Yog(a): history; legal and administrative issues

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Timeline of Yoga , India Today , June 16, 2016
Timeline of Yoga , India Today , June 16, 2016

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3,000 BC onwards

Brishti Guha, How Ancient Is Yoga?, June 21, 2019: The Times of India

Seals recovered from Indus valley civilisation sites tell a fascinating story

A Tibetan monastery in north India, 1985: Harvard scholar Herbert Benson and his team visited this monastery, high in the Himalayas. They found that the monks practised a form of yoga resulting in a meditative trance so deep it affected their body temperatures. The team filmed monks using their own bodies to dry wet clothes when the outside temperature was -20°C. The monks were able to sleep peacefully on rocky ledges at 15,000 ft, dressed just in light shawls. Benson’s videos stimulated great interest in yoga in the West. Can we say anything about the origins of yoga? To answer this, let’s skip to a different time and place.

The Indus valley, third millennium BC: Just as prehistoric cave dwellers acted on their creative impulses and produced beautiful and powerful cave art, Indus valley civilisation (IVC) dwellers inscribed visuals of their own stories on seals decorated with narrative imagery. As archaeologist Rita Wright shows, these seals are inscribed with quite a variety of tales. In one, a woman simultaneously attempts to tame two tigers, while in another, two men are uprooting acacia trees, but a woman tries to prevent them. These seals might indicate that women had an important role in nurturing plants as well as animals (going to the extent of trying to tame wild animals instead of hunting them).

Quite a few seals concern yogis. In one, a seated figure is locked in a yogic stance, completely oblivious to a great deal of commotion all around him. He is surrounded by wild animals, but shows no alarm. Near him, another man is spearing a water buffalo, but the yogi is undisturbed, totally immersed in his inner world. In another seal, two kneeling people present an offering to a figure seated in a yogic posture. These kneeling people seem to be important personages, because two snakes spread their hoods over their heads, symbolically associated only with royalty or nobility.

Probably the most well-known of the Mohenjo-daro seals is the “Pashupati” seal – in which a three-faced being wearing horned headgear is seated in a yogic trance, surrounded by Indus animals such as lions, elephants, and buffaloes. “Pashupati” is associated with Rudra (who later transformed into Shiva, the ultimate yogi). Shiva is said to have five faces, of which three are visible in the Pashupati seal.

Obviously, since many of the seals contain figures in yogic postures, we can say that yoga existed during the time of IVC. However, we can go beyond that. In the imagery on the seals, the individuals performing yoga are treated with a great deal of respect. The figures in the seals show utmost concentration, and are not disturbed in the least by all the hunting going on around them, nor do they get distracted by the various humans or animals approaching them. So, it is unlikely that the people who made the seals were beginners exploring and experimenting with yoga – yogic practitioners seem to have already attained a very high degree of proficiency, so they commanded reverence and were known for their powers of mindfulness.

This suggests that yoga originated even earlier than the IVC seals. However, in Mehrgarh – an older site to the northwest of IVC sites – which flourished between 7,000 BC and 2,800 BC – archaeologists did not find any figures in yogic postures, though they did find many figurines of normal human beings. Moreover, while Mesopotamian and Persian seals at the time of IVC also show narrative imagery – they lack any figures seated in yogic poses.

While cities of the IVC declined, yoga survived and was formally codified by Patanjali much later in his Yoga Sutra (Patanjali’s date is estimated to be the 1st century BC). For Patanjali, yoga was not just about a variety of physical stances (asanas). Rather, it was a holistic system with both psychological and physical aspects. It included meditation, pranayama, and even introspective exercises such as learning to accept oneself and others. According to Patanjali, yoga was the ability to restrain random thoughts (yogah chitta-vritti-nirodhah). Those who could achieve a high level of concentration in meditation continued to be regarded very highly, as is evident from literature of the subsequent centuries.

For example the 6th century AD mahakavya (epic poem) “Kiratarjuniya”, by the poet Bharavi, depicts Arjuna as a hero, not because of his abilities in battle, but because of his power to still all contemplation and meditate. (The sixth canto of the poem describes how Arjuna’s meditation made even wild beasts in the forests on the hill feel more tranquil, by the power of influence).

The astounding feats of the Tibetan monks recorded by Benson can be accomplished by very advanced yogis, but the beneficial mental and physical effects of yoga even for completely normal and less advanced practitioners are well documented. In fact Benson, who was a professor at the Harvard Medical School, used his findings about yoga and meditation to perfect relaxation and meditation-based treatments of many diseases (including high blood pressure, heart diseases, anxiety, and insomnia) at the Mind/Body Institute at Boston.

