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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2023  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 44-50

Medicalization of yoga: A sociological understanding

Department of Sociology, Janki Devi Memorial College, University of Delhi, New Delhi, India

Date of Submission30-Jun-2022
Date of Acceptance09-Jan-2023
Date of Web Publication03-Feb-2023

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Ruby Bhardwaj
A-31, IFS Apartments, Mayur Vihar-1, New Delhi - 110 091
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jacs.jacs_8_22

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This paper analyses sociological underpinnings of yoga as complementary therapy in contemporary India. It traces the trajectory of medicalization of yoga through an analysis of the socio-cultural currents that prevailed at different historical epochs. The paper focuses on modern postural yoga as a therapy for physical ailments and fitness. Yoga, as it is experienced today, ensues from the impact of a series of social and cultural forces, both global and national. Gurus such as Vivekananda, Madhavdasji, Krishnmacharya, Kuvalayananda, and Iyengar responded to the pervasive temper of scientific rationality by underplaying the esoteric and mystical elements associated with yoga and accentuating its postural attributes that were scientifically validated to be therapeutic. As a symbol of indigenous cultural heritage, yoga has also been the narrative of protest and resistance against colonial rule and western medicine. With State patronage, yoga is elevated to the position of a recognized medical system under AYUSH, amenable to integration with naturopathy, ayurveda, biomedicine, and other systems of medicine resulting in the proliferation of medical pluralism. Modern postural yoga is secularized, professionalized, democratized, and adaptive. The digitization of yogasanas as cultural heritage and practice of yoga through apps is yet another illustration of its capacity to respond to technological changes and societal demands.

Keywords: Alternative medicine, digitization, medicalization, pluralism, professionalization, standardization, yoga

How to cite this article:
Bhardwaj R. Medicalization of yoga: A sociological understanding. J Appl Conscious Stud 2023;11:44-50

How to cite this URL:
Bhardwaj R. Medicalization of yoga: A sociological understanding. J Appl Conscious Stud [serial online] 2023 [cited 2023 Dec 1];11:44-50. Available from: http://www.jacsonline.in/text.asp?2023/11/1/44/369137

  Introduction Top

Yoga: Myriad interpretations

As an ancient cultural system yoga negates the contentious categories of religion and science, ideology and praxis, psyche and soma. It is a bridge that connects science and spirituality and dissipates the tension between them. In the lay understanding, there is ignorance about the multifarious dimensions of yoga and a tendency to associate it simply with asanas and pranayam. A deeper analysis unfolds its myriad dimensions.

Yoga is one of the six main schools of classical South Asian philosophy (Alter, 2004). The term yoga is derived from the Sanskrit term yuj, meaning “yoke” i.e., unity, harmony, or a balance between internal and external consciousness and manifestation. It has also been defined “as a system of lifestyle, philosophy, and practices, which evolve the person's potentials, including the physical, vital, mental, emotional, psychic and spiritual qualities” (Saraswati and Saraswati, 2002, p. 93). Yoga is a holistic and an extensive system of attaining and maintaining physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The paper focuses on yoga as a modern form of complementary medicine and physical training which is recommended for the prevention as well as cure of physical disorders. The attributes of yoga as a healer of psychic and psychosomatic disorders are already well-researched.

As a school of thought, yoga was systematized by Patanjali around the second or third century. Hatha Yoga (the Yoga of Purification), a popular form of yoga was designed to balance the mental and vital functions of the person, before meditation to achieve higher states of consciousness. Hatha Yoga includes asanas, pranayams, mudras, and bandhas. The principles of Raja yoga (Yoga of the mind and introspection) are laid out in Patanjali's Yogsutras as eight consecutive steps, also known as Ashtanga Yoga. Karma Yoga (the Yoga of action with meditative awareness) emphasizes the ability to act in consonance with duty and efficiency. Karma Yoga is said to clear the mind of phobias, insecurities, and complexes. Jnana Yoga (the Yoga of knowledge and wisdom) is a process of advanced yogic sadhana, a process of self-inquiry with a concentrated mind. Mantra Yoga (deals with the vibratory aspects of our nature) rests on the power of Mantras. Composed of sounds they create vibrations in specific areas of the psychic body that have an effect on the physical as well as mental functioning (Saraswati and Saraswati, 2002).

