Who owns yoga?

One of the most common questions I get teaching here in Tennessee comes in different forms; “Is yoga a religion?”, “Can I practice this as a Christian?”. With these kind of questions, my first goal is often to allay the fear that they're doing something against the tradition they've been brought up in. I never want to force this upon anyone. It is not my goal to create believers in yoga. But, for sure, there is something very useful to be found here, for everyone, because yoga is the science or method to bring a person to their ultimate wellbeing. As classical hatha yoga teachers, our aim (and the reason we take such elaborate care in our classes) is to create the situation and atmosphere where you can imbibe the yogic process as it is, in its full integrity. This way, it becomes a tool for you to create something truly worthwhile in your life.

In this way, yoga has been understood in almost every culture on the planet, but not as religion; as a method, as a technology. Though your Toyota may have been designed by a practitioner of Shinto or Buddhism, does it not also work for a Christian? It works for everyone. But, what about yoga? Who owns yoga? Is it owned by a particular dogma or caste? Who decides what can or can't be done in the name of yoga? How can I, as an American, make any claims about yoga? A recent, and wonderful, piece of journalism by Aljazeera looked at some of these questions and shows us a glimpse of the variety of things happening all over the world in the name of yoga, from the funny and freaky, to the profound.

-- Walker Purcell

Al Jazeera Correspondent Series presented by Bhanu Bhatnagar. The ancient practice of yoga has been packaged and commercialised in a myriad of different ways over recent decades. But while this has enabled it to reach millions of people, it has also brought with it the pitfalls of operating in a modern capitalist world.