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Letter to the Vice Chair of the British Wheel of Yoga

An open letter to Shelagh Mackenzie BWY, from Satish Sharma, General Secretary, National Council of Hindu Temples (UK)

Dear Shelagh,
It was a pleasant surprise to meet you yesterday and being able to also bump in to the “oh so safety concerned” but uneducated and uninformed non-practitioners from the SkillsActive team, at the same time, was a an unexpected boon. I hope that you too found the event of value.

Thank you for being so courageously open to discussion and engagement, it is necessary and the wholly misplaced and unfounded “governing body” attitude and positioning, which is unfortunately becoming associated with the BWY, has been destructive and counterproductive to date. I will do you the courtesy of being direct and frank in my communication since time is of the essence and if something is to be salvaged from the BWY, wiser counsel must prevail and its current trajectory be quickly corrected.

Despite evidence to the contrary I am going to assume that the BWY is merely guilty of innocent bumbling naivety and not crass monopolistic commercialism and from this perspective present to you what the non BWY world is now seeing in your team. The Wheel has abandoned the Yamas and the Niyamas and is selling Asana for profit. Further it is exploiting Hindu religious and cultural imagery, iconography and vocabulary dishonestly for commercial gain and it is promoting NOS to merely clothe a predatorial desire for market dominance.

We have an understanding that asana should not be taught to those who have not yet accepted and intellectually established, that the Yamas and Niyamas are core and foundational prerequisites, not optional. To ignore any one is folly and this principle is ignored at one’s own peril. Only misguided innocents, fools and the naive could elect and appoint to a position of Yoga representation, a person who has a blatant disregard for the basic “occupational standards”, which have been refined over millennia and which are already enshrined in the Yamas and Niyamas.

For the sake of an example and for clarity, the BWY in deceitfully and duplicitously calling itself the “Governing Body” commits an act of intellectual and emotional violence on other traditions, practitioners and schools - and in your heart you know this to be true. We, and others, have communicated with Paul Fox and Pierre Bibby on this and their squirming responses are worthy of shame. This “Governing Body” approach and positioning is contrary to the very core of the traditions ie AHIMSA and by creating an US and THEM scenario you create tension and friction – the enemies of Yoga. The word Govern means to control and cannot not be spun into “humble service in the safety of all the vulnerable” no matter how manipulative, self-delusional or conceited the spin doctor. By seeking to negate others by ignoring their contributions whilst emphasising and highlighting at every juncture your own (seeking to IMPOSE your limited attainments and tragically narrow vision) is HIMSA. You really should take note that in the history of Yoga those who were QUALIFIED BY ABILITY to govern, chose instead to nurture, to serve and to support – perhaps they weren’t as wise, enlightened and elevated as the Olympians of the BWY and SkillsActive?

I can’t help but wonder if somewhere in the ancestry of the present day Trustees of the BWY, there isn’t a link to the colonialist raider of the Raj, James Canning who, proud in the belief in his own natural superiority, told a gathering of Hindus “You are all a parcel of poor ignorant semi barbarians, you do not even understand your own language and system as well as we enlightened Englishmen who have been at regular Grammar schools..” We are able to recognise neo colonialist theft when we see it.

The “outer worlds” perception of the Wheel has changed in the last two years. You have moved from “innocent bumbling but harmless do-gooders” to ambitious, grubby grasping monopolists and in doing so you have abandoned Aparigraha i.e. non-grasping. Where is the generosity of heart and desire for heart based sharing which Aparigraha fosters ? In its place the Wheel now projects this message “Sure we can teach about Aparigraha but you have to sign up for a paid course and our courses are regulated and better than everyone elses..” Nauseating and morally reprehensible – totally unacceptable.

What about the pinnacle of the Yamas and the Niyamas, Isvarapranidhana "to lay all of ones actions at the feet of Ishvara." ? It is the contemplation on Isvara, the Divinity in one’s own breath, in order to become attuned to the Divinity present in the flow of the Universe. It is the recognition that the spiritual suffuses everything and through our attention and care we can attune ourselves with our role as part of all of Creation. The practice which makes clear that there is the possibility of a presence larger than ourselves that is influencing, guiding and directing the course of our lives leading to real humility and a deep sense of service. But the Sport England Governing Body, the Wheel “doesn’t need this at all because its religion and Hindu”, and for this stupidity and arrogance alone your organisation is worthy of reform or if this is resisted, deconstruction, before you do more harm.

Your Chair has mistaken our Hindu tolerance for vulnerability and this is a tragic mistake - a loss for all of the members of the Wheel and for those who are interested in Dharmic practices (yes Yoga is a Dharmic practice). We have never asked anyone to “become a Hindu” or become religious, NEVER, but we will not permit you to re-define us or any our traditional religious practices.

I have written already advising the Wheel, that if you wish to attempt to deconstruct, delineate and separate Hindu and Yoga practices then you must NOT uses Hindu religious texts in your activities. To do so would be dishonest and offensive in the extreme, and this is universally accepted by all of the Yoga practitioners outside of the Wheel and many inside also. Please do not oblige us to act further to protect our traditions and practices from such disrespectful and dishonest distortion, corruption and outright cultural theft.

If the Wheel had an ounce of integrity it would recognise what the UNESCO has declared only last month “Based on unifying the mind with the body and soul to allow for greater mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing, the values of yoga form a major part of the community’s ethos. Yoga consists of a series of poses, meditation, controlled breathing, word chanting and other techniques designed to help individuals build self-realization, ease any suffering they may be experiencing and allow for a state of liberation.” Which Community are they referring to ? Yes the Shiva and Ganesh worshipping Hindu community.

In the spirit of robust transparent and frank discussion and engagement, I am copying this to the IYN and others who too who feel that you have injured the practice of Yoga in this country.My mobile number is ********* and I am available to discuss any initiatives which may be beneficial to British Yoga students.

Kind regards
Satish K Sharma B.Sc. (Hons) Econ MBCS FRSA
General Secretary, National Council of Hindu Temples (UK) Chair, British Board of Hindu Scholars Chair, City of London InterFaith