Referring to yoga as an art and science of healthy living, Dr Ishwar Basavaraddi* (Dr Ishwar Basavaraddi, Director Morarji Desai National Institute of Yog http://www.yogamdniy.nic.in/WriteReadData/LINKS/File577a4a83f0b-996b-4119-842d-60790971e651.pdf) analyses Vedas, Upanishads, Smritis, Puranas and Jain and Buddhist religious texts to identify the phases in the evolution of yoga. The period between 500 B. C. and 800 B. C. has been identified as the most fertile and productive period in the development of yoga. Patanjali's Yog Sutra, Bhagwath Gita along with the teachings of Vyasa, Buddha, and Mahavira enriched yoga during this phase. The period between 800 A. D. and 1700 A. D, referred to as the Post Classical period was marked by the teachings of Adi Shankracharya, Ramanujacharya, and Madhavacharya. The subsequent period between 1700 and 1900 A. D. is considered the modern period during which Vedanta, Bhakti yoga, and Hatha-yoga flourished. This period witnessed the contributions of Yogacharyas such as Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Paramahansa Yogananda, and Swami Vivekananda. Yoga in contemporary times has global recognition as a system oriented towards the protection, preservation and promotion of health.

Joseph Alter opines that India has been experiencing “yoga renaissance” with an objective of making the therapeutic benefits of yoga accessible to all, by translating mystical yogic practices into a modern and scientific system of health. During the colonial period, pursuit of yoga was used as a form of resistance against the growing hegemony of western medicine. According to Alter, yoga has been “re-tooled” as a guide for healthy lifestyle (Alter, 1977, p. 314).

  Methods Top

The paper is based on a textual reading of yoga, observation of yoga sessions in public spaces and naturopathy hospitals. Besides this, sociological literature on yoga, websites of AYUSH and other significant institutions, government reports, articles in journals and books have been relied on as sources of data. Yoga apps were also downloaded to analyze their attributes.

  Results Top

Tracing the trajectories: Medicalization of yoga

The AYUSH website hosts Prime Minister Narendra Modi's picture and a quotation referring to “yoga as a symbol of universal aspiration for health and wellbeing. It is health assurance at zero budget” (https://yoga.ayush.gov.in/). The Western world acknowledges yoga “as a holistic approach to health and is classified by the National Institute of Health as a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine” (Woodyard, 2011, p. 49). Yoga's role in public health and national development was recognized by the colonial government and later by the central government (Alter, 1997). It is pertinent to note the increasing emphasis on health and well-being is a crucial function of yoga during contemporary times.

In this context, it is imperative to trace the genesis of modern postural yoga with its emphasis on bodywork and physical practice that has served to fortify the identity of yoga as a disease-preventive and health-promotive system. The practice of hathayoga can be traced to around the ninth or tenth century and since then three main hatha yoga texts were composed-Hathayogapradipika around the mid-15th century, the Gherandasamhita in the late 17th, and the Shivasamhita around the late 17th or early 18th centuries. These texts contain references to the curative powers of asanas and pranayama that are regarded as the core elements of hathayoga (Alter, 2005). Although there is no clarity about how the focus shifted to modern postural yoga, yet certain sociological factors can help identify the transitions in the development of yoga.

A number of interrelated forces dating back to the colonial period, about a century and a half back were responsible for the emergence of modern postural yoga as a contemporary practice for health and physical fitness, especially in the West. These include the socio-political dynamics under colonialism, global concern with physical health and increasing interest in scientific temper and rationality (Alter, 2004).

