Is yoga a modern physical exercise or a religious practice?

A change in school policies in India for inclusion of yoga exercise has brought forth a case to the Supreme Court, causing courts to be cautious in including this exercise in daily physical activity.  The issue has gained huge importance because of how Hindu societies enforce their way of life on other minority religious groups in India. Minority religious groups have objected to this practice because of how the chants and postures performed in yoga associate with a union to Hindu Gods.

Petitioners of the case argue that “yoga had no connection with any particular religion… is a path for spiritualism through healthy body and mind.” While those opposing the exercise  worry it will force “cultural nationalism” of Hinduism in the secular democratic country that is India.

India is a state of secular democracy aiming to treat and accept all religions equally. The objection by Christian and Muslim leaders against daily yoga exercises for containing a religious element of Hinduism shows acceptance has not been met. E.B. Tylor dealt with the projection of Christianity to colonial and “primitive” countries aiming to develop savage religions to reach the high status of Christianity, viewing this idea with the projection of Hinduism to Christianity and Islam provides a mixed perspective on the article.

I personally consider yoga a modern physical exercise that has no element of religion associated with it, partly because it has manifested and revolutionized in many social circles and public spheres. Through the educational institutions and children at an impressionable age, mandatory yoga exercises might act as an oppressor for minority religions despite the practice becoming modernized in the public sphere of major Indian cities and losing its religious element. It is an example of many religious elements that have been carried into the present and modified to suit modern societies for their needs. Yoga is not part of my daily religious practice and is only a component of my current society for the exercise it provides. In this contemporary age yoga has “evolved” from a religious practice to just a form of good exercise, this is a prime example of E.B. Tylor’s notion of primitive practices and the evolutionary road. However, I do see the reason for resistance from minority religions. Those opposing this idea may argue yoga is an example of older practices of Hinduism, they cannot deem it as such now. Yoga has become more customized by “civilized societies” and has lost its religious element, even within major Indian societies. There will not be an opportunity for the previous religious element of yoga manifesting again in India’s contemporary societies, despite the place of origin.

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