In Pakistan, Yoga Rises Above its Indian Roots

Here’s my op-ed in today’s international edition of the New York Times on how yoga is becoming popular in Pakistan, with a particular twist — linking it to Islam more than Hinduism. Already some Indian readers are feeling their feathers ruffled, insisting that this means the triumph of Narendra Modi over Pakistan, but as the article says, yoga has been growing in popularity since the 1980s, long before Mr. Modi took office.

It’s been a while since I wrote for the NYT; having to finish a novel is a big time suck and my concentration was fully taken up with the fictional world I had created instead of the real world I sometimes report on. I have to say it feels good to be back in business. One of the best moments in my life was when I was traveling to London and an op-ed happened to be printed in the NYT that same day. I saw copies of the paper everywhere I stopped en route. It gives you a tremendous boost to know that there are people reading your words around the world and to see that in reality is even more amazing.

Even when I’m in one place, I’m always grateful for the opportunity to be published by the NYT.  To represent Pakistan and to show the world that we are normal people doing normal things is a great honor and privilege.

6 thoughts on “In Pakistan, Yoga Rises Above its Indian Roots

  1. Dear Bina,

    Yoga comes from Hindu religious scripture.

    To de – link it from Hindu religion is dishonest and the highest form of appropriation possible but more over impossible.

    Is this attempt to de link it from Hinduism due to the inherent and unshakeable hatred in Pakistan of everything Hindu?

    Would love a reply.

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    1. The first indication of yoga’s existence comes from the Mehergarh Civilization: the first pictorial seals depicting yoga poses were found in Mehergarh, Baluchistan dated over 5000 years ago, which was its first formal imagining in non-theistic philosophy. It spread to the Indus Valley and Harappan Civilizations, and then years later, was followed by mention in the Vedas, Shaivite Hindu and Buddhist absorption. So your supposition that yoga comes from Hindu religious scripture is incorrect. However, it was Patanjali’s 12 sutras that “popularized” yoga in India… so I can understand your misconception Thanks for writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for your reply.

    Your misconception of Yoga is akin to that of the orientalist viewpoint. Yoga is not limited to a form of exercise or physical movement.

    Yoga means union or connection in Sanskrit which was ultimately aimed at the connection to the Supreme Being with physical Yoga being the most basic form.

    The Bhagavad Gita, our Holy Book, has God explicitly outlining the multiple forms of Yoga one can practice in their life to strengthen their relationship to Him.

    There is absolutely no pressure for anyone doing Yoga to adopt Hindu or Dharmic beliefs, we are not and have never been a proselytising faith, much to our detriment I might add. But to claim that Pakistan’s practice of Yoga is in line with Islam is just offensive.

    We have no exclusivity over Yoga, it is a gift from God, but please do not frame it as Islamic in any way, shape or form.

    Thank you.

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    1. Well, I’m sorry you’ve misunderstood the point of my article. Which is to say that the spread of yoga in Pakistan isn’t an attempt to “Islamize” yoga, but a return to the practice after years of Zia’s Islamization denouncing anything seen as “Hindu”. The comparisons to salaat for example are just ways to make yoga more palatable to a public who was raised on this Islamization. It’s a shame you find this so threatening, but perhaps you don’t have the perspective of having grown up here, as I have, to understand what a monumental change in mindset this really is.

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  3. As a former Muslim who reverted to the Hindu religion of his ancestors, I can safely say I have seen these tactics previously.

    The spread of Yoga in an ever soul searching, religion deprived West alludes to the strength of the soft power of ‘Hinduism’ and India.

    Yoga and it’s 100 million plus practitioners in the West do not, as correctly stated above, face any pressure or coercion for conversion into the Hindu faith as a result of their Yoga practice though many do adopt Hindu ways of life.

    This article I daresay is nothing more than a Zealots attempt to reframe Yoga as Islamic in a bid to Islamise Yoga’s practitioners in the West and throughout the world especially in typical Pakistani fear that they may become Hindu.

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