Swami Vivekananda has been credited with bringing about a revival and re-invention of yoga in the 19th century. He has been called “the creator of fully-fledged modern yoga” (De Michelis, 2004, p. 90). He traveled to America and participated in the Chicago Parliament of Religions in 1893 and was invited to lecture in different parts of America where he spread the message of “reinterpreted, simplified and modernized Vedanta” that he presented as the exemplary form of “universal religion” through different types of yoga' (De Michelis, 2004, p. 123). Alter opines, that the references to physiology and anatomy in Swami Vivekanand's book Raja Yoga, published in 1896, indicate the influence of the late 19th century health reform movement prevalent in the United States of America. This marked a shift in his ideology that was guided by an interest in yoga and spirituality to an impetus on yoga for health and medicine (Alter, 2004).

Around the same time, the idea of “Muscular Christianity” was gaining popularity in the West. The concept stemmed from the belief that the “Victorian middle classes had become emasculated because their education did not include enough of the arduous challenges, and consequent stoic endurance, necessary to create a healthy robust individual and a properly virile society” (Shearer, 2020, p. 85). Europe witnessed a growing interest in “physical culture” during the nineteenth century. The doctrine of mens sana in copore sano (a sound mind in a sound body) was the thrust behind reforms in education and armed forces. Cultivation of bodies through strenuous sports and fitness regime was considered an essential exercise in character and nation-building. By the mid-nineteenth century, many English public schools had introduced team sports such as rugby to instil discipline and moral education among adolescent boys. Inclusion of sports was considered a “glue that held the Empire together, a way to inculcate British values and Christian morality” (Shearer, 2020, p. 86-87). This “zeal for physical fitness was economically as well as patriotically motivated: to survive and earn a livelihood in the new industrial world, one could not afford a weak constitution” (Singleton, 2010, p. 82).

According to Shaw and Kayatz, the attention to physical culture laid the groundwork for the yoga and fitness. A key component of the development of physical culture was Ling's system of gymnastics. Ling's movement cure became popular in Europe and the United States in the early twentieth century as an alternative therapy because it was considered a natural system for health and healing (Singleton, 2010). Primarily based on “medical gymnastics,” it was a therapeutic system, aimed at curing diseases through the movement of body parts and therefore commonly referred to as “movement cure.” Ling-based training was holistic-catering to “mind-body and spirit.” Parallels have been drawn between hatha yoga and Ling gymnastics as therapeutic systems indicating the medicalization of yoga even before the contributions of Kuvalayananda and Yogendra (Singleton, 2010, p. 83-85).

Swami Krishnamacharya is often referred to as the “guru of modern transnational yoga” because his disciples made his teachings global. He focused on asanas and adopted an individualized approach, modifying them to suit the needs, capacity, and competence of his students. Further, he advocated that “before yoga is taught, the teacher should consider the time, surroundings, age, nature of employment, energy and strength of the person and his power of comprehension.” He linked the asanas in the dynamic flow along with breathing ratios that came to be known as Ashtanga Vinayasa (Singleton and Fraser, 2014, p. 88-89).

Swami Kuvalayananda and Swami Yogender, both disciples of Paramhansa Madahavdas, referred to yoga as a technology. They revealed how their guru used asanas, pranayama, and other yogic procedures to treat sick people and popularized yoga in a form that was simple, direct and accessible to the common man. Alter upholds that “they were certainly the first and most influential exponents of yoga as a kind of preventive physical fitness training for the public at large, and the earliest advocates for using yoga techniques for the treatment of diseases” (Alter, 2004, p. 136). Swami Kuvalayananda sought to provide scientific explanations based on experimentation and explanations for the efficacy of yogic procedures such as uddiyana, and nauli. He used equipment such as malometer pressure gauge and an X-ray machine to study the negative pressure in the large intestines created by nauli. His research was carried out in specialized laboratories equipped with the latest technology. He set up a Yoga Ashram which was dedicated to the scientific study of yogic asanas, pranayama and kriyas (Alter, 2004). His mission was to train young people to practice yoga for the maintenance of their health and therefore advocated the yoga as a therapy for the alleviation of diseases.

