Can yoga unite the world? Well, if the International Yoga Day is any indication, then yes, it very well could. Since 21 June was declared Yoga Day by the United Nations in 2015, several countries have celebrated it with great enthusiasm that only seems to be growing by the year (read this LWP newsletter for why 21 June, the summer solstice, was chosen as Yoga Day). I struggle to think of any other occasion that is so widely celebrated across the globe. And it is only fitting, because yoga is the one thing that is truly universal, beyond identities of nationality, race, religion, etc . The only criteria to experience its benefits is to be human.
Yoga can change your genes, says science
In our modern times, there is often no better validator of the efficacy of something than science. A new study (1) has found that taking yoga classes helps ease depression, a worryingly growing problem. Researchers recommend taking 2 classes per week to combat depression. Even more surprisingly, according to a recent paper published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, yoga and other meditation and breathing exercises can actually reverse stress-related changes in genes linked to poor health and depression.(1)
British researchers analysed 18 previously published studies on the biological effects of meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, Qi gong and Tai Chi, involving 846 people. According to the researchers, the studies show that these mind-body exercises appear to suppress the expression of genes and genetic pathways that promote inflammation. Temporary inflammation is generally useful in protecting the body from infection, but in today’s time, when stress is mainly psychological, inflammation can become chronic and impair both physical and mental health.
While yoga’s positive benefits for the body and mind have been acknowledged by science for a long time, its ability to change our genetic material is a new finding that should motivate the sceptics to take a closer look at what they may be missing out on!
Yoga and religion
I’ve often heard people say that yoga is ‘Hindu’ and therefore as a Christian, they feel they cannot practice it. Such thinking has led to the proliferation of distorted forms of yoga such as “Christian Yoga”. I have several problems with this view starting with the term ‘Hindu’ which though I would classify myself as one if presented with a check-the-box form, I have never known to have any definition.
Being a Hindu has never been associated with a particular book or God or teaching. People who may fall under the umbrella of the term ‘Hindu’ range from Krishna devotees, to Shiva devotees, to Goddess devotees, to ascetics who are focused on penance, to yogis who seek and see the impersonal Brahman in all and many, many, many more types . On the surface, these different paths may all appear to be very different and indeed, they can be, if approached through the prism of belief. If someone ‘believes’ that Krishna only exists and someone else ‘believes’ that only Shiva the deity does, then they both miss what Hinduism in its truest form of Sanatana Dharma is all about.
Sanatana Dharma is not about a belief of which there can be many. It is about understanding the universal law or Dharma of life. It is about transcending individual identities to recognise the universal. The experience of that, of oneself as the universal , is the real yoga. It is beyond belief. Literally.
Yoga does not promote inclusiveness, it is inclusiveness. Inclusiveness, not as an ideology or value, but as a living experience.
Some people of non-Indian faiths also have trouble chanting ‘Om’ and other Sanskrit chants because they feel they will ‘betray’ their own religion. What they don’t realise is that Sanskrit is a highly scientific language – in fact NASA has declared it to be the perfect language for computer AI. I won’t go into details but a quick internet search will reveal ample evidence by several great (Indian and Western) scholars. Sanskrit is concerned with vibration of sound more than meanings of words because all matter or energy in its most basic form, is essentially sound, a reverberation. Thus the Sanskrit language is actually a powerful tool for elevating consciousness.
Read also: Sanskrit, science and ecology
So here’s hoping that yoga can unite humanity, spread light, good health and happiness in the world. As modern science catches up with its findings, maybe the world will warm up to the yogic sciences more. Happy Yoga Day!
(1) For more information see this Time magazine article.
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