India Wants to Reclaim Yoga and Its Spirituality

Sarah Alender
India Wants to Reclaim Yoga and Its Spirituality

India has a new minister of yoga, and he has a big goal: to make the practice as popular in India as it is in the West.

The “Home Team”

Shripad Yesso Naik, who became India’s official Minister for Yoga and Traditional Medicine in November, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are on a mission to “reclaim yoga for the home team,” according to the Washington Post.

This means expanding the ancient practice into more than 600,000 schools and thousands of police training centers and hospitals. The goal is to make yoga a part of civic life.

Yoga is arguably more widespread in the U.S. than it is in India, as it is “far more easily and commercially available” in America, says Seattle Yoga News. The commercialization of the practice has led to a vast variety of classes, and many Americans view the practice as simply physical exercise rather than a spiritual activity.

In the face of all this, Modi aims to bring yoga back to its origins.

He has repeatedly called for greater use of India’s traditional health remedies and exercises as part of a push to promote traditional learning, according to Reuters. In September, he suggested an International Yoga Day be created in the hopes of reinforcing India’s link to the beloved tradition adopted round the world.

A Religious and Cultural Heritage

Reclaiming yoga also involves emphasizing its ancient roots as part of Indian heritage and reminding people that it isn't all about trendy new classes and fancy mats. By promoting the practice, Naik and Modi hope that Indian citizens will be reminded that yoga originated in their country.

This means getting back to the spiritual roots of yoga, which had its origins in Hinduism but is now widely seen as a form of exercise rather than a religious practice.

Naik’s initiative will “put the focus back on yoga’s mindfulness benefits, correcting assumptions that seemingly grew out of its popularity in the West,” says the Deseret News. “There is little doubt about yoga being an Indian art form,” says Naik. “We’re trying to establish to the world that it’s ours.”

What do you think? Does India need to “reclaim” its ancient discipline? Has yoga become too Westernized?