Did America Steal Yoga from the Hindus?

To answer the title of this post, yes it did, at least according to this thought-provoking assessment of the apparently rocky relationship between Hinduism and the practice of yoga in the West.  Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation, writes, in essence, that the early Indian transmitters of yoga to the West sold out.  They all just sort of said, “To heck with Hinduism, let’s see the money!”

Hinduism, as a faith tradition, stands at this pass a victim of overt intellectual property theft, absence of trademark protections and the facile complicity of generations of Hindu yogis, gurus, swamis and others that offered up a religion’s spiritual wealth at the altar of crass commercialism.

“Facile complicity” sounds very bad.  A bold assertion that goes a bit far, I believe, in questioning the intent of the early pioneers and yogis who helped establish a uniquely American yoga tradition, which was certainly influenced just as much by early adopters in America as those few Indians who left home to share an ancient, yet new philosophy and way of life.  Nonetheless, questions remain about the “ownership” of the true origins of yoga.

Of course, no one stands to argue that yoga hasn’t commercialized itself in true capitalistic fashion and sold itself to the masses; however, I’m curious to know how Daily Cup of Yoga’s faithful readers feel about the melting pot of American yoga, the blending of Western thought/religion/heritage with an Eastern (oops…dare I say Hindu…) philosophical tradition.  In the age of the hybrid vehicle, it seems as if yoga easily lends itself to those open to hybrid religion.

Finally, despite his annoyance with what he believes to be intellectual and historical blindness, Mr. Shukla appears to soften, and perhaps weaken, his argument when he acknowledges the universal benefits yoga has for those from any religious background.

All of this is not to contend, of course, that yoga is only for Hindus. Yoga is Hinduism’s gift to humanity to follow, practice and experience. No one can ever be asked to leave their own religion or reject their own theologies or to convert to a pluralistic tradition such as Hinduism. Yoga asks only that one follow the path of yoga for it will necessarily lead one to become a better Hindu, Christian, Jew or Muslim. Yoga, like its Hindu origins, does not offer ways to believe in God; it offers ways to know God.

As for myself, I don’t really know who owns yoga or whether the little yogi stick figures carved into the Mohenjo-Daro stones were Hindus or not, but I’m definitely a hybrid guy who’s happy to have discovered the beautiful and unique, perhaps one-of-a-kind unifying gem, called yoga.


  1. I have been having a discussion on another blog along these same lines. I do believe that commercialism has changed the face of yoga and that it will continue to change. In America, it will eventually only be either A. a workout B. A bunch of flowery words and easy postures used for stress relief when it really is so much more then either of those.

    Who knows if the early Indian yogis were influenced by money. They really are the only ones who can answer that. I am sure they did change a bit to suit the Americans but it seems like the really huge changes happened after American born individuals started teaching it.

    There are so many yoga teachers out there who have never read even the Yoga Sutras which really is foundational philosophy for yoga and they are packing out classes. Those people are then teaching other people which just continues to water yoga down a bit more.

  2. Didn’t those who first came to America come to seek financial security, wealth, and freedom? It would stand to reason that everything that is filtered through our society reflects those desires regardless of the path chosen and the choices made. Based on this the current development and practice of yogic teachings in America reflect American ideals. The amazing thing about such metamorphosis of traditions is that there is something there for everyone and it is our individual choice to find it.

  3. It is sad that the large majority of yoga practitioners and teachers in America will never read the Yoga Sutras or really reach out for the whole philosophy of yoga. Yoga offers such a profoundly deeper lesson and has such deeper benefits than most of us care to look for and for that reason, there will be parts of yoga that may be lost forever here someday in America. I, myself, have not seriously read through the Sutras, nor do i know as much as I’d like to about the whole philosophy, but I continue, like a student, to learn what I can as I incorporate the practice and philosophy into my life. The connection with God is more important to me than making sure I know all the technical knowledge and language. And I teach my students what I learn so that the spirit of yoga, not just the physical work, is passed on.

    I agree with what Mr. Shukla said last, “Yoga…does not offer ways to believe in God; it offers ways to know God.” I think that western yoga, with the right direction, can preserve this most sacred part of yoga. In a more hopeful light, perhaps we could look at it in terms of life’s ages and stages. Perhaps our relationship with yoga could be considered that of a child’s or adolescent’s: curious, excited, exploitive, but (mostly) well-intentioned. And with age and experience, we will learn to dig deeper for the true lessons and meaning of yoga.

  4. Everything has to start somewhere and there are always a few unscrupulous types willing to take advantage in the course of something like yoga developing in new cultures and evolving over the years. I agree that way too many people see the asana practice as what yoga is and never look beyond. But at least they are getting the benefit of asana and if they have good teachers maybe some of the philosophy will eventually sink in. There’s a documentary about the westernization of yoga on Hulu called Yoga, Inc. that’s pretty interesting if you haven’t seen it yet. http://www.hulu.com/watch/134936/yoga-inc


  5. T.K.V. Desikachar says, “Yoga was rejected by Hinduism… because yoga would not insist that God exists. It didn’t say there was no God but just wouldn’t insist there was…. Yoga is not a religion and should not [affiliate] with any religion.”

    Swami Rama says, “Yoga is a systematic science; its teachings are an integral part of most religions, but yoga itself is not a religion. Most religions teach one what to do, but yoga teaches one how to be. Yoga practices, however, described in symbolic language, may be found in the sacred scriptures of most religions.”

    Mr. Shukla correctly, if unintentionally, points out that Mr. Desikachar is correct, “Yoga asks only that one follow the path of yoga for it will necessarily lead one to become a better Hindu, Christian, Jew or Muslim. Yoga, like its Hindu origins, does not offer ways to believe in God; it offer ways to know God.”

  6. I try to find out more about the Hindu American Foundation and came across an article on the Californian Texttbook Controversy. I think we need to keep that in mind when reading articles such as this, because it really illustrates what these people are about.

    1. Do you have any idea what California text book controversy is all about? It is about projecting Hindus as primitive savages in school books, a description which Hindus are contesting.

  7. Americans are the most shameless moronic capitalist thugs in the world. Majority of the American yoga teachers are self serving selfish money hungry people trying to make a buck off India’s Hindu Yoga tradition. Most Americans dont know better. They think what they r doing is the real yoga. Now they call it “Christian Yoga”. Christian Yoga my ass.The same Yoga teachers are racist to Hindus & Hindusim. How India allowed this to happen is beyond me. These Americans are destroying our culture, and we are watching like helpless victims.

  8. Of course Yoga was/is stolen from the Hindus. But, of course, it is weak Hindus that have allowed this to happen.

  9. Yoga; have returned to its place of origin, The ancient amerikhans practiced yoga; just see the statutes left by them.

  10. Yoga is a gift of god who know as load shiva………….its so deep………lot of ans n many more till have to come…..the real yoga guru r not in amarica n the real guru not take money okk……

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