Yoga has many benefits but miracles are not among them
Amrit Dhillon says as a form of exercise and meditation, it is a cultural export of which India can be justifiably proud, but claims that it can cure cancer merely invite ridicule
Once again, absurd claims are being made for yoga. Some Indians are inordinately proud of the fact that yoga has spread across the world but this pride has produced some tall claims, including that it can cure cancer.
The latest person to say this is not a long-haired, bearded eccentric with his legs wrapped around his neck but a government minister. India has a ministry which tries to promote traditional medicine such as Ayurveda. It is headed by Shripad Yasso Naik who, referring to the work carried out by a yoga institute in Bangalore recently, said the institute has found a “technique of yoga for the prevention and cure of cancer”. He said cancer patients will no longer need to undergo chemotherapy and added that the institute will provide “scientific” evidence to back up this claim in a year.
He is not the first person to get carried away. A lot of Indians conflate the physical with the spiritual. They elevate yoga, a form of exercise and meditation, to the level of something that is spiritually uplifting and then go further by claiming miraculous powers for it.
The country’s leading yoga guru is Baba Ramdev, whose website states that yoga can cure virtually every ailment ranging from diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s to balding. His intellectual credentials can be gauged by a claim he made in 2013: “I invite the gay community to my yoga ashram and I guarantee to cure them of homosexuality,” he said.
Ramdev has said he can cure many kinds of cancers, including brain tumours, with a concoction of wheat grass juice, tulsi (holy basil) and leaves. By claiming that yoga can cure cancer, Ramdev and the minister are in danger of discrediting the real health benefits of yoga and inviting ridicule.
That apart, they are guilty of giving false hope to cancer patients and their relatives who may be so desperate, understandably, that they will clutch at anything.
The evangelical zeal with which yoga lovers spread the gospel is intense and irritating. Yoga is a form of exercise and breathing, not a panacea for everything.
The way yoga has spread throughout the world, from ordinary people to celebrities, is truly astonishing. Most cultural exports go from west to east. Yoga is a cultural gift of which India can be justifiably proud.
The problem is that because there are so few other Indian cultural exports, some Indians tend to get overexcited about yoga’s success and this prompts them to exaggerate its properties. Claims need to be backed up by trials, research and data. Till then, silence – a key feature of yoga conveniently ignored by loquacious Indians – should be observed.
Amrit Dhillon is a freelance writer in India