The Coast News Group
Community Commentary

New age yoga: Old age theft and surrender

What is Yoga? Hinduism. Some 5,000 years ago, there were people living in a place which came to be known as the (H)indus river valley. 

It was these (H)indus that created the religious language known as Sanskrit. The Sanskrit/Hindu word “Yoga” means: “Yuj Atman Brahman ca,” (“To yoke to one’s individual Soul and Soul Source.”) The various (authentic) Yogas are the means by which Hindus achieve this Soul/Self-Realization: Karma Yoga (ethics), Bhakti Yoga (devotion), Raja Yoga (meditation) and Jnana Yoga (outer and inner study or enlightenment). There are other Yogas within these classic Hindu/Yogas, such as: Hatha Yoga (Hindu devotional postures).

It is Hatha that is, generally, distorted by the simplistic use of “Yoga.” With a vital ethical and devotional attitude (posture), the Hindu (or student of Hinduism) is now ready for the physical postures (asanas). The asanas represent a specifically Hindu worldview. “Hatha” refers not only to nature worship (moon; sun: tha) but also to the Hindu deities Siva, Vishnu (Hara; Hari).

The “Soul” purpose of the asanas is to create a healthy body, calm mind and emotions in order to enter the spirit realms. It is for this Soul purpose that, of all the Hindu/Yogas, Hatha Yoga was supposed to be kept, relatively, secret. Sages realized that the immature would emphasize the body, thus, completely distorting the spiritual intent. Feeling good at the expense of others is not an ethical choice.

New Age Yoga (NAY) is: Hot Yoga, Power Yoga and Gentle Yoga, to name few. There are especially arrogant individuals who even attach their own names to these Hindu disciplines. There are so-called 200 hour Certified Yoga Teachers and Yoga Therapists.

Imagine treating Baptism and Communion as an Underwater Therapy and Wine Tasting business! Envision a Fitness Rabbi, Diet Pope and Gaming Imam! Picture Hot Baptism (at your local gym), Power Mass and Gentle Genuflecting! How about a 200 hour Certified Communion Teacher greeting students with Hallelujah and denying any Christian connection? How about marketing Baptism pants to display one’s physical accomplishments! As ridiculous as this seems, this is exactly how callous, absurd and insulting is the NAY crusade.

How many also realize that, factually, the following are sacred Sanskrit/Hindu terms: Namaste, Karma, Mantra, Guru, Swastika and Chakras? How many are aware that Hindus invented the all-important zero? Along with Yoga, these Hindu terms have been co-opted and distorted beyond recognition. Unfortunately, not a week goes by that the press and Madison Avenue do not aid in reinforcing the abuse of these religious terms. NAY is bringing in big money.

In the “NAYsayers” dogma, Yoga is everything but religion. To them, Yoga is a physical exercise and, perhaps, an elite universal spiritual practice. The thoughtless cliché: “I am spiritual but not religious,” is a common deception. It is in this pseudo-spirituality that NAY gets very bizarre.

Covertly indoctrinating one into any religion is abusive. Scattering Hindu terms and displaying Hindu images into a so-called Yoga class should be cause for not only questioning the religion of the teacher but also the intent. And, “naturally,” it costs money for these “spiritual teachings.” Those who feel superior to the more religious should remember everyone is free to go into any religious service.

There are many established religions. Of course, a truly creative individual may come up with something new. However, stealing from an existing religion (and/or culture), then denying it, and profiting from it is the M.O. of the usurper. Repeated invasions of India have left many Hindus in a state of confusion, at best. Hindus have historically been “an easy mark” and are at fault for not learning and protecting their religion. Some Hindus simply give up: “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

Divorcing any aspect of Yoga from its Hindu roots is dishonest and a grave insult to a great world religion and it adherents. Presently, the Yino flock to their studios and completely shun Hindu Temples/Ashrams and teachers. Ironically, qualified Hindu teachers have been denied teaching Hatha Yoga in a public setting not only because it is religion but also because they did not have a Western Yoga Certification! The “Certified Yogis/Yoginis” are, actually, clueless not only to the facts of Yoga but also to the austere and devoted lifestyle of the true Yogi.