Like Kuvalayananda, his contemporary, Yogendra provided scientific validation for the health benefits of yoga. He contributed immensely to the domain of public health and fitness associated with yoga in the modern times (Singleton, 2010). His yoga classes blended conventional hatha yoga and western style physical culture with an emphasis on breath control, aimed both at providing relaxation and relief from the stresses of modern life. As a measure toward therapeutic precision, he prescribed “posture dosage” based on the need of the practitioner. The yoga institute founded by him in Bombay, was both a yoga school and a health clinic. By the mid-20th century, a number of his patients were seeking yoga as therapy because of growing distrust in allopathy on the one hand, and rising popularity of nature cure on the other (Shaw and Kayatz, 2021). Yoga's potential at being co-opted with nature cure, had a strong bearing on accelerating its medicalization. It not only indigenized nature cure but became a counter-force to quell the hegemony of western medicine along with its colonial patrons.

B. K. S Iyengar's (disciple of Swami Krishnamachari) improvisation of yoga was also shaped by scientific discourse. He adopted “medico-anatomical terminology” and created concise compendium of more than 200 asanas with a listing of therapeutic benefits of different postures (Hauser, 2021). By the time, India attained independence; yoga was quite a force to reckon with. It had the backing of Mahatma Gandhi and was a symbol of Indian nationalism.

Professionalization and standardization of yoga as integrative medicine

In an effort to promote Indian Systems of Medicine including Homoeopathy (ISM&H)Central Council for Research in Yoga & Naturopathy (CCRYN) the Government of India established the Central Council for Research in Indian Medicine and Homoeopathy in 1969 as an autonomous body under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. This body conducted scientific research in Ayurveda, Yoga, and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy up to 1978. Given the popularity of yoga, in 1978, the Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy was founded with an objective to conduct scientific research in the field of yoga and naturopathy (http://ccryn.gov.in).

Yoga is an intrinsic part of AYUSH, an acronym for traditional systems of medicines-Ayurveda, Yoga, and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy, originally known as ISM and H. The Government of India later renamed it as Department of AYUSH in 2003. This department was elevated to the status of a full Ministry in November 2014.

S-VYAS (Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana) is the oldest institution offering academic degree and doctoral programs in yoga therapy. Established in 1986, as a training center and hospital, it attained the status of “deemed university” in 2002 (https://svyasa.edu.in/index.html). It is the first ISO (International Organisation of Standardization) certified Yoga University. S-VYASA has as a Centre of Advanced Research in yoga and neurophysiology accredited by the Indian Council of Medical Research. Since, 2016, Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, has been imparting yoga education with a focus on the vocational intent of the program whereby the trained personnel can be employed in a clinical setting, or open their own entrepreneurial Yoga practice (Chapple, 2020).

Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga (MDNIY) also facilitates research and training in yoga. It imparts professional training along with conducting degree and diploma courses for the general public. The organization has published several books on yoga as well as taken up many publications of other yoga centers for distribution. Some of the books published by MDNIY include Yogic Management of Arthritis, Yogic of Respiratory Disorders, Yogic Management of Gynaecological Disorders Yogic Management of Geriatric Disorders, Yogic Management of Psychiatric Disorders, and Management of Neurological Disorders. Similarly, The Bihar School of Yoga offers specially designed programs that target the health of particular organs such as the heart and lungs. The school also has a series of publications on Health Management that explore the effect of Yoga on cancer, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, digestion, and management of common diseases (https://www.biharyoga.net/health-management.php). Such publications are suggestive of documentation of yoga as a therapeutic system with a focus on individual diseases.

These organizations have set stringent standards for professional training and research in yoga, an essential step toward standardization and the establishment of yoga as a distinct therapeutic system.

Yoga through the interface of technology

Another important development toward standardization and professionalization of yoga is its digitization and proliferation through yoga apps. The digital archiving of yoga is a crucial step in protecting and safeguarding the national heritage against piracy and misappropriation by foreign powers. Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL) is a pioneering initiative taken up by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and the Ministry of AYUSH towards this end.

