CREDOS : Distortion — I

Millions of Americans are practicing yoga to improve flexibility, strengthen muscles, and relieve stress. But they also are co-opting an ancient spiritual philosophy, many yoga experts contend. A sacred practice, they complain, is increasingly being debased and commercialised.

Yoga is a lucrative and growing business. About 16.5 million Americans now spend nearly $3 billion annually on classes and products, a February poll by Harris Interactive and Yoga Journal magazine revealed. Compare that with two basic tenets of yoga—that it is unethical to charge money to teach it, and that you need nothing but your body to learn it. The sun salutation, perhaps the best-known series of asanas, or postures, of hatha yoga —the type most commonly practiced in America — is literally a Hindu ritual.

“Sun salutation was never a hatha yoga tradition,” said S R Tiwari, professor of yoga philosophy and meditation at Hindu University in Orlando. “It is a whole series of ritual appreciations to the sun, being thankful for that source of energy.” To think of it as a mere physical movement is tantamount to “saying that baptism is just an underwater exercise,” said Swami Param of the Classical Yoga Hindu Academy and Dharma Yoga Ashram in New Jersey. What Americans are doing — practicing everything from hip-hop yoga to yoga with pets, using Hindu deities as knickknacks — is “hurtful and insulting” to the 5,000-year-old tradition, Param said. —