If one wants to learn Hinduism/Yoga (and perhaps become a Hindu), do that. If one wants to stretch and relax, be thoughtful and considerate and don’t call it Yoga.

Swami Param is president of the Classical Yoga Hindu Academy in Barnegat, N.J.



Swami Param April 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Yes, just as concerned Hindus are righfully upset about the complete distortion of the Hindu/Yogic Dharma, we appreciate the feelings of devout Sikhs who realize how spurious is the 3HO Sikh movement under their late so-called “Yogi” Bhajan.

Gursant Singh April 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm

The Sikh religion does not preach to perform yoga asanas or mantras yet Yogi Bhajan and now his followers who call themselves Sikhs practice tantric / kundalini yoga. I don’t think Bhajan’s funny yoga would even qualify as Hindu yoga either. I wish these Bhajan followers would just call themselves Bhajanites and quit giving religion a bad name.

This review is from: Confessions of an American Sikh: Locked up in India, corrupt cops & my escape from a “New Age” tantric yoga cult! (Paperback) & (Kindle)

Gursant Singh’s recounting of his passage to India and out of a corrupt yoga empire is as enjoyable as it is compelling. This is a story of exploitation — Gursant’s victimization by his fraudulent master, Yogi Bhajan, and his own demoralizing work running scams to prop up the yogi’s luxurious lifestyle. It’s a quick-paced adventure that describes the ersatz Sikh lifestyle dumped on a clutch of white Americans and the peculiar dangers of the Indian bride trade.
The book revolves around Gursant’s quest for a Punjabi marriage partner. His desire to acquire a subservient wife echoes Yogi Bhajan’s tantric babble about men and women. If you’ve endured a Yogi Bhajan “teaching” on sexuality, you’ll be dismayed, but not surprised, by his longtime student’s view of women. Gursant’s role as Bhajan’s aide and bodyguard revealed the man his followers refuse to see — a womanizer and a brute. Yogi Bhajan’s round-the-clock use of a dozen female assistants is well-known. Those who question why the self-proclaimed leader of the Sikhs of the Western world required not just a personal harem but an armed security detail will find answers here. Gursant lays out his time among the sleazy operators and criminal hustlers swirling through Yogi Bhajan’s Healthy Happy Holy Organization/3HO in some depth — not enough intricacy for some of us, but doubtless far too much for the old charlatan’s remaining devotees.
Fortunately, the book doesn’t devolve into a personal Mea Culpa nor does it read like the diary of a starry-eyed seeker. The bizarre mishmash of Eastern aphorisms and yoga postures that Yogi Bhajan concocted made his Sikh Dharma group appealing to a small, lost tribe of the counterculture. Mercifully, Gursant was no hippie and he doesn’t write like one. Yet his “Confessions of An American Sikh” makes the case for Sikh Dharma’s inclusion as a footnote to ’60s experimental spirituality. More importantly, this book is a fascinating look at the seamy side of the Indian marriage business and a frank exploration of life in a destructive, authoritarian group.
Gursant’s tone is appealing whether he is describing the filthy interior of a lock-up in Amritsar or his posh daily luncheons with Yogi Bhajan on Rodeo Drive. His growing disillusionment with Bhajan’s bogus spin on the Sikh religion comes to a climax while Gursant is trapped in India. He finds himself trying to emerge from two forms of imprisonment — one physical and the other spiritual. Through it all, Gursant maintains his sense of humor and his innate faith.
This is an absorbing story for any reader. And it’s a must-read for those caught up in Yogi Bhajan’s 3HO/Sikh Dharma –ex-followers, Second Generation casualties, family members, law enforcement, cult researchers — and for every Kundalini yoga student or Yogi Tea drinker, past or present.

