Ministry of Yoga: A Step in the Right Direction
Government of India took a step in the right direction by creating the ministry of Yoga. This is the first step to reclaiming and possessing India's true cultural heritage. Prime Minister Modi is upholding his promise to serve India, through this quest for true knowledge and heritage of Yoga, one of the greatest contributions of India. Yoga is an esoteric mind-body spiritual technique perfected in India as early as the early first evidence of Indian culture are traceable. Indus valley, as well as Vedic texts provide the first basic evidence, while the first text is Yogasutras composed by Patanjali, dated to about 600 B.C.E. Early lime stone statue of a man from Mohenjodaro in meditative stance (John Marshal identified him as philosopher-king) supports that meditative practices (known as yoga) were known during this period. Vedas also contains several reference to yoga, which will be discussed below. Traditional yoga includes practices that have come to be classed as Hathayoga, Pranayama, and Rajayoga, while earlier yoga included all of these three elements as part of the essential practice of yoga. However, modern yoga and its revival is to be credited to the West, which rekindled the interest of millions of individuals in the fascinating practice of yoga.
Origins of Yoga in India
A thousand years of colonial and alien rule has forced India to distance itself from its past, and especially its spiritual and religious heritage. Yoga has suffered most due to this neglect. Its origins are lost, and only cryptic references from the Vedas remain. Rigveda, the most ancient scripture in the world (Rigveda's most ancient hymns date to 4600 B.C.E while the its latest sections date to 2300 B.C.E. although some place the latest portions between 2000-1800 B.C.E.) contains the earliest references to yoga. Vedic references note yoga, as a vehicle (conveyance), to visualize or to go beyond what can be seen or understood by the naked eye (the physical vision). Hence Yoga is also used in the sense of yukta (join or jointed) with the inner self-conscious (Atma-Brahma) to open the mind's (mana) eye. Opening this inner eye or the eye of the mind by ascending the vehicle of yoga is at the core of yoga practice referred in this early stage. This central goal continues to dominate the later quest of yoga known from Hindu tradition (also known from other Indian traditions such as Buddhist and Jain traditions, as well as other yoga practitioners such as Anatha Kesakambalin, etc.). Life stories of both the Buddha (560-480 B.C.E) and the Jaina Mahavira (599-527 B.C.E.) mention their meeting with established yoga teachers, and their practice of yoga, as a path to enlightenment. Therefore it is clear that between 2000 B.C.E-600 B.C.E., yoga was practiced by sages, and those seeking true knowledge (atma jnana), although it is not clear if it was practiced by common people during this period. Yoga practice by common people only comes to us through the discussion of yoga in Bhagavadgita and Mahabharata (300 B.C.E). Yoga texts may have also existed during this early stage between 2000 B.C.E-600 B.C.E, however, only Patanjali's Yogasutras, and Samkhyakarika of Isvarakrishna are the only surviving texts known to us. While the Yogasutras, and Samkhyakarika provide the textual basis for the philosophical practice of mindful meditation. while physical discipline and postures are important to achieve perfection in this philosophical practice of mindful meditation texts avoid describing the postures, and leave it to personal practice under an accomplished teacher, lest it may lead to wrongful postures and become harmful rather than beneficial to the soul. This might have been the reason Mahabharata and Bhagavadgita confine to discussion of meditative and philosophical aspects of Yoga, but not physical postures.
Modern society found reliable and quantifiable value in practicing yoga, for mental and physical well being of an individual, which is at the core its revival in the West as well as India. However, India should be conscious of Yoga in its true practice and evolution, and support a holistic understanding of Yoga as a spiritual and physical practice, but not entirely driven by utilitarian goals of health, and beauty.
The following book may be useful in understanding the research and publications available on yoga: Callahan D. Yoga : An Annotated Bibliography Of Works In English, 1981-2005 / Daren Callahan (Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co. Inc., Publishers, c2007). This book includes 2,400 scholarly and popular works on Yoga, which only goes to show the popularity of yoga as a subject of popular study and practice in modern world. Physical ailments from multiple sclerosis to arthritis, blood pressure, heart attack and numerous other issues. Yoga is especially found to be helpful to individuals suffering from depression and PTSD. It is this utilitarian perspective that brought yoga to fame recently in the last fifty years. Yoga is found to be helpful in a number of health issues at the same time it is also noted for boosting self confidence and body image of practitioners. The positive benefits of yoga made it a favorite activity for a number of practitioners in the United States, and the Western hemisphere in general. Therefore yoga has transformed in the modern practice as a therapy, and a physical exercise, although it is also practiced for spiritual benefits occasionally. Recent book
Yoga community hopes for help and support from the ministry of Yoga in its development and practice. The Ministry of Yoga, would be served well to invite proposal from various community members of Yoga practice, as well as scholarly and research groups for the development of Yoga, and its practice. As a new ministry, it will be challenge to develop an all encompassing program at the outset, but seeking cooperation and advise from various practitioners might help it evolve a right action plan. One aspect that needs to be considered carefully is preserving the integrity of Yoga in age of commercialization. Aspects of commercialization should be curbed, and a clear path of understanding and synthesis between the traditional path of Yoga and modern practice of Yoga should be established. A priority of the ministry of Yoga should be finding and digitalizing all available texts and resources of Yoga and making them freely available to Yoga practitioners.