union of the mind, body and soul. The Hathyoga Pradipika further goes on to say that by bringing the physical body to a state of stability, asanas provide an outlet for boosting immunity, attaining freedom from disease and unnecessary mood-swings of the mind that negatively impact health and physical well-being.
The chapters on anatomy in the Caraka and Susruta Samhitas of Ayurveda describe physical exercises as those which are capable of producing beneficial results through different bodily actions or movements. Correct performance of them is explained as bringing about a feeling of lightness to the body, ability to work hard, resistance against diseases and discomforts caused by an imbalance of the three dosas. They stimulate the harmonious functioning of the respiratory, circulatory, digestive, nervous, endocrine, genitor-urinary, and excretory systems. However, at the same time, these texts have also cautioned that practising incorrect exercises may lead to sluggishness and exhaustion, and in extreme cases it may even cause vomiting, malfunctioning of the internal organs of the body, dryness, internal haemorrhage, cough, fever and other physical disorders. Hence, it is advisable that asanas are being practised by a beginner only under the proper guidance and direction of a trainer.
Yogasanas makes the entire human body flexible by revitalising all its physiological systems, thereby resulting in a sound mind and body. Both Yogasanas and Pranayama have stood the test of time for centuries and are ideally beneficial for all the needs of both men and women in their pursuit of perfect health and supreme happiness. According to Ayurveda, the human body consists of five sheaths or layers – Annamaya (the outer sheath or anatomical body consisting of skin, muscles and bones); Pranamaya (the physiological body consisting of the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, nervous, endocrine, reproductive, and excretory systems); Manomaya (the mental or psychological body consisting of the mind and emotions); Vijnanamaya (the intellectual body); and, Anandamaya (the innermost sheath or spiritual body encasing the soul). All these sheaths are interdependent and interpenetrating, gradually reaching from the outer to the inner core. During the performance of Pranayama and Yogasanas, total attention is being brought to bear on all the sheaths, from the anatomical to the spiritual and vice-versa.
Asanas, although appearing static externally, consist of dynamic action within. They exercise the anterior, posterior, lateral and interior portions of the body equally, as every posture is a complete entity in itself. Each part of the body has a particular role to play and no part is forgotten or ignored. A full range of movements and actions such as horizontal, vertical, diagonal and circumferential extension and expansion are produced while performing the postures. This requires skill, intelligence and careful application. No portion of the body or the mind is left untouched when an asana is carefully, correctly and regularly performed. Thus, each asana works on the entire human system – an organic, holistic exercise that eradicates built-up toxins and free-radicals.
Hence, there exists a vast difference between Yoga and other forms of physical exercises such as walking on the treadmill or jogging or running. Both Pranayama and Yogasanas are psycho-physiological, unlike other physical exercises which are purely external in their obsession for a protein-supplemented muscular/well-built physique. While developing bodily consciousness, asanas also help cultivate a sense of internal consciousness towards one’s immediate surroundings by stabilising the mind. In physical exercises, body movements may be performed with utmost precision, whereas in Yoga, a deep feeling of inner awareness is generated along with precision, which helps bring about a state of equanimity and poise of both the body and the mind.
Yoga is particularly beneficial for those above the age of 40 years when the immunity and recuperative power of the body to fight diseases starts declining gradually. It generates immense internal energy and vitality, which does not easily dissipate. It is not only preventive, but also curative in that it aims to develop symmetry, coordination, endurance and perseverance in the body from a long-term perspective. It activates the internal organs of the body and makes them function harmoniously. Hence, with minimal efforts in the comforts of one’s home, maximum health benefits can be attained through the regular practice of pranayama and asanas.
It is a nature-centric process of treatment where the progress might be slow, but the results are always certain. At the same time, this does not mean that we deny the advances made by modern medical science for treating numerous diseases. But, Yoga can be promoted by the medical fraternity as an alternative way of complementing synthetic drugs and medicines to speed up the process of recovery. Yoga can also help counteract the harmful or negative side-effects of allopathic treatment by strengthening the body’s natural defense mechanisms to fight diseases.
Harnessing Bharat’s Ancient Traditions for Boosting its Soft-Power
The concept of soft-power was first formulated by the American scholar and policy-maker, Joseph S. Nye Jr, who defined it in 1990 as “when one country gets other countries to do what it wants” and as “co-optive power”. He later went on to describe the determinants of soft-power as growing out of “a country’s culture;…out of our values – democracy and human rights, when we live up to them”. C. Raja Mohan argued as early as 2003 that “India could always count itself among the few nations with strong cards in the arena of soft-power”, asserting that India’s biggest “instrument” of soft-power was its diaspora. India’s huge diaspora is certainly an asset, but far from the only one.