Pratima Balkaran April 12, 2013 at 3:54 pm

The above article addresses the grave and profound discredit, insult and desecretion to Hinduism and Hindus at large. It is my hope that Hindus as well as non-Hindus open not only their eyes but their heart and do a deep, critical soul/self search as to their involvement in this modern phony yoga (NAY as Swami Param refers to)and correct their mistakes and take responsibilities for their actions. Afterall, one of the laws of Yoga, is Karma Yoga, which means that every action produces an equal/opposite reaction. Even the youngest child starting in Kindergarten knows that their actions have consequences; good behavior results in positive rewards and negative behavior results in bad consequences. Look at what is happening with some of these phony yoga teachers and their inappropriate sexual advances with their students. The phony yoga industry today is far removed from ethics, morality, truth, wisdom and peace, which are all high values and teachings from Yoga/Hinduism. I urge all Hindus to defend your/our Dharma and stand up lovingly firm to protect it and speak out to those who have been terrible misguided.

Swami Param April 13, 2013 at 6:12 am

Very nice Pratima. Yes,Hindus need to stand up for their Dharma!

Swami Param April 11, 2013 at 8:58 am

Hard to believe, but the Judge in the case of concerned parents suing the Encinitas School District is a Hot Yoga devotee. Talk about not only a conflict of interest but also a complete lack of judgement on the part of the judge. Bikram/Hot Yoga is the epitome of new-age, phony yoga. Interestingly, Bikram is again being sued this time for again making sexual advances towards one of his students.

Amulya Saraswati April 6, 2013 at 2:59 am

Very good and truthful article even though it may be uncomfortable for many Hatha Yoga practitioners who rather to be snob and call themselves spiritual but not religious. Some Yoga studios hang on their walls pictures of Hindu Gods, Om symbols, Swamis opening ceremony picture of the studio and still claim their practice is not religious. After their class they salute you with a ” Have a Namaste”. That is deceiving and totally dishonest.

DaleJ April 4, 2013 at 10:44 am

“STEALING” (as in “stealing from an existing religion”) implies ownership. Please inform us as to who owns Hinduism? And what is your definition of “Yino”? I look forward to your reply, thanx

Swami Param April 5, 2013 at 7:24 am

Dale: With a little thought, this should be a “duh” question. But first, you admit that Yoga is Hinduism? Who owns Hinduism? Hindus/Hinduism. Who owns Yoga? Hindus/Hinduism. Along will material ownership (something NAY actually does!),owning is not only by identification but also by being honest. Those stealing Yoga from the Hindus/Hinduism, need to own up.

What is very interesting is that in YINO, we often hear this dogma: “Nobody owns Yoga.” Ok, then how can one sell it along with all the phony yoga stuff? Ironically, the NAY are making the false ownership claim by stealing. YINO is Yoga or a Yogi In Name Only.

Haydesigner April 2, 2013 at 10:30 am

This is just a thinly-veiled attempt of propaganda to ‘bolster’ the idiotic lawsuit filed by Stephen Sedlock against the Encinitas School District. This is astroturfing at its most obvious/worst, and too many of you are buying into it.

Laurence D April 2, 2013 at 8:53 pm

I think offering stretching and relaxing at Encinitas Schools (and all schools) is a great idea, it benefits a lot of the kids. But don’t pretend yoga is not tied to Hindu religion.

Just call it “stretching and relaxing class”, done deal… case closed. Of course, the Jois Foundation who funded the grant, probably wouldn’t sell as many of their street clothes from their upscale clothing boutique in Encinitas if it were not called “yoga”?

What if the Catholic Diocese paid the public schools a grant to establish a Holy Communion Class, but brushed it off saying “it’s just eating”, “kids like eating crackers and grape juice”? If it’s just eating, call it “eating crackers and grape juice class”. Is it YOGA or is it exercise class?

Swami Param April 3, 2013 at 7:10 am

You hit the core problem Laurence. Years ago the so-called “Yoga Journal” noted that “in the beginning” some teachers (Bikram was, actually, one of them) of Hatha Yoga mentioned that it was Hinduism and did not charge money. These people soon found out (and many of us have) that you just will not draw in the crowds, and, so, they gave it to their weakness; thus, creating a “Bigsham.” Standing up for one’s convictions, no matter how unpopular and “unfinancial,” is the test of character.