Originally, TKDL contained a small section on yoga. However, the Indian government decided to create a separate digital yoga library after witnessing a number of copyright claims on traditional Indian herbal and botanical products such as neem and haldi. The government has moved to register exclusive patents on over 1,500 asanas and started the process of videotaping them as part of TKDL (Shearer, 2020). Given the multifarious forms and schools of yoga prevalent in India, issues pertaining to the inclusion of some and exclusion of others, are matters of socio-political relevance because the very process that authenticates and archives some asanas also serves to invalidate other genuine versions.

Apps are a new entry into the field of yoga as a technology-mediated interface. Although there are a large number of yoga apps, the focus here is on the official apps of the government of India to eliminate the element of commercialization in the discussion. In consonance with its Traditional Medicine Strategy 2014–2023, aimed at strengthening the quality, safety, and effectiveness of Traditional and Complementary medicine (https://www.who.int/initiatives/behealthy/who-myoga-app), WHO in collaboration with the Ministry of AYUSH launched mYoga App on International Yoga Day, 2021. The app enables the practice of quality yoga through a collection of videos and audio practice sessions. “Yoga companion” is what this DIY app is referred to as by the Prime Minister of India, who termed this initiative as an example of the fusion of modern technology and ancient science.

Besides the mYoga, app, the AYUSH Ministry has launched YBreak app to encourage yoga during work break. This app is similar to mYoga in the display of asanas but goes a step further in the direction to seek and profile health information of the user. Launched during the pandemic in May 2020, AYUSH Kavach app of the department of AYUSH, Uttar Pradesh aims to boost immunity through the use of locally available remedies. Interestingly unlike the other two apps discussed, this app has a yoga gallery that prescribes yogasanas specific to age and disease. Separate videos accompanied by commentary, that demonstrate asanas to manage, particular diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, asthma, constipation, and cervical problems are listed on the app. Besides this, there are specially designed videos for children, pregnant women, youth, and so on. Digital apps catering to specific diseases have compounded the medicalized nature of Yoga.

Yoga and therapeutic pluralism

Yoga's health enhancement and disease prevention attributes are acclaimed by the global health organizations including WHO and National Health Service in the UK. Yoga interventions are offered to hospital staff in many healthcare institutions in the UK, Canada, Sweden, and Australia.

Unlike other AYUSH systems, Yoga is not a medical system. It did not originate as a system that has an episteme for diagnosis and therapeutics. Nor does it have any pharmacopeia. These attributes impart yoga with an exceptional capacity to combine with a wide range of medical systems including allopathy.

Madhavadasji was the first to integrate yoga into the rubric of nature cure. Yoga and naturopathy bear theoretical and practical similarities because they share a compatible ontology. Both are premised upon the system “five great elements”-earth, water, fire, air, and ether or void. Moreover, Alter notes that nature cure's concern with detoxification and purgation is similar to the idea of internal and external purification in yoga (Alter, 2004). Since the naturopathic system does not comprise of pharmacopeia, the two go well together. Mahatma Gandhi was ideologically opposed to western medicine. Yoga and naturopathy according to Gandhi were based on self-restraint while allopathy was consumption oriented. He advocated nature cure and yoga as low-cost and accessible health-care solution.

Yoga and ayurveda have evolved through a common cultural milieu. Not only has yoga been a significant aspect of treatment under ayurveda, but interestingly, traditionally yoga was practised in conformity with ayurvedic knowledge concerning the different body types, each with their different needs and varying strengths and weaknesses (Shearer, 2020). Yoga is an intrinsic part of the therapeutic regimen at all nature cure and hospitals in India. Similarly, yogic practices such as pranayama and asanas are prescribed along with ayurvedic herbal pharmacopeia. Swami Ramdev, a progenitor of “yoga revolution” (Sarabacker, 2014, p. 355) exhorts the masses to alleviate diseases through yoga along indigenous herbal preparations as opposed to western allopathic medicines.

