In recent years, there has been a global return to the practice of yoga which has been made popular through its importance in modern, health oriented lifestyles in the western world -- think specifically, the LA lifestyle. In this sudden transformation, people often forget that yoga isn’t simply another workout routine. Instead, yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines that originated in ancient India. To be more specific, yoga came from what is mainly modern day Pakistan and India, over five thousand years ago.
In India it still carries great significance as it is a part of all major ancient religions. There are special schools scattered all over the country, countless guru’s who have devoted their lives to the practice and great pride in the connection between yoga and the modern world.
But what about Pakistan? How has a region that birthed a discipline responded to yoga? Let’s dive a little into that.
Well, while the famous King Ashoka of ancient India had done in his lifetime what he could to spread Buddhist teachings across the subcontinent, with a particular emphasis on following teachings of yoga and meditation, Islmaic conquerors of the middle 6th century would soon end the significance of such practices as they were too closely related to being either Hindu or Buddhist. Thus began a long battle between minority groups as Islam slowly spread across the majority of Pakistani territory, the destruction of schools and temples playing an important role in putting a stop to the relevance of anything still connected to the ancient religions of the land.
This Islamic conquest had set the precedent on practices such as yoga, for the next few centuries to follow with again, only minority groups incorporating this into their daily lives and never being free of the prejudice that would remain attached to non-Islamic traditions. So the change in perception is held back for a very long time, and it isn’t until way later in the 20th century that yoga begins to reappear on the scene.
The 1960’s is a time of big change. There’s too many political developments, too much rise in capitalism and a group of young adults in the west set their sights for the East and travel across SouthEast Asia in order to “search for the truth.” These people come to be known as hippies and they inspire a trend of hashish, yoga and meditation in their home countries. In Pakistan, people who return from their travels of the west, often having access to study in universities at these times of upheaval among the youth, return to Pakistan with what their peers have learned from this part of the world in the first place -- but this time it boasts the whiteman’s approval.
Yoga picks up speed in Pakistan in the late 70’s-80’s but is challenged by the rigorous Islamisation under the control of General Zia-ul-Huq’s leadership. So the rhetoric changes, and spirituality is replaced by purely physical benefits. Still, it is not until yoga is popularised on social media just like any other aspect of the Cali lifestyle (just think superfoods) that the affluent class of Pakistan takes a liking to the idea of Yoga.
Bottom line, yoga’s presence in Pakistan as it once was, has never returned. The ideas that it promotes or the basis of it, is not something that necessarily supports the rhetoric that before the Arab conquest of Sindh, there was culture where is now, the modern state of Pakistan. Yet, once upon a time our ancestors were privy to the many benefits of mind that yoga can offer if you stop seeing it as only a form of body movement. Our detachment from our own history allows other people to redefine it in their understanding, when yoga in its actuality celebrates life and ever blessed flow of energy within it -- a fact often forgotten in the midst of its revival.
Stay tuned for more Misplaced Practices!