May 23, 2011


Yoga as a product of a continuing cultural exchange

[Cultures are not isolated, autonomous entities, they are always in dialogue with other cultures. This can be at a typical Indian appearing doctrine called "Yoga" to learn about their origin is disputed at present.]

By Axel Michaels
Image: Bonnie Argo
There are things that are considered typically Indian: the sari, curry or Maharajas - and yoga. The religious scholars Mircea Eliade, the 1958 itself is a popular yoga book - subtitle: "Immortality and Freedom" - written, called Yoga one of the core concepts of Hinduism. And the success of BKS Iyengar and his book "Light on Yoga" (1966) the yoga teaching is part of the treasure of Indian wisdom. Long, however, yoga has also been established in the West. He has become an integral part of the wellness and fitness world. No adult education center, not a health resort, not a travel company without yoga on offer. Sometimes insurance companies pay the costs. There is yoga for pregnant women, for managers, for children. There are - all popular book titles - "Yoga for you, anywhere," "Yoga for body, mind and soul" or "Yoga for abs, legs, buttocks." There is power yoga, anti-stress Yoga and Hot Yoga speak not of Indian distinctions such as Raja, Ashthanga or hatha yoga.

Global business and Copyright


Yoga is becoming a global business. Why is that even Indian? Hundreds of organizations and schools, thousands of yoga teachers from all over the world want to earn the yoga. According to a survey by market research firm TNS of 2009, a quarter of Germans interested in yoga and meditation, every fifth German both practiced in one form or another. In the U.S., allegedly operate twenty million people Yoga, including countless Christians, Muslims, Jews and infidels. Now, however, several Indian and India-born voices who want to have their yoga. You do not see yoga divorced from Hinduism. Some even claim the copyright on certain yoga positions. You see this as part of a centuries-old culture from which they can be removed simply.

This debate started with Bikram Choudhury, a Hollywood-based yoga teacher and avid collector of cars of the Bentley and Rolls-Royce, which developed 1979 Bikram Yoga. It should be called under the guidance of a guru and a heated to 35 to 40 degrees Celsius room a series of 26 yoga postures, "asana" practice, along with breathing exercises. About ten years ago has patented the millionaire Choudhury these positions and sequences and developed a lucrative franchise for its practices. Later he complained to various yoga teacher, they used without indemnify him. Then turn Choudhury, the yoga was the brother of the famous Paramahansa Yogananda ("Autobiography of a Yogi") got sued by an association of yoga teachers, the Open Source Yoga Unity. They argued that yoga positions are common, which would each be publicly available. The court ruled that Choudhury not have a copyright on certain ideas, but only on the expressions and formulations of these ideas in his books.

The verdict is in line with the Indian government, whose Ministry of Health has recently decided to provide about 1300 yoga positions in a database ("Traditional Knowledge Digital Library") to the public without copyright claims available. Of course the simmering dispute about who owns the Yoga, further outside of the courts. Thus, the Hindu American Foundation Yoga claimed as an essential part of Hinduism. And the urologist Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the foundation, called in April last year in the Washington Post, the Hindus should consider yoga as a spiritual property of their spiritual past and not give up for any western yoga schools on the corner. Yoga can not be separated from the goal of spiritual liberation. The western, secular and fast-marketed "McYoga" is nothing but decadent.

A few days later in the same newspaper said Deepak Chopra, another spa Apostle Hollywood: "Sorry, your patent has expired!" Yoga has long been before the because Hinduism and belong to all humanity. If it were techniques that were not only a religion assigned. He joined the American Association of Yoga.

The historical truth is another. The American Indologist Wendy Doniger, the successor to the chair of Mircea Eliade, presented recently in the "Times Literary Supplement" clear (March 2), rightly, that Yoga meant primarily as a physical exercise practice, including the Hatha Yoga, in the ancient Indian texts can prove difficult. In the Rig Veda (1500 BC) is Yoga - etymologically related to the Sanskrit word "yoga" - only as "harnessing the yoke", and in the ancient Upanishads (1st millennium BC), one finds the term except as a term of office positions only as an expression of mental and physical control, especially breath control. Even in Patanjali's Yoga Guide, Yoga Sutra, presumably from the 3rdCentury, to which many yoga teacher is appointed, not on specific yoga postures. While there are few early images of yogis in attitudes of physical mortification, but only in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (probably not written before the 14th century), there are concrete descriptions of yoga positions.

