Yoga: Promise & Peril

On the first day of the Lisbon event, Paramacharya took the stage to present a 25-minute look at yoga's history and future, its trends and its troubles. The presenttion was both artistic and content-rich and he was accused of waking up the audience. He hopes to narrate it for posting to YouTube when we get back, but in the meantime some excerpts and screen shots (his Keynote is highly animated and so we cannot replicate its real effect here, but you can imagine how he played with imagery to communicate the message.

"With the grace of Satgurudeva Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, we will speak today on Yoga: The Promise and the Peril

Let's turn back the clock to see just how yoga has evolved in the last 100 years in the US media.

Compare this 1911 image of an ash covered Indian yogi with this sultry invitation to yoga in an up-scale spa.

Back in 1911 Current Literature magazine published an article called "The Heathen Invasion of America," which concluded: "Literally, yoga means the ‘path' that leads to wisdom. Actually, it is proving the way that leads to domestic infelicity, and insanity and death."

100 years later Time magazine wrote: "Stars do it. Sports do it. Judges in the highest courts do it. Let's do it: that yoga thing. A path to enlightenment that winds back 5,000 years in its native India, yoga has suddenly become so hot, so cool, so very this minute."

You know yoga has gone mainstream when you can download more than 2,000 iPhone apps

Another sign is its widening acceptance in major corporations in America, including Nike, HBO, Forbes, Apple, Google, General Mills and Target. These leading businesses provide onsite yoga classes for employees. They are working to improve productivity and employee health, improve creativity, manage stress and enhance team morale.

Yoga is dear to all gathered here. It informs and balances every dimension of life and ultimately takes us within, to the infinite and silent center of ourselves where we discover our true, perfect, immortal Self.

Just as yoga is reaching profoundly into Portugal's culture, so too is it being increasingly embraced in my country, where more than 22 million Amricans practice it and drive a $20 billion industry.
The suit contends that yoga cannot be separated from its religious roots in Hinduism. Teaching hatha yoga, attorneys argue, promotes Hindu thought and spirituality. Conservative radio commentators insist that "Yoga is religious indoctrination" and has no place in a public school in a secular country. On the other side, parents have hired attorneys to defend their children's right to learn yoga in school. It all started with a $533,000 grant from the local K.P. Jois Foundation to create a health and wellness program. The hope was that students, ages 6 to 11, would learn to bring body and mind together, focus on studies, keep themselves calm and even curb bullying.

The presiding judge, John Meyer, himself a fan of yoga, said his ruling will be given on June 26th."

Paramacharya went on to speak of the Great Debate between Deepak about how yoga (in a sense India's intellectual property) is being stolen without attribution. Then some talk of the remarkable burgeoning of yoga-related copyrights, patents and trademarks in the US and the related lawsuits. There followed some insights into how other religions view yoga (not too kindly), and some cautions about kundalini yoga, complete with Paramacharya's story, excerpted here:

While traveling with my Guru, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, in Chennai, South India in the early 1980s we visited the home of former Supreme Court justice, TN Maharajan. He greeted us at the front door and as he lead us to a sitting room we noted he was in an old fashioned full-body brace tightly wrapped around him from his hips to his neck. He told us the story of how as a young man he discovered the deeply mystical text Tirumantiram, and became intrigued by the states of high consciousness which its author Tirumular described. The young lawyer had no guru so determined to practice on his own and perfect the many yogas spoken of in the text, including kundalini yoga. For years he drove himself in the disciplines and sadhanas, fasting often and partnering with his wife in extreme forms of meditation, pranayama and tantric sex.
He succeeded in awakening the kundalini, and while there was much inner awakening and expansive consciousness, it was not the blissful merging with Siva that he had anticipated. Instead he was wracked for years with discomfort, loss of sleep and powerful bodily contortions. He described it as though too much electricity had been released through an insufficient wire, burning its way through his nervous system, damaging his organs and his spinal column.

The unleashed kundalini began to deteriorate his bones, cause numbness, spinal deformities and ultimately cancer of the spine. When we returned two years later, he could neither sit or stand. My guru, knowing  tantric and kundalini yoga should only be persued under the personal guidance of a knowledgeable master, offered this admonition: "Be cautious of those who promise great kundalini awakenings and spiritual rewards from severe practices without preparation, initiation and renunciation."

There was more about taking yoga seriously without trivialization and without greed. It ended with with the blessings of Maha Satguru Lord Siva. Aum Namasivaya. Sivaya Nama Aum


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