To return to the question posed by the title of this article, yoga appears to be even older than the IVC, which would mean that it has existed for at least 5,000 years. Many other ancient accomplishments of ours died out, such as our skills in metallurgy, town planning, and our surgical knowledge as evident from the samhitas of Charaka and Sushruta. Yoga, however, thrived and even spread to other countries – whether we think of asanas, meditation, or pranayama. As yoga lovers in India and elsewhere celebrate International Yoga Day today, they can rejoice in its enduring legacy.

Christians and Yog(a)

Yoga doesn’t lead to God: Kerala Church

April 5, 2018: The Times of India

While the central government has taken several steps to promote yoga in the country, the Syro-Malabar Church’s doctrinal commission report has said that it was not a medium to attain divine experience.

The report was prepared by the Pala diocese bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangattu. “Yoga is not a way to reach God. It is not right to believe that it will be helpful to experience God or to have a personal encounter with the almighty. Yoga doesn’t bring about any improvement in any person,” said the report.

“The R-S-S and other Sangh Parivar groups are trying to promote yoga all over India. So, the laity should be more vigilant about the practice," the report adds.

“The stand taken by Pope Francis was that yoga was not a medium to attain divine experience. The Pope has several times raised his voice against the use of yoga as a medium of divine experience,” Thalassery archdiocese auxiliary bishop Mar Joseph Pamblani told.

…but Christian-dominated Kunnamthanam becomes first ‘yoga village’

Jaikrishnan Nair, Why these Kerala nuns are saying amen to yoga, April 8, 2018: The Times of India

Christian-dominated Kunnamthanam is the state’s first ‘yoga village’ and the man who made it happen is a priest

The nuns in their starched sky-blue habits are a picture of concentration, sitting cross-legged in the open courtyard of St Joseph’s Convent at Kunnamthanam village in Kerala.

They are warming up for their daily yoga session, getting their breathing into a rhythm before they launch into more demanding asanas. Their instructor is Lincy Varghese, who has already taught 40 nuns in another convent. “Last week, I started instructing at this convent. The elderly ones have also shown interest, and I have asked them to sit on chairs and practise,” she says.

Kunnamthanam is a small, sylvan village in a remote corner of Pathanamthitta district near Tiruvalla town. It is Christian dominated though its panchayat is led by the Left. Kunnamthanam recently became Kerala’s first ‘complete yoga village’, meaning almost its entire population of 20,600 practises yoga.

Of course, this didn’t happen overnight, and not without some resistance. It was a priest who helped win converts to yoga. Father C K Kurien, the vicar of St Mary’s Sehion Orthodox Church in the village, first learnt yoga before he started preaching its benefits to others. When the panchayat hall was not available, he offered the church auditorium plus complimentary coffee and refreshments to participants. He even urged his flock to take to yoga during Sunday sermons. “Because of the vicar, people from the church started joining the yoga classes. The number is increasing even now,” says Jibin Thomas, laity secretary of the church.

Earlier this week, a report of the Syro-Malabar church branded yoga as anti-Christian. Fr Kurien is aware of the latest diktat but says: “Please don’t give the tag of any religion to yoga. I am witnessing such a change among the residents here. Yoga is more than just a physical exercise, it is mental,” he says.

In fact, the classes have helped improve communal harmony with Hindus now coming freely to the church, he adds.

Instructor Lincy Varghese says several working women, especially from Christian families, have approached her for special sessions in the evenings. M G Dileep, a government employee and yoga teacher who designed the yoga course for villagers, says he conducts four sessions on all days except Sunday. The first session begins at 4.30am. “Children to 85-year-olds attend the classes,” he says.

Another priest who swears by yoga is Fr Varghese Thomas, vicar of St Mary’s Orthodox Church in Manthanam, also in the panchayat. He says it has helped him get relief from headaches and joint pain.

From June 1, all panchayat schools and institutions will have half an hour of yoga before classes and office hours. The village is also conducting classes for migrant workers.

Panchayat president K K Radhakrishna Kurup of the CPM says they want to take the project to the next level. “‘Patient-free Kunnamthanam’ is our aim,” he says.