The Centre for Integrated Medicine at AIIMS is dedicated to research, documentation, and delivery of holistic health care through the integration of yoga with modern medicine (https://www.aiims.edu/en/intro_cimr.html). The institutional measures taken by the State for the promotion of yoga and other AYUSH systems proliferate pluralism. The National Health Policy (NHP) 2017, considered to be the most powerful expression of integrative healthcare since independence, recommends mainstreaming of AYUSH “within a pluralistic system of Integrative healthcare.” It fosters integrating AYUSH into the National Health Mission (NHP), research, and education.

NHP (2017) emphasizes on “prevention of diseases and promotion of healthcare and reduction in premature mortality on account of noncommunicable/lifestyle diseases like chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes etc.” Since the traditional systems of medicine are better suited to addressing lifestyle issues, the wellness mandate broadens the role of AYUSH in “promotive, preventive, rehabilitative and social (community) health care.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, biomedicine was caught unawares with no protocol for the treatment of infection or vaccines for the prevention of its spread. These conditions proved fructuous for the rise of yoga as an alternative therapy because its strong suit lies in the ability to boost immunity to ward off infection. Multicentric studies on yoga interventions in mild to moderate severity cases of COVID have shown improvement in oxygen saturation, reduction in respiratory symptoms, and improved mood following yoga interventions.

  Discussion Top

Yoga: A medical sociology perspective

Yoga, as we know it today, is the product of several cultural influences both within and beyond the boundaries of the country. The growing penchant towards science and rationality in the West, stroked the rationalistic spirit among the yoga gurus to project yoga as a science by eradicating mystical and esoteric elements shrouding it. The attributes of yoga pertaining to rationality and empiricism such as those with a focus on somatic fitness and therapy were accentuated. The twin processes of medicalization and secularization of yoga have been vital to the construction of yoga's identity as a therapy. Highlighting the therapeutic powers of yoga, Shearer notes that originally yoga served to address metaphysical ignorance, considered to be the root cause of human suffering. With the emergence of hatha yoga, the remedial emphasis shifted to addressing issues pertaining to mortality and lack of supernormal powers. With increasing secularization and medicalization, issues like “overeating, addiction and hypersexuality” that were earlier considered moral failings, became classified as diseases (Shearer, 2020, p. 311).

The health enhancement/promotive quality of yoga along with its Bhartiya or Swadeshi as against the “Western” attributes of allopathy, made it befitting choice for a nationalistic narrative. Since its formation in the early 1920s, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has been involved in moral and cultural reform at the grassroot level. Under the influence of Swami Vivekanand's concept of “man-making” the outfit emphasizes on character building through self-discipline and training of the body with the help of yogasanas and athletics. Yoga is an essential element in the daily drill at the shakhas (Alter, 2004, p. 145-148). RSS and later BYS (Bhartiya Yog Sansthaan) have made a consistent contribution to institutionalizing yoga as a public health therapy, especially in North India. The practice of yoga at the shakhaas is regarded as a form of reverence towards national heritage and an act of patriotism. Often the regulars at the shaakhas eulogize the virtues of yoga as an ancient form of wisdom. Some elderly visitors at the shaakhas feel nostalgic about their participation in the freedom struggle and continue to glorify yoga as a symbol of swadeshi. Alter is of the opinion that BYS aims to heal the “fragmented Indian consciousness by reconnecting, as it were, body and mind.” BYS caters to the urgent need to address onslaught to human health caused by modernity and modern medicine (Alter, 1997, p. 310).

Urban lifestyle is often considered a harbinger of disease and mental stress. In recent decades the rising pollution levels in most metropolitan cities of India is a matter of grave concern. While the toxic air, water, and food along with urban stresses are beyond the control of the residents of the cities, lifestyle remains a domain where the individuals can exercise control to combat health risks. De Michelis draws a correlation between urban living, stress, and yoga and argues that modern conditions of urban living can be “frustrating” and highly conducive to sedentariness. They demand “fitness and de-stressing, both of which can be supplied by MPY” (modern postural yoga) (De Michelis, 2004, p. 250).