No older than a hundred years


It gets worse. Mark Singleton, in a remarkable study - "Yoga Body. The Origins of Modern Posture Practice (Oxford University Press, 2010) - proved that the modern body is stressed in the West so popular Hatha Yoga little more than a hundred years. With many details covered Singleton, who practices at St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico informed, and even yoga, that there is a cross-cultural mix of American and British bodybuilding, Swedish Ling gymnastics and physical education of the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA ) was the body-Yoga in the traditional physical rather sluggish Indian middle class raised the value.

It started with Swami Vivekananda, 1893 in Chicago during the "Parliament of World Religions" closer to the West tried yoga. Of course there were good to the yogis and "fakirs", the half-naked in India in some provocative postures presented publicly, possibly for Hagenbeck's international shows, but not as models for body awareness. The traditional Indian wrestlers were members of lower castes. Vivekananda referred to yoga as well as the body more or less contemptuously as a "kind of gymnastics," and even pleaded for a yoga that was free of physical exercises.

There were others who helped that the hatha yoga presentable to 1920. They rely on quasi-religious body culture movements in Europe. A pioneer was about Eugen Sandow (1867-1925), the Schwarzenegger of the late 19th Century. Born in Germany and Friedrich Müller, he went early to the United States and settled there and in England admire as a bodybuilder. In 1905, he traveled, then already famous, to India and won many more supporters. Or Genevieve Stebbins (1857-1915), on the basis of the teachings of the French movement and speech teacher François Delsarte (1811-1871) and the ideas of the Swedish poet Pehr Henrik Ling (1776-1839), the father of modern massage, body , brought together soul and spirit in their "Harmonic Gymnastics" and thus in India met with open ears. Not to mention Harry Crowe Buck (1884-1920), director of the YMCA Indian School of Physical Education, with the gymnastic, almost from Indian military drill "weaklings," as the Brits used to say to young people trying to make steeled. In India at that time very influential Young Men's Christian Association wanted to not only train the body, but closer to bringing Christian values ​​through physical education. To get more popular, integrated Buck numerous yoga elements into its programs.

This mixture of European influences and Indian nationalism and Western-made Neohinduismus gymnastic contortions to "typical Indian" Yoga positions - and vice versa, this to elements of physical exercise in the sense Jahn. Both sides benefited. The western gymnastics was a spiritual superstructure of Yoga has become a worldwide, disseminated form of mental gymnastics-inspired.Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), for instance, the teacher of Iyengar brought Indian philosophy effectively with gymnastics and provided the final breakthrough of modern yoga in India and the West.

In the beginning was "multicultural"


It appears once again that cultures are not isolated, but highly complex and interwoven structure, which owe their origin and development of a continuous exchange with other cultures. Also, the original was already yoga to physical expressions of nichthinduistischen Asketenzirkeln and later Buddhist influences have claims to uniqueness and authenticity, it not only legally difficult. Yoga in its current form is in any case neither Indian nor Western. It is through and through trans-national and inter-cultural, is somewhere between the cultures. Who here still in the possession of the real roots and the "true" yoga insists walls and tried to draw, does not understand that cultures are generally porous. "Multiculturalism" is the beginning not the end.

Dr. Axel Michaels is Professor of Classical Indology at Heidelberg University and a director of the excellence cluster "Asia and Europe in a global context."


[Hof, 52, earned his nickname from feats such as remaining in a tank of ice in Hong Kong for almost 2 hours; swimming half the length of a football field under a sheet of ice in the Arctic; and making the Guinness record books for running a half-marathon barefoot in Finnish snow in deep subzero conditions.]

Associated Press

AP – In this Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011 photo, provided by Enahhm Hof, Wim Hof of the Netherlands, known as the …

ROTTERDAM: The sun beams down on a warm Dutch spring morning, and the Iceman's students look wary as they watch him dump bag after bag of ice into the tub of water where they will soon be taking a dip.

The plan is to try to overcome the normal human reaction to immersion in freezing slush: gasping for air, shivering uncontrollably, and getting back out again as soon as possible.

Instead, under the direction of "Iceman" Wim Hof, the group of athletes is going to stay in the water for minutes practicing his meditation techniques, seeking possible performance or health benefits.

Hof, 52, earned his nickname from feats such as remaining in a tank of ice in Hong Kong for almost 2 hours; swimming half the length of a football field under a sheet of ice in the Arctic; and making the Guinness record books for running a half-marathon barefoot in Finnish snow in deep subzero conditions.

He tried to
climb Mt. Everest in 2007 wearing only sandals and shorts, but suffered frostbite and turned back at 7,400 meters (24,300 feet) — he wants to test the limits of human potential, not die trying. He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro instead the same way in 2009.