Court decisions, Indian

SC: Yoga education not an enforceable fundamental right

Dhananjay Mahapatra, Yoga edu can't be made must, Centre tells SC, August 8, 2017: The Times of India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have led celebrations on International Yoga Day but his government has told the Supreme Court that yoga education cannot be an enforceable fundamental right under the law governing children's right to free and compulsory education.

Petitioner-advocate J C Seth had on March 8, 2011 persuaded the SC to seek response from the Centre on making yoga a compulsory subject in schools citing Section 7(6) and 8(g) and (h) of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, and the National Curriculum Framework (NCF).

On April 21, the SC had asked additional solicitor general Maninder Singh to look into the issue, which has been pending in the SC for six years awaiting the Centre's response. Seth had filed an appeal in the SC challenging a Delhi high court order rejecting the plea for introduction of yoga as part of the syllabi and holding of compulsory yoga classes for all school students.

In its recent affidavit, the human resource development ministry informed the SC, “RTE Act does not specifically mention about the curriculum of yoga. As such, it cannot be concluded that yoga education has become an enforceable fundamental right. Yoga is an integral part of the curriculum of `Health and Physical Education', which is a compulsory subject for Classes I to X. To that extent, yoga has not been neglected in school education.“

The Centre also clarified that education figured in the concurrent list and a majority of schools were under the control of states and Union Territo ries. Hence, it was for states and UTs to ensure compliance of the provisions of NCF, under which yoga is an integral part of `Health and Physical Education' at all levels of school education, it said. “Implementation of various subject areas including yoga depends upon concerned states and UTs,“ an official said.

“NCF 2005 provides that yoga may be introduced from the primary level onwards in informal ways, but formal introduction of yoga exercises should begin only from Class VI onwards,“ it said.

“So far as schools affiliated to Central Board of Secondary Education are concerned, which has adopted NCERT curriculum and syllabi, `Health and Physical Education' is compulsory for Class I to X and optional at Classes XI and XII,“ the Centre said.

Yog(a) teachers

2015: Non-Indian teachers in Tamil Nadu

The Times of India, Nov 16 2015

Diana Ningthoujam

Yoga gurus across Borders

Three Women From Foreign Shores Have Devoted Themselves To Teaching Yoga, Finding Inner Peace.


Alegal counsel, a psycholo gist and a photography major -bound together at a cosmic level by a reality rooted in the deep philosophy of yoga. Inspired by the idea of trusting the universe to do what it does, they stepped on the yoga mat and ever since, these three women have never been swayed from what they describe as the knowledge of life. Thousands of miles away from their birthplace, they found an awakening in their adopted land of Tamil Nadu, unknown to them before yoga brought them here. Now, they have made the south Indian state their home and have been relaying this knowledge and wisdom to others.

It was on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus that yoga found Iris Dremaine from Latvia. But before she could immerse herself in the asanas and `pranayamas', her life was stuck in the quagmire of stress and exhaustion of a legal job for four years. Iris has been teaching at Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre in Kottivakkam for the past six months.

After learning yoga at Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram, Neyyar Dam, in Kerala, she returned to Latvia. “I worked for two years, and took time to understand if this knowledge would work for me,“ she says.

It was a debilitating eating disorder that made 25-year-old Franziska Krusche of Germany step on the yoga mat. After struggling with bulimia for 12 years, she finally found emotional healing through yoga. A n avid traveller since she was 18, Franziska has been to more than 30 countries. In 2012, in Bali, an inner voice told her to search for the brave new world of yoga. So she sold all her belongings in Germany and came to the Sivananda Centre, Neyyar Dam, to study yoga. She has been teaching yoga for the past few weeks at 136.1 Yoga Studio in Alwarpet.

Fluent in Spanish, Italian, French and English, she wants to combine psychology and yoga teaching in future. “I want to set up my business and start healing people with emotional problems. London-born, US-raised Erin Korn began her yoga journey from high school. This 32-year-old yogini first came to India in 2005 to undergo Isha Yoga's teachers' training and has been a full-time volunteer with the centre in Coimbatore ever since. Taking cue from her major in photography, Erin believes in capturing moments in life and turning them into something mean ingful.

Though many rue yoga has become commercialised, value and purpose are the sustainable criteria on which a strong foundation to teach the wonders of yoga can be built, she feels.

