Get your stance right!

A man practising yoga in a park. Photo: Vijay Soneji   | Photo Credit: Vijay Soneji;Vijay Soneji - Vijay Soneji

“I have been practicing yoga for 40 years and it has kept me fit,” says a very energetic and agile Lt. Gen.(retd) Zameer Uddin Shah, the Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. Known for supporting many environmental causes and his aversion for addictions Shah, adds “yoga should be kept separate from religion”.

Wise words but the entire controversy stems from imbibing religion and a particular kind of culture into yoga. Yoga, like many past icons, is being appropriated by the Hindutva brigade in an effort to hijack an ancient religious-cultural practice for political and economic ends and making the Hindu synonymous with Hindutva.

Many minority groups have raised their reservations about the imposition of yoga through government agencies although they have no objection to it as a form of exercise. Recently, in news reports and television discussions as well as pronouncements of many Muslim figures, namaz has been wrongly equated with yoga leading to clamour for observance of international day of namaz.

While it is true that namaz encourages personal hygiene and structures the daily routine of a believer there are fundamental differences between yoga and namaz. The latter is obligatory for Muslims whereas the former for Hindus is not. It will be stretching things too far to confuse namaz as a form of exercise, in other words, a Muslim yoga. The breathing exercises in yoga are very distinctive and strenuous requiring a special kind of discipline and training which certainly is not the case with namaz. While some asanas may appear similar to namaz, the spine-strengthening asanas in yoga have no substitute elsewhere. Yoga asanas are required to be done correctly failing which they can harm, whereas namaz makes sufficient allowance for the old, sick or specially abled. Parallels can be drawn only on the basis of the meditative and contemplative aspects of the two.

Commenting on the considering namaz as a form of exercise, Abu Sufian Islahi, Professor of Arabic at AMU and Islamic history scholar says, “confusion of namaz with physical exercise has begun only recently. Namaz and physical exercise are two separate realms and Quran and Hadith, while encouraging physical exercise, do not present namaz as a form of exercise.” It may be added that many hadith encourage physical sports like horse-riding, swimming and archery.

Yoga as an exercise must be welcomed but care should be taken not to identify it will any particular denomination or at least with godmen. It existed before the likes of Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and will continue to be practised irrespective of the government in power.

AMU plans to highlight the health aspects of yoga on the International Yoga Day this Sunday with the Department of Physical Health and Education being entrusted the responsibility of holding some special programmes. These include workshop on the role of yoga in preventing life style diseases wherein experts will enlighten the students and faculty about various psychosomatic disorders and the role of yoga in preventing them.

In the past too, the department has been organising workshops on stress management. The chairman of the department, Rajinder Singh, clearing misconceptions about yoga says, “Yoga prevents many things. It cannot offer easy cures for diseases.” This is in sharp contrast to what is told people in televised yoga camps which promise cure for almost everything, from cancer to AIDS.

Yoga is practiced in the AMU campus as much or less as in others and is perhaps more popular among women than men with the former practising it with the help of CDs. Shilpa Shetty’s yoga CD was a hit with many girl students on the campus.

Most Muslim men and women in the University do not see any contradiction between yoga as a form of exercise and namaz as a form of worship. Many have even adapted many yogic practices in their daily life. Professor Sami Rafiq, who practices yoga at home says: “In practising many asanas, where one is asked to chant a mantra, one need not. One can even say one’s own prayer. I am certainly not worshipping Hindu gods when I consider yoga purely as a physical exercise, and that too after offering my namaz.”

(The author teaches English at AMU)

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 8:48:37 PM |

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