For centuries, Indian arts and crafts, culture and religious systems have fascinated people from around the world. It has also aroused a deep sense of curiosity among foreigners, in the process attracting them towards Indian culture and traditions to explore the unexplored, and to know the unknown. In keeping with this tradition, PM Narendra Modi has taken a big leap forward by promoting India’s cultural diplomacy and transforming India’s global image through the five pillars of his foreign policy – Samman (dignity), Samvaad (dialogue), Samriddhi (shared prosperity), Suraksha (regional and global security), and Sanskrit evam Sabhyata (cultural and civilisational links).
Declaration of June 21 as the International Day of Yoga by the UNGA at the behest of PM Modi has indeed been one of the most significant accomplishments in advancing India’s cultural diplomacy in the global arena through the effective use of Yoga as a diplomatic tool in India’s soft-power projection. The significance of the date, i.e. June 21, is borne from a couple of reasons – the foremost being that June 21 happens to be the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and the shortest in the southern hemisphere. Moreover, with respect to India, the full moon night that occurs after the annual summer solstice is popularly known as Guru Poornima. It is believed that on this day, Shiva (the first Yogi or Adiyogi) began imparting the knowledge of yoga to the rest of humankind. With the UN Declaration, the ancient Indian practice of yoga has become an internationally accepted means of good health and longevity.
Today, perhaps a hundred million people in the world practise some form of Yoga, which has become a household word internationally. Although asanas have remained the main focus, pranayama, mantra and meditation techniques are also included. However, the original concept and structure of Yoga has underwent tremendous changes in its journey since the time of its inception till the present. From Yogis imbued with immense spiritual and supernatural powers, today we have celebrity yoga trainers who are popularising the art at the global level in their own distinct ways. Thus, yoga has now moved out of its traditional ashrama and acquired a global image with myriad hues, e.g. power yoga, water yoga, beer yoga, etc.
In fact, the West has very subtly appropriated Yoga and turned it into a form of aerobic exercise by first repackaging our ancient cultural and traditional heritage and then commercialising it as one of its own. All these have produced a gradual transformation of an ancient Indian philosophical system into a multi-billion dollar worldwide profit-making enterprise. However, it is now time to not only reclaim what is rightfully ours but also present it to the world as one of Bharat’s most precious gifts to mankind.
True education does not merely consist of producing degree-holders, but requires an awakening of higher intelligence in the young minds so that they are properly trained in the art of developing a supreme form of awareness, focus and concentration. According to Patanjali, there are five different modes of acquiring knowledge – Pramana (true cognition based on validity, perception and inference); Viparyaya (false cognition); Vikalpa (verbal-based cognition); Nidra (sleep); and, Smriti (memory). For India to emerge as a VishwaGuru, it needs to re-design and develop its education system according to its own cultural ethos and Indic roots, rather than a copy-cat version of the West. The need of the hour is to have an education system utilising modern science and environment-friendly technologies, infused with traditional knowledge systems and ancient wisdom of the shastras. A modified Gurukula system and research-based institutions linked to the industry has to be promoted.
Hence, it is imperative that India expands its yogic culture and unique civilisational strength based upon the philosophy of Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. This enduring civilisational shakti of Bharat holds many untapped transformational forces. As it spreads once more, this Yoga Shakti can make the entire world more enlightened and deeply cognisant of all lives in the universe. Expanding yogic teachings and values into our education system and its thought processes, remains crucial to this process. Both yoga and meditation need to be incorporated as an integral part of the mainstream curriculum and pedagogy. Studies in the USA have shown how yoga, when taught to children has had dramatic effects on their overall well-being. All the stakeholders of education including students, teachers and the administration have to play a pivotal role in this regard. It is only through a collective effort that education can be reconstructed to its original Indic form so as to help both teachers and students attain the highest levels of knowledge and wisdom.
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- Basavaraddi. Ishwar V. (2010). Yoga Teacher’s Manual. Delhi: Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga.
- Iyengar, Geeta S. (1997). Yoga: A Gem for Women. New Delhi: Allied Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
- Basavaraddi. Ishwar V. (2015, April 23). Yoga: Its Origins, History & Development. Retrieved from https://mea.gov.in/in-focus-article.htm?25096/Yoga+Its+Origin+History+and+Development
- Hector, Garcia & Mirrales, Francesc. (2016). Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. Hutchinson: London.
- Nye, Joseph. (1990). Soft Power. Foreign Policy, 80.
- Srivastava, Mukesh Kumar. (2019, September 22). ‘Culture’ as a Soft-Power Diplomacy: Transforming India’s Global Image. OpIndia. Retrieved from https://www.opindia.com/2019/09/culture-as-a-soft-power-diplomacy-transforming-indias-global-image/amp/
The author is a final-year doctoral research scholar in the Center for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her areas of interest include questions of Identity and Identity politics in Assam, with special reference to the institution of the Sattra associated with Sanatan Dharma, religious conversions in the tribal areas of Assam, the ancient cultural and civilisational roots of Bharat and the role that it can play in the coming times.
DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.