Laurence D April 2, 2013 at 8:58 pm

BTW, you’re probably right about the intent of The Coast News however

Swami Param April 5, 2013 at 7:26 am

What is beyond idiotic Haydesigner is stealing Yoga from the Hindus. Have many learned nothing from the history of invading others?

Thaddeus M April 2, 2013 at 8:08 am

I have a question for those who practice/teach Yoga as a religious practice. Would you still feel like it is theft or a debasement of Hinduism if people did the physical activity for its health benefits BUT didn’t call it Yoga and completely got rid of all of the Sanskrit terms?

I can see how it is a healthy physical activity (though I’ve only tried it once or twice), but I’m also conscious of the fact that its roots are overtly religious. I’m curious if you think that the two can be separated if the terminology is changed.

Laurence D April 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm

It would be a big step forward to not call physical activity alone “Yoga”, because it’s not. It would be another step forward to not try and copyright the “techniques”:

Each and every word in true Yoga IS religious, even JUST the words are religious.

What’s going on right now is:
– imagine for the first time, somebody going to a Christian Church for 6 hours one weekend and they learn that people clasp their hands and sometimes kneel to pray.
– next they open a business, charge money to come in, self-rename themselves “Pastor Ralph” and it’s call their company “Fast-Salvation” where you kneel and clasp your hands together for 15 minutes (that’s it, just clasp). Maybe they offer espresso for an extra $5, while you are getting “saved” and then you’re able to hurry off to work.
– That’s all you have to do or understand. It’s very quick and easy, maybe we have a new one where you actually just clasp your hands together and get massaged, Massage-Salvation.
– After a few successful months, they open “intensive” training where you come for 6 hours, eat some pizza and learn how to show people to clasp their hands and get “certified” as Christian Master-Pastors, for a small fee of $3,000 and you can buy some instruction manuals and CDs too

Swami Param April 3, 2013 at 7:03 am

Very thoughtful T.M. Anyone can stretch and relax and use all the english terms they want. One has to remember that Sanskrit itself is a religious (Hindu) language. Of course, if one learns the postures from the Hatha Yoga of Hinduism, then they should give credit to that. Again, one can hold a stretch class (they do exist such as meridian stretching) and charge money but leave the Yogas to the Hindu teachers teaching Hinduism. Is this not a simple and ethical choice?

Laurence D April 1, 2013 at 9:57 am

I LOVE LOVE LOVE your article, I’ve been trying to say this for years! This is not just an issue with yoga, but with religion in general as well.

I am careful to try and not pick-and-choose what I believe and it is difficult, we like to take the “pieces we like” and skip the “pieces we don’t like”. I try to take ALL of it in and LEARN about it for what it is, and then decide if that’s for me or not. This “learning” thing requires patience, you can’t just learn to become a great musician in a week or even a year and yoga takes a lifetime.

The piece that frustrates me the most is when people take something (FALSE or possibly true) and just pass it on without in-depth research and study, it spreads… people believe it, others hear it / believe it and it becomes “fact”. I don’t like this false foundation that is being inadvertently created, I want the truth regardless if I like it or not. For me this is not just a pandemic in yoga, it’s in religion, politics, society.

We are ALL Google-gurus now, 5 minutes and you’re a guru. That’s an insult to all true gurus. We all know E=mc2 but that doesn’t make us Einstein.

Swami Param April 2, 2013 at 5:08 am

L.D., that is so totally refreshing. Bravo! As Gandhiji said: “Because so few are unwilling to do Sadhana, there is so much untruth being delivered to a bewildered world!” Sadhana is intense immersion into the Hindu/Yogic Dharma. But, anyone who really gets into something accepts the comittment, pressure and endurance necessary to find the internal bliss.