Hof tells his students meditation in the cold strengthens mind and body. Some scientists also say ice bath treatments may have circulatory benefits for athletes, or help them recover quicker after training, although this remains controversial.

For most people, hypothermia begins shortly after exposure to freezing temperatures without adequate clothing, and it can quickly lead to death once the body's core temperature falls below 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

Hof says he can endure cold so well because he has learned to activate parts of his mind beyond the reach of most people's conscious control, and crank up what he calls his "inner thermostat."

In one well-documented demonstration in 2008,
Hof remained encased in a glass box filled with ice on a New York City street for 71 minutes, at that time a record. Doctors monitoring his vital signs said his body temperature descended gradually to 93.6 degrees as his heart rate rose slowly into the 120s. He didn't shiver.

It was as if he were running a race without moving.

Hof describes what he does as a kind of internal conversation, in which his mind and body send each other signals. During the Hong Kong stunt, he said he mentally directed warmth toward a specific part of his lower back when he sensed it was feeling too cold and starting to hurt.

"I never had a teacher, and I never had lessons, other than hard Nature itself," he says in an interview at his apartment in

"If you do it wrong, it hurts and you take some knocks, and if you do it right, then you really learn."

Dr. Anders Cohen, chief of neurosurgery at
Brooklyn Hospital Center, who had never heard of Hof, said he wasn't surprised at Hof's ability to influence his body temperature, given the growing body of evidence that Tibetan monks who practice "Tummo" meditation have similar abilities.

"In a way it makes perfect sense," he says. "They spend thousands of hours practicing this, while we spend that time doing other things," he says.

A new medical test released last month suggests
Hof may be able to exercise some influence over other body functions considered involuntary.

"We have one result, from one person, that is extraordinary, but it doesn't prove that meditation is responsible," said Professor Peter Pickkers of
Nijmegen's Radboud Medical University, who oversaw the test and has no commercial ties to Hof.

The Iceman was injected with endotoxin, a component of bacteria. Although harmless, the bacterial material essentially tricks the body into thinking it is under attack.

In most people, exposure provokes flulike symptoms: headaches, muscle pain, and fevers. These last several hours and then go away with no lasting ill-effect.
Hof reported experiencing only a mild headache.

Pickkers said the unexpected part came in the laboratory:
Hof produced only half as much inflammatory defense protein as average among more than 200 other healthy male test subjects. The apparent reason, Pickkers said, was a sharp rise in levels of cortisol, the "stress hormone" known to suppress the immune system.

Hof appeared to be intentionally influencing a system thought to be automatically regulated, Pickkers said.

"If you get into a fight on the street, and your heart races, that happens by itself, you can't just summon it up," Pickkers said. "What he has shown is that he can with his meditation, apparently, summon it up that his cortisol rises like that."

He said the next step would be to see whether others using similar techniques can do the same.

Cohen found the
Nijmegen results intriguing. "It would be unwise to ignore this just because we don't understand the mechanism," he said.

Cohen, who is also a former professional tennis player, says science is divided about whether cold water or sauna treatments actually aid athletes, though many use them. One theory is that forcing blood vessels to contract and expand can strengthen them and improve circulation. Athletes often use cold baths after practice to reduce muscle inflammation and soreness.

However, Cohen said it would be difficult to conduct a rigorous test of whether meditation in cold conditions could benefit sick people, since it would be unethical to put them at risk.

Hof tells his students at the Rotterdam workshop that viewing mental and physical training as separate may hinder their performance during competition.

"Technically you're completely trained and ready and everything," he says. "But there is still a difference between how you feel — the flow isn't there — because there's no unity," he says, gesturing to his head and chest.

Hof describes the three main elements in his method as controlled breathing, paying close mental attention to signals coming from the body, and crucially, keeping an open mind.

Edith Bosch, who won silver and bronze medals in judo at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics, said her only remaining goal is gold. "If this helps me improve, to cope better with matches, then, yeah, it's definitely worth the effort to try," she says.

Hof says that as he grows older, he wants to avoid what he calls the "circus sideshow" of extreme physical tests, and become more of a teacher.

But daredevil habits die hard. To prove that he can also adjust his "inner thermostat" downward, he's planning to run a marathon in desert conditions — without drinking any water.

Pickkers, aware of this plan, shakes his head in dismay.

"I have warned him not to do this, it can be extremely dangerous or lethal," he said. "But if you had asked me ahead of time whether I thought he would have had a different reaction than anybody else to the endotoxin test, I would have said, 'no.'"

@ The Himalayan Times 
Related link: THE POWER OF YOGA