A secular, international fitness regime

US Court: Yoga now a secular American phenomenon

Chidanand Rajghatta TNN

The Times of India 2013/07/04

Washington: Yoga enthusiasts in the US got a big boost this week when a California judge ruled that the practice which originated in India is now a “distinctly American cultural phenomenon,” while dismissing complaints from some parents that teaching it to school children amounted to “an unconstitutional promotion of Eastern religions.”

Weeks of testimony from yoga practitioners and opponents, including live demonstration in courtroom of poses taught to children, came to a convoluted finale on Monday when Judge John Mayer agreed that yoga “at its roots is religious,” but pronounced that the kind introduced by a school district near San Diego, which was the subject of the litigation, passed the test of secularism. “A reasonable student would not objectively perceive that Encinitas School District yoga does advance or promote religion,” he said.

Parents of some children had sued to stop the school district from teaching yoga maintaining it is a religious practice that surreptitiously promoted Hinduism. Funded with $533,000 from the K Pattabhi Jois Foundation, which is backed by Jois acolytes, hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II and his wife Sonia, the school district introduced a three-year pilot yoga programme in 2011.

While some 30 families pulled their children out of the classes, saying teaching of yoga in schools blurred the line between church and state and “represents a serious breach of the public trust,” many parents backed the programme. School authorities said in court that they had removed all religious elements from what was taught to the students, including the use of the word Namaste and substituting Sanskrit name of asanas with English ones. For instance, Padmasana, usually called lotus pose in English, became “criss cross apple sauce” in Americanese to appeal to children.

In fact, Judge Meyer, who had told the court early in the case that he himself had taken Bikram yoga classes, went so far as to observe that the yoga taught in Encinitas schools was no different from exercise programmes like dodgeball. He was also irritated that some of the plaintiffs were not really informed about yoga as taught in the Encinitas schools and had simply got their information from dubious sources on the internet.

Yog is secular: US court

The Times of India

Apr 05 2015

School yoga is secular, says US court

A US court on Friday ruled that yoga taught in a California school was “devoid of any religious, mystical or spiritual trappings“ and didn't violate students' right to religious freedom, after some parents filed a lawsuit alleging that Hindu and Buddhist doctrines were being surreptitiously promoted through yoga classes. It upheld a lower court's ruling that the practice was now a “distinctly American cultural phenomenon“, reports Chidanand Rajghatta. The Encinitas Union School District had introduced a three-year yoga programme in 2011, with biweekly classes. Thirty families pulled their kids out of the classes though the school said the classes were also aimed at curbing aggressive behaviour and bullying.

The parents' attorney hinted they may now move the Supreme Court.

Yoga has no religious trappings: US court

The Times of India

Apr 05 2015

Chidanand Rajghatta

Attempts by yoga opponents in California to twist the ancient Indian practice to present it as religious indoctrination has again been rejected by a US court. A three-judge panel of the 4th district court of appeal upheld a decision by the San Diego superior court that the yoga programme in the Encinitas School District is “devoid of any religious, mystical or spiritual trappings.“

“We conclude that the programme is secular... (and) does not have the primary effect of advancing or inhibiting religion, and does not excessively entangle the school district in religion,“ the appeals court said on Friday .

As reported in this paper earlier in 2013, a lower court judge in California has already ruled that practice that originated in India is now a “distinctly American cultural phenomenon,“ while dismissing complaints from some parents that teaching it to school children amounted to “an unconstitutional promotion of Eastern religions.“

Parents of some children had sued to stop the school district from teaching yoga, maintaining it is a religious practice that surreptitiously promoted Hinduism and Buddhism. Funded with $533,000 from the K Pattabhi Jois Foundation, which is backed by Jois acolytes, hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II and his wife Sonia, the school had introduced a three-year pilot yoga programme in 2011, with twice-a week classes in addition to regular physical education.

While some 30 families pulled their children out of the classes, saying teaching of yoga in schools blurred the line between church and state and “represents a serious breach of the public trust,“ many parents backed the programme, which the school said was also aimed at curbing aggressive behaviour and bullying. The school later told the court that it had removed all religious elements, including the use of `namaste', and substituting the Sanskrit name of asanas with English ones.

For instance, Padmasana, usually called lotus pose in English, was termed “criss cross apple sauce“ in the Encinitas school programme to appeal to children. In fact, the judge in that case went so far as to observe that the yoga taught in Encinitas schools was no different from exercise programmes like dodgeball. He was also irritated that the plaintiffs were not really informed about yoga as taught in the Encinitas schools and had simply got their information from dubious sources on the internet.“It's almost like a trial by Wikipedia, which isn't what this court does,“ he observed.

