An advice to chant “Om” and a couple of shlokas at the start of yoga exercises on the International Day of Yoga on June 21 has triggered angry reactions from the so called secular parties, which have accused the government of pushing a “sectarian agenda”.
The government has released a Common Yoga Protocol to be followed by the participants on June 21. The protocol says yoga exercises should be preceded by a prayer that begins with the chanting of “Om” three times, and ends with “Om Shantih Shantih Shantih”. While resisting this move some people have even suggested that OM should be replaced with a suitable word which will be acceptable to all (read pseudo secularists). But one wonders how this can be done as it is an integral part of Yogic practice. Yoga as popularly misunderstood is not just a physical exercise nor just a regimen to get rid of our physical ailments. It is a Holistic Spiritual practice which helps in synthesizing our various layers of personality. Postures help in tuning our body, but it’s the mantras which help us in tuning our mind. Before crying foul that this is an attempt to foist the belief system of Hindus on others, one should understand what these mantras mean and what their effects are. Om is not just a sound but the primal sound of the universe that comprises of all the sounds within itself. Chanting OM brings a degree of peace and purification to the mind. Medical studies have found that chanting OM with concentration enables you to reduce the adrenaline levels that in turn helps in reducing the stress levels. Since chanting OM segregates you from the world and the associated tensions, you tend to find peace without the distraction and you feel pious and serene.
Few years ago, scientists conducted an experiment in which participants who had never chanted Om mantra were asked to chant it for few minutes and each of their chants were recorded. The time frequency analysis of it showed irregular waveforms which indicated unsteadiness in the mind. They were asked to chant the mantra on a regular basis and after few days, the experiment was repeated. The time-frequency analysis this time had some startling revelations. The waveforms were improved with regular spacing, had almost perfect symmetry and harmony. Not only had these participants witnessed dramatic improvements in focus, concentration & steadiness, but found themselves to be in peace, witnessed reduction in mental stress & could remain calm all the time.
One should not forget that irrespective of the faith all Indians belong to this great old tradition and culture. It is this culture which gave Ayurveda and Siddha medicine to this world. The medicines are prepared by invoking lord Danvantri, a god of Medicine. If people can take those medicines without any qualms why should there be any resistance to Yoga with mantras? Such protests are not coming from any other theocratic states. In fact many of those countries are taking to Yoga as they see the inherent benefit in it. It’s only the pseudo secular politicians from our land who are crying hoarse.
Yoga is the panacea for the problems which the modern world is facing. Yoga is the answer to the religious fundamentalism which is threatening to push the humanity into extinction. Yoga teaches us the vision of oneness which makes one feel that he is a part of the creation and not distinct from it. A vision which endears one to nature and to all other beings. It highlights the need to uncover all the wisdom found in traditional knowledge systems to find clues to the contemporary problems faced by humanity. It is a philosophy in action.
Every Indian irrespective of the faith he or she is following now is a rightful legatee of this ancient wisdom. But at the same time it belongs to those and only those who are proud of their cultural heritage and cherish the rich tradition. Not to those who are ashamed of their ancestry and live in denial. Any attempt to delink yoga from Hinduism should be condemned.