Swami Param March 31, 2013 at 5:54 am

So, you are imitating Hindu/Yoga? Why not do the real thing? Your comment is rightly dumb as you say. The simplistic notion of who is a western is just that. It is not flattering to steal. Not admitting the Hindu/Yoga connection is fraud. Though one may adopt practices of a religion, one would then admit that. Of course, being a student is one thing and a teacher quite another. Houston Smith did not pretend to be a yoga teacher. To draw in a Taliban analogy is really lacking in taste and an “obvious” denial. No matter how sentimental the justification for teaching “yoga,” it is still wrong. As a Christian, you should teach that and not Hinduism. Why not try and lift yourself out of your admitted ignorance?

John E March 30, 2013 at 2:48 pm

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” No one is STEALING anything. Instead, we secular or spiritually liberal or eclectic westerners are finding and embracing things of value in other cultures and religions. No one is insulting or debasing anything or anyone. Suggested reference: Huston Smith, who researched all of the world’s great religions extensively and who adopted practices from several, partly out of respect and partly because he found meaning in so doing. A Hindu equivalent of the Taliban is not what we need right now. Let us dumb westerners do our thing, and you do yours. That’s what makes America great. Disclosure: As a deistic Christian who has benefited from practicing Iyengar yoga and who has a son who is helping to pay for his medical education by teaching (secular) yoga classes, I do have a couple of dogs in this race.

Laurence D April 1, 2013 at 9:39 am

You cannot just pick and choose pieces of religions that you like or dislike AND continue to call it by those names. You cannot be Catholic and be against the concept of having a pope, you cannot be Muslim and yet believe in polytheism, you cannot do yoga without doing yoga. You can of course, but that would make you a hypocrite.

You cannot have Beef Hamburger-Yoga, you cannot have Muslim-Margaritas, the list goes on forever. While these sound ridiculous, they aren’t far away from some of the yoga that’s already out there, the formula seems to be 1. pick something people like, 2. put the word yoga after it, 3. make money from it. iPhone-Yoga, Pizza-Yoga, Massage-Yoga, Quick-Yoga, LoseFat-Yoga

Laurence D April 1, 2013 at 10:10 am

P.S. What I said doesn’t mean you cannot participate in other religion’s practices such as yoga, or a Hanukkah celebration. But don’t go to one and think you’ve suddenly become a Rabbi and teach the eating of pork is “ok” a week later.

Nandini March 28, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Refreshing to hear from a real Swami about real yoga! I went to new age yoga many years ago and my experience was of an exercise class confused and infused with Sanskrit terms. I researched yoga and learned it WAS Hinduism! I am grateful to practice Hatha yoga or any of the many yogas as a student of Hinduism today with respect for the religion. When I want to exercise I go to a gym – not a church, synagogue, temple, etc. and I don’t go to a studio of yoga. That is just doublethink…. With a dictionary anyone can know Sanskrit terms have religious meaning – and are Hindu based.

Madhu March 28, 2013 at 7:31 am

Wonderful article. Thank you for opening our mind.

Sunil March 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Very true article. It highlights intellectual theft from Hindu wisdom, and piracy of Hindu knowledge system. Ashtang Yoga is One of the important part of the Hinduism, which does not seek anybody to convert, but at least people should recognize it.
Hindus without Yama-Niyama (Part of Yoga) can not understand this theft.

Denis March 26, 2013 at 7:08 am

Pretty interesting read. Yet somewhere I am not able to digest identifying yoga with Hinduism. They are both wonderful things in life, just like others religions can be supportive to our lives. But saying yoga is Hinduism is just like saying that the law of gravity is a Jewish law simply because Newton discovered it.
No need to identifying yoga with anything, please leave it.

Swami Param March 27, 2013 at 5:04 am

You are right that “others religions can be supportive to our lives.” This is the point. The Hindu/Yogic religion is something that anyone can choose to learn. Then, you contradict yourself by not appreciating the facts that all of (real) Yoga is Hinduism. Do the least bit of research (dictionary, books on comparative religions, etc.), and anyone will uncover the Hindu/Yoga connection. The analogy of Newton makes no sense. A person’s religion is one thing and what they do in the secular world can be quite another.

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