The chastisement did not stop the plaintiffs from going to the appeals court, which again snubbed them and upheld the ruling of the district court, which heard and saw weeks of testimony from yoga practitioners and opponents, including live demonstration in courtroom of poses taught to children.

Attorney Dean Broyles, who represented the parents in the lawsuit, said he and his clients “are disappointed with the decision and we are carefully considering our options,“ -a hint that the matter could even head to the supreme court.

Rishikesh exports yoga teachers

Prachi Raturi Misra, Rishikesh yoga gurus have China in a twist , March 7, 2017: The Times of India

Rishikesh, believed by many to be the yoga ca pital of India, is also emerging as one of the biggest exporters of yoga teachers to Southeast Asia as well as China where demand for yoga is at an all-time high.An estimated 1,500 Indian yo ga teachers, for instance, are believed to be teaching in China. Of these, 70 to 80% hail from Rishikesh and Haridwar, home to various yoga schools where these teachers have honed their skills.

Ashish Bahuguna, who has been teaching yoga in China for over a decade now, learned his asanas at the Par marth Niketan ashram in Rishikesh. Last year, he was conferred the title of `The Most Beautiful Yogi of China'. Bahuguna, who runs his own studio `WeYoga' in Beijing, says that even though there are others who are teaching yoga, Indian teachers are the most preferred. “The Chinese prefer us since we have a grip over the basics of the science,“ he told TOI over email.

According to a report by Beijing-based Daxue Consulting, yoga is growing rapidly in China with the number of people involved in its practice rising from four million in 2009 to 10 million in 2014. China has seen a surge in the number of yoga teachers in the country While in 2009, about 1.1 lakh .professional coaches -both local and from across the globe --were active here, the number had jumped to 2.3 lakh by 2014, as per a report by Beijingbased Daxue Consulting.

Mohan Bhandari, one of the first yoga teachers from Rishikesh to settle in China, says that the Chinese are very particular about learning yoga “the right way .“ “It is a characteristic of the Chinese that they want to learn things from people who they consider as subject natives. That is why the demand for Indian yoga teachers is high in the country .“

Bhandari, who went to China in 2003, now has a chain of `Yogi Yoga' studios across that country and claims to have over 9,000 students enrolled with him. In Rishikesh currently , along with a few of his students for the International Yoga Festival being held at the Parmarth Niketan ashram, Bhandari told TOI that the surging demand for good teachers -he estimates the yoga industry in China as growing at an annual rate of 20% -has prompted many youngsters to follow in his footsteps. “I have seen a sizeable number of well-qualified boys from Rishikesh come to China to teach yoga. All of them are earning upwards of Rs 1 lakh per month.“ Although there are several types of yoga styles being taught in the various studios, Iyengar Yoga (which uses props) is a big hit with the Chinese. Manu Rana, another Rishikesh lad who now teaches yoga in the Fujian province of southwest China, says that Iyengar Yoga despite being tough “gives great results and has impressed many of my students“.

David Li, a Chinese yoga practitioner, told TOI over email that “yoga has given me great benefits and rejuvenation. Last year, I got the opportunity to visit the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh and became completely enamoured with the practice. I soon enrolled in an Indian yoga studio in my city . I think I must have done some good deeds that I am able to learn this ancient practice from traditional teachers“.

Outside India

`Yoga' among 15 popular words in UK

`Yoga' among top 15 popular words in UK |Apr 14 2017 : PTI

`Yoga' along with words like `Facebook' and `Twitter' is among the top fifteen popular words in the British society , say scientists who found that the internet age has had a massive influence on the English language.

The study , by Lancaster University and Cambridge University Press in the UK, looked at the most characteristic words of informal chit-chat in today's Britain.

In Pakistan/ 2018

Bina Shah, Surya Namaskar in a hijab, June 24, 2018: The Times of India

As Yoga Day celebrations become a fixture across the border, Bina Shah writes about how Pakistan has embraced yoga minus the Hinduism

I first heard of yoga while I was growing up in Pakistan in the 1980s, with the arrival on the Karachi scene of a colourful personality called Professor Moiz Hussain. He had trained at the Yoga Institute in Mumbai, then branched out into alternative stress-reduction and healing techniques like reiki from Japan, NLP (neurolinguistic programming) from California and qigong, with roots in China. His Institute of Mind Sciences and Classical Yoga attracted a certain type of Karachi woman — affluent and well-travelled — who was interested in developing her mind and body. Slowly at first, one teacher after another emerged to offer classes. Still, they had to be careful: The 1980s was a time of rigorous Islamisation in Pakistan and cold hostility to India, and anything remotely associated with India or Hinduism was discouraged if not outlawed.

This particularly affected the arts, namely classical Indian dance; government officials banned public performances as both “vulgar” and “Indian”; Pakistani students of the art could not obtain visas to study under gurus in India, and local teachers had to migrate to other countries because classical dance became so unpopular they could not attract students. (Only Kathak, with its Mughal origins in northwestern India before Partition, was looked upon with a less jaundiced eye than the unabashedly Hindu-flavoured Odissi or Bharatanatyam schools of dance.) The way around this was to introduce yoga as a practice less spiritual than physical, but yoga classes in Karachi remained small, private and for a select few. Then, in the 1990s, when state-run television gave way to a profusion of private television channels, yoga found another outlet: breakfast and morning shows in which a physical activity segment aimed at housewives often included a 20-minute or halfhour yoga session. Sandwiched in between advice on the best foods for a baby and how to cook enticing meals for the household, a non-threatening form of yoga — no extreme physical poses, just one that could be performed in modest clothing — was available to women in Pakistan with access to cable channels.

Viewers were encouraged to stretch and breathe to cultivate healthy bodies and minds, a goal not incompatible with the moderately conservative form of Islam practiced by 90% of Pakistanis. Yoga even began to come out into the open, with sessions held in public parks, where some teachers made mild comparisons between yogic meditation and Islamic reflection, or the poses in a simple sun salutation and the positions taken in salat, a ritual Islamic prayer. This opened up yoga to middle-class, conservative Pakistanis who might have remained hostile to the practice had it been presented as a purely Hindu or Indian ascetic discipline.

Today, yoga is immensely popular in all cities of Pakistan; a yoga teacher named Shamshad Haider claims to run 50 yoga clubs in Punjab, and International Yoga Day has been celebrated in Pakistan for four years in a row. Yoga is practised all the way from Chitral in the north to Karachi in the south. There’s a whole crop of younger teachers now equipped with training from India, Thailand and Bali, as well as from yoga schools in North America and Britain. Teachers at swank studios in Karachi attract students through Facebook pages and affiliations with the International Yoga Alliance.

Their classes incorporate styles from hatha, vinyasa flow, ashtanga, even power yoga and Bikram yoga. They use the Sanskrit names for the poses interchangeably with the English ones, and both womenonly and mixed classes are popular. Meanwhile, yoga still appears on television, in schools and in park sessions, with women meditating while wearing shalwar kameezes, or full abas and hijabs, and men with long beards and shalwar kameezes performing sun salutations next to men in track pants and T-shirts.

Yoga purists would probably bristle at the attempt to dissociate yoga from Hinduism or India, but it’s not that different from what’s happening to yoga in the West, with its hot yoga studios and aerial yoga and Yoga asana championships. It also reminds me of what has been happening to Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. In the West, Sufism has been disconnected from its Muslim roots and presented as a universal movement of peace and tolerance, the 13th-century Persian mystic Rumi portrayed as a lovelorn poet singing of love rather than a conservative Islamic cleric bent on forging a fierce connection with his creator. A necessary sacrifice, perhaps, to spread the universal message of peace, tolerance and love.

Pakistan, which was amputated from India in 1947, then lured by the promise of power and richness coming from the Middle East, has never been able to decide whether its identity is Arab or South Asian. After decades of trying to identify with a purely Islamic heritage and history, some Pakistanis are finally recognising that their heritage is unique, informed by strains of tradition and heritage from many geographical areas: Central Asia and Persia, as well as India and the Middle East.

Our current challenge is to reconnect with the many sources of our roots and heritage, while forging a new identity that will serve us well into the future.

As I practice yoga gazing out to the Arabian Sea in Karachi, I can’t help wondering whether some of this reconnection might come from yoga. We move in unison as our teacher calls out the Sanskrit names of asanas. Then the call to prayer begins to ring out from a nearby mosque and we fall silent, listening to the sound of our own breaths and the time-old Arabic words of the azaan. As soon as the practice is over, I’ll roll up my yoga mat and go find my prayer mat. I’ve never felt so integrated, so connected to my Islamic heritage and my South Asian roots.

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