Yogasatya Sthāpana : Decoding the secularization of yoga

While I admire people who take time off for practicing yoga in their daily life, I find the clamor of certain secular members, who try to appropriate the Yogic heritage of Hindu dharma in order to make it a completely mundane regimen, appalling.

Yoga is one of the  Ṣaḍ Darṣanas (Six Orthodox Philosophies). The six schools of philosophies are as follows:

  • Sānkhya
  • Nyāya
  • Vaiśeṣika
  • Yoga
  • Pūrva Mīmāṁsa
  • Vedānta

All of the above have one thing in common, even if they have diverse methods: Mokṣa. (Most people think of Mokṣa as Salvation which is incorrect. It is liberation, hence it puts the responsibility on the individual to achieve/realise it.)

All of these schools have their own sūtras or aphorisms which are considered as the foundational texts. Multiple commentators would write bhāṣyas giving copious references from śruti texts for validity. For yoga, the Yogasūtra by Patañjali is the core text.

अथातो योगानुशासनम्॥१॥

(Athāto yogānuśāsanaṃ)

Therefore we begin the exposition on Yoga

This is the first sūtra of the Yogasūtra and it begins thus. Yoga is derived from the root word or dhātu युज् (yuj). Yuj has a handful of meanings, they have a common underlying theme which we shall see now.

Yuj: to bind, to join, to unite, to meditate, to concentrate.

Yoga is therefore a derivative of the above principle, that is, to unite or to concentrate. However to concentrate on what?



Yoga is the hindering of the modifications of the mind

This is to say, that Yoga brings ekāgrata to the mind, where the Mind is at the highest state of concentration. Now, what will be the condition of the Soul when one is in a Yogic state?

तदा द्रष्टुः स्वरूपेऽवस्थानम्॥३॥

(tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe-vasthānaṃ)

Then there is an abiding of the spectator in its own form

In this state of Yoga, the Soul is simply the spectator, however without a spectacle, and is in its own form or svarūpa. The next sutra follows this up saying that when not in a state of Yoga the soul goes back into the state of perceiving the modifications of the mind and Prakṛti. However, the sūtra clearly illustrates the goal ie. Kaivalya Pada which is the Yoga conception of Mokṣa.

Yoga then splits into two branches, Kriya Yoga and Aṣṭāṅga Yoga. The latter is the yoga of the eight limbs (parts) which is what is practiced as āsanas and mudras, one of the forms of Yoga today. There is a close similarity between Yoga and Sānkhya, however the renowned Śrī Ādi Śaṃkarācārya comments that Yoga is Sānkhya with Īśvara. The goal is clear – Union or attainment of one’s true Self and removal of the Prakṛti aspect. The Spectator remains without the spectacle. We can see that it is a mokṣaśāstra because the purpose is Liberation or cessation of worldly existence.

The other major form in prevalence is Haṭha Yoga, the principle texts are:

  • Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā
  • Śiva Saṃhitā
  • Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā

These texts offer an alternate insight, and are closely related to the Tantric practices of Hinduism. These texts were far more prevalent before the 20th century and were widely practiced by worshipful devotees and sādhus. Let us see what they say:

अथ भक्तानुरक्तोऽहं वक्ति योगानुशासनं।

ईश्वरः सर्वभूतानामात्ममुक्तिप्रदायकः॥२॥

त्यक्त्वा विवादशीलानां मतं दुर्ज्ञानहेतुकम्।

आत्मज्ञानाय भूतानामनन्यगतिचेतसाम्॥३॥ (शिव संहिता)

(atha bhaktānurakto-haṃ vakti yogānuśāsanaṃ

īśvaraḥ sarvabhūtānāmātmamuktipradāyakaḥ

tyaktvā vivādaśīlānāṃ mataṃ durjñānahetukaṃ

ātmajñānāya bhūtānāmananyagaticetasāṃ (Śiva Saṃhitā))

I, the Īśvara, the lover of my devotees and Giver of Liberation to all creatures, thus declare the Exposition of Yoga. In it are discarded all those doctrines of disputants, which lead to false knowledge. It is for the dawn of ātmajñāna for those whose minds are undistracted and fully turned towards Me.

Lord Śiva Himself in the beginning few verses of the saṃhitā declares the knowledge of Yoga is to attain Spiritual Knowledge that will in turn liberate the Soul. Another example is found here:


घटस्थयोगं योगेश तत्वज्ञानस्य कारणं।

इदानीं श्रोतुमिच्छामि योगेश्वर वद प्रभो॥२॥ (घेरण्ड संहिता)

(Śrī caṇḍakapāliruvāca:

ghaṭasthayogaṃ yogeśa tatvajñānasya kāraṇaṃ

idānīṃ śrotumicchāmi yogeśvara vada prabho (Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā))

O Master of Yoga! O best of Yogins! O Lord! I wish now to learn the Ghaṭastha Yoga, which leads to the knowledge of Truth.

The Gheraṇḍa Saṃhitā is a conversation between the master yogin Gheraṇḍa and Caṇḍakapāli. This too provides various descriptions of āsanas for the practitioner, however the opening verses are pretty clear as to the objectives of this practice.

These are the principle verses, and more exposition is possible but it would elongate the article and is beyond the scope of the post. Suffice it to say that the propounders of the Yogic school were very emphatic in their view of Yoga as the sole path towards Liberation. That such practices lead to a healthier body and a clear mind is intentional and for the purpose of Mokṣa.

However we notice that there is an increasing secularisation of Yoga, stripping the mudra and asana off their Divinity, replacing carefully placed mantra with gibberish to suit modern fads. To ridicule various poses like a contortionist, mixing it with pilates, constructing awkward poses which end up damaging the spine or pulling some muscle. If this weren’t enough, there is an appropriation of this holy practice of Hindus as some Universal panacea belonging to all of mankind! This is unacceptable!

Hindus do not deny anyone the right to use Yoga, it is the stripping off of its Hinduness which causes outrage. Hindus have been the custodians of Yoga for millenniums, we believe that it was given to us by our Gods to enhance our spirituality. We are happy to share the wisdom, but it is our wisdom in the end.

There have been inane lines of pseudo-logic used to make false equivalencies; one such, “If Yoga is Hindu, then surely gravity is Christian, Relativity is Jewish?”

To this, apart from the customary derisive snort, I reply, “If you believe that gravity leads to Liberation, if you can establish that the General Theory of Relativity enables us to realise the Self, then surely you may claim them to be the Yoga equivalent of their respective religions.”

To equate a scientific principle with a mokṣaśāstra is an absurdity. The purpose of the quantities compared are wholly different; however with ignorance, Yoga has become a mere medical science – that is your ignorance, please keep it to yourself. If you try to thrust your ignorance on people who are well aware of the context and purpose of Yoga, then prepare to be brutally rebutted and ridiculed.

Sūrya Namaskāra by its very name is a Salutation to the Sun God. It would be better for people to know what they indulge in before they go ahead, and to avoid it if their traditions disallow it, there are other means for you to achieve your fitness. Also it would be better for Hindus to start claiming their intellectual and spiritual property as their’s and prevent its digestion by other monolithic entities.

(This article first appeared at and is republished here with the permission of the author who tweets at @pinakasena)

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