When did yoga take a dangerous bend?

Source: http://srfglassonion.blogspot.com/2012/03/when-did-yoga-take-dangerous-bend.html

The writer has posted comments on this article Purba Dutt, TNN | Mar 18, 2012, 12.27PM IST

From India Times newspaper

At Cosmic Fusion, a yoga studio that opened in 2010 in Mumbai's upmarket suburb of Khar, co-founder Payal Gidwani Tiwari teaches her 80-odd students the Kaivalyadham school of yoga.

The beachwood and mirror-lined rooms, orchids scattered around the reception area and a Reclining Buddha promising a go at nirvana, are part of building what Tiwari calls an 'experience'. Offering cold facial wipes ("they are great to open pores after rigorous exercise") and cups of green tea help to gently bid her students a feel-good adios. "They walk in, stressed, and 50 per cent of my work is done by the soothing spa-like ambience. I then run them through the various packages we have to offer," she says.

That's quite a shift from yoga as sage Patanjali documented it in the Yoga Sutras between 100BC and 500BC. The only package he spoke of was the Eight Limbs of yoga divided into bahiranga sadhana (five external aids) and antaranga sadhana (three internal aids).

But that was a time when yoga hadn't crossed Indian shores; it hadn't amassed 20 million fans across America; it wasn't a $6 billion industry. It hadn't yet given birth to a yoga mogul like John Friend, whose Anusara Yoga empire includes 2,00,000 followers in 70 countries, 1,200 certified teachers, and ancillary businesses like a yoga-wear arm and one of Japan's largest yoga school chains. Early last month, the revelation that Friend was a serial adulterer, sex maniac and marijuana dealer, left his followers disillusioned even as he stepped down and set off on a sabbatical to pursue "self-reflection, therapy and personal retreat." The pudgy 53-year-old's case has, once again, provided reason to ask whether modern yoga is becoming a curious, often self-defeating, mix of spiritual mumbo-jumbo, sex and fitness obsession.

Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer William J Broad, himself a yoga practitioner since the 1970s, opened a can of worms last month, when he wrote Yoga and sex scandals: No surprise here, an article for the New York Times. "Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult - an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise," he wrote. In his latest book, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, Broad demonstrates how yoga can stir hormones, including sexual ones. "Hatha yoga - the parent of the styles now practised around the globe - began as a branch of Tantra, which centres on sexual unions, both cosmic and personal.

Only the light of accountability can help people understand that gurus and teachers are also human beings," he says in an e-mail interview. Not unexpectedly, Broad has been at the receiving end of scathing criticism. Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, member of the Indian Yoga Association (IYA) and honorary general secretary of Pondicherry Yogasana Association, says, "This is a ridiculous falsification and mis-interpolation of facts, concocted by a publicity seeker, and has been well rebutted in numerous forums by yogis all over the world." "The Eight Limbs of yoga clearly mentions the Yama, or abstinences - not to harm, lie, and use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection with the spiritual self. Anything that doesn't meet these standards, is not yoga," argues Hansaji Jayadeva Yogendra, Director of the 93-year-old The Yoga Institute in Mumbai.

It's important, believes, Stefanie Syman, author of The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America, to separate individual gurus from the craft itself. "I don't think yoga is inextricably linked to sleaze at all. John Friend was one teacher; a successful one, but only one. Most students can distinguish between the actions of an individual and the practice itself, and the immense benefits it usually delivers," says Syman, arguing that even before Friend, yoga's modern history is littered with scandals like those involving Swami Muktananda, Swami Satchidananda and Rodney Yee. "These men behaved, by and large, like successful men in any other profession, whether politics or finance."

Glamour does a big disservice That millions of yoga followers also include some of the world's most glamourous names (singer Sting, Hollywood star Robert Downey Junior, Bollywood diva Lara Dutta), doesn't help. Inspired by their icons, hordes turn to yoga for all the wrong reasons. The gurus, some of whom are said to lead lifestyles that could beat L.A. DJs', operate out of ashrams the size of counties, milking the ancient craft through profitspilling merchandise and patents. Back home, Baba Ramdev, who heads the Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar, was caught in an asset controversy, when news of his organisation having acquired a Scottish Island for about £2 million, made it to the papers. But Syman isn't worried.

"I wouldn't make too much of the connection between yoga and money. Most committed teachers struggle to make a living. Bikram (Bikram Choudhury, millionaire guru of Bikram Yoga fame) has a clear agenda for yoga that superficially eschews the spiritual agenda. Those who are open to experiencing a spiritual experience via yoga will find it, whether or not a few gurus are successful. Osho Rajneesh's Rolls Royces did not diminish interest in yoga or its philosophical dimension, did it?" she asks.

Talking about the grand old man of Indian yoga, 94-year-old BKS Iyengar, Dr Rajvi H Mehta, spokesperson from the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, says, "I cannot comment on the lifestyle of others, but I do know that Yogacharya BKS Iyengar practises what he preaches. His life is an open book. He lives by the belief: Giving does not impoverish and withholding does not enrich."

There's a school for every season Actress Shilpa Shetty, who has a yoga DVD to her credit, points to what could be one reason for the malaise, when she says, "Several kinds of yoga thrive today, and they target different aspects. You take your pick." A few weeks ago, the Internet world reacted with horror when videos of 51-year-old Egypt-based Russian, Lena Fokina flinging infants in mid-air, surfaced. She claimed her techniques helped babies develop intuitive abilities, turning them into 'smart, artistic' adults.

Who'll control gimmick gurus? Syman says yoga teachers abroad struggle with questions of authenticity. But the reason yoga has survived over millennia is because teachers have innovated. "In India, there's greater premium on positioning yourself in line with tradition. In America, we like to advertise how creative we are and how much we improve upon tradition," she says.

It is to check unauthorised fly-by-night yoga gurus that the IYA was set up in 2008 in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. One of its key roles is to monitor the accreditation and affiliation of yoga institutions, and prescribe basic requirements for affiliation.

Bhavanani argues that Yoga Alliance, an organisation that supports yoga in America, has laid down 200 to 500-hour training standard for teachers, which isn't sufficient. "Imposters are riding the wave and creating an unclean environment that stinks of commerce. But having said that, yoga is life, and life is infinite. Traditionally, it's said there are 84,00,000 asanas! If that's the case, how can anyone announce that he has invented a new asana or claim a patent?"

Would John Friend like to answer that one?


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