The rising incidence of lifestyle diseases that are not amenable to cure but require long-term management also creates a demand for Yoga. The growing impetus on body maintenance, healthism, and mental health have added to its popularity. Individuals feel responsible for their health because they are defined by it and feel guilty of allowing their health to be impaired or undermined. Hence, the individual engages in disciplined self-care regimes to secure health and fitness in a world ridden with risks. The availability of yoga sessions on television, YouTube, and through yoga apps is an indication of its popularity as a self-care regimen. Unlike biomedicine that is premised on the Cartesian schism between mind and body, yoga's forte lies in being a holistic therapy. A sterling attribute of yoga is its capacity to synthesize physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Yoga's ability to promote health and prevent disease without ingestion of drugs has bestowed it with the reputation of being “safe” and “benign” in contrast to the toxicity associated with the consumption of chemical-based allopathic drugs. While yoga is known to contribute towards health enhancement, prolonged use of allopathic drugs have a reputation of inducing side effects that may jeopardize overall health in the long run (Bhardwaj, 2010).

Being drugless imparts yoga a dynamism and flexibility to be co-opted by a range of medical systems – those such as naturopathy and ayurveda that share a common worldview of the human body, and others like biomedicine that stand in ideological contradiction. Medicalization of yoga therefore contributes to medical pluralism.

As a part of its agenda on healthism, the government encourages yoga training in schools, colleges, offices, hospitals and public parks. Besides the government initiatives, the credit for the growing popularity of yoga goes to grassroot level organizations like the RSS.

The proliferation of yoga, through multifarious apps available on Google Play Store, is a clear indication of its commodification. Most of these apps are paid ones. Like any other health product that it available in different potencies and flavors, so also a person can pick and choose a suitable app depending upon one's choice. Such choices are consistent with the trends in modern societies marked by increasing individualism.

  Conclusion Top

The above discussion illustrates the role of socio-cultural factors, both, global and national in shaping the evolution of yoga from an esoteric knowledge passed on from guru to shishya, to a palpable public health system. Along this journey, yoga has become medicalized, secularized, standardized, democratized, and extremely popular. Its popularity lies in its multifarious qualities. Most importantly in contrast to biomedicine, it is regarded as holistic, safe, noninvasive, with no negative side effects. On account of television programs, YouTube channels, and apps, knowledge about yoga is freely available making it a perfect self-care therapy.

Unlike other medical systems yoga does not have its own repertoire of diagnostics and drugs. However, it is this attribute that has made it amenable to integration with other systems resulting in medical pluralism. The State has ensured the professionalization of yoga to bring it at par with other creditable medical systems. It is also evident that yoga does not shy away from adapting to new technologies in a bid to standardize itself. It is the only AYUSH system that has a successful outreach, through apps, to people across the national making it a global system.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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Alter, J. S. (2004). Yoga in Modern India: The Body between Science and Philosophy. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.  Back to cited text no. 3
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Bhardwaj, R. (2010). Medical pluralism in India: The interface of complementary and alternative therapies with allopathy. In Mishra A, editor. Health Illness and Medicine: Ethnographic Readings (pp. 31-60). New Delhi, India: Orient Blackswan.  Back to cited text no. 5
Chapple, C. K. (2020). The academic study of yoga in India. Journal of Dharma Studies, 3 (1), 107-120. doi: 10.1007/s42240-020-00066-y.  Back to cited text no. 6
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Saraswati, N. and R. V. Saraswati (2002) Fundamentals of yoga. In R.R. Chaudhary and U.M. Rafei. Editors Traditional Medicine in Asia. New Delhi. World Health Organization.  Back to cited text no. 10
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Shearer, A. (2020). The Story of Yoga: From Ancient India to the Modern West. London, England: Hurst & Company.  Back